Walcott nets hat trick; Arsenal ends season with 4-1 win vs. West Brom

LONDON (AP) — Theo Walcott scored a first-half hat trick on a rare start for the England winger as Arsenal beat West Bromwich Albion 4-1 to secure third place in the Premier League and a direct berth in the Champions League group stage.

Planet Futbol
EPL Notes: Relief in Newcastle, Big Sam exits, more from the final day

Walcott, who has struggled to regain full fitness this season after a serious knee injury, started up front and stated a case for inclusion in Saturday's FA Cup final against Aston Villa by netting in the fourth, 14th and 37th minutes at Emirates Stadium.

"I've been out for a year, but I feel great," said Walcott, whose place in the Arsenal's team has been threatened by the arrival of Alexis Sanchez. "I've got to thank the manager for showing faith in me."

Jack Wilshere also scored in the first half to give Arsenal a 4-0 lead at the break in a perfect warm-up for the cup final.

Gareth McAuley headed in a consolation goal in the 57th minute for West Brom, which finished in the 13th place.

Planet Futbol
Geoff Cameron signs new three-year deal with Stoke City

By finishing third, Arsenal avoided the need to play in a two-legged playoff to get into the Champions League.

"We had a slow start to the season, but progressively, we got stronger, and from January onwards we got competitive," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.

"We have qualified directly for next season's Champions League. But we want more. We want to challenge for the Premier League title. But first we want to win the FA Cup next weekend."

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.