LONDON − Arsenal strengthened its chances of a third-place finish and a spot in the Champions League next season when it beat Fulham 1-0 at Craven Cottage Saturday.

German Per Mertesacker headed the only goal two minutes before halftime, against a Fulham side reduced to 10 men after 12 minutes when Steve Sidwell, returning from suspension, was sent off again. Arsenal also finished with 10 men after Olivier Giroud was sent off just before the final whistle.

With runaway leader Manchester United ‏(81 points‏), second-placed Manchester City ‏(68‏), fourth-placed Chelsea ‏(61‏) and fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur ‏(58‏) not playing, Arsenal took advantage to move above Chelsea on 63 points.

The only other match to impact the top was Sunderland’s 1-0 win at the Stadium of Light over sixth-placed Everton, whose slim hopes of finishing in the top four look over.

The team remains on 56 points. Sunderland’s second win under new boss Paolo Di Canio took it to 37 points, six clear of the relegation zone.

It was a bad day for the bottom three, which all lost to move a step nearer the relegation trapdoor. Bottom club Reading lost 2-1 at Norwich City, while Queens Park Rangers was beaten 2-0 at Loftus Road by Stoke City, which also moved six points clear of danger.

QPR and Reading will be relegated on Monday if Aston Villa scores an unlikely win at Manchester United.

Wigan Athletic, which reached the FA Cup final for the first time last weekend, lost 2-0 at West Ham United and is deep in trouble, in 18th place, on 31 points, three behind Villa.

In the day’s other games, Swansea and Southampton drew 0-0 and West Bromwich Albion drew 1-1 with Newcastle.