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May 24, 2015

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.

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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.

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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."

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