Arsenal ensure the race will go to the wire as Podolski double relegates Wigan
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
Premier League: Arsenal 4 Wigan Athletic 1
The battle for top-four places will go to the wire after Arsenal’s second-half onslaught proved too much for FA Cup heroes Wigan, who came back down to earth with a bump and relegation.
Two goals from Lukas Podolski and one each from Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey finally shook off Roberto Martinez’s brave side, who had a 10-minute spell early in the second half when they looked like the win they needed to survive was not beyond them.
Shaun Maloney’s free-kick on the stroke of half-time had levelled things up at 1-1 and started off the jitters around the Emirates, but a three-goal burst inside 10 second-half minutes ensured the Gunners keep their destiny in their own hands heading into the final day.
Victory at Newcastle will secure at least fourth place ahead of Tottenham, while the size of this victory also means that if Chelsea slip up at home to Everton then Arsene Wenger’s side could even steal third place, as they did on the final day last season.
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But anything less than victory at St James’ Park and Spurs will take fourth place if they defeat Sunderland at White Hart Lane. It promises to be another tense, fractious final day for the north London duo.
That did not look like being the outcome for long periods, however, as Wigan fought as you knew they would do to ensure their Premier League status they have held so proudly since 2004.
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Wenger had had 10 days to think about his selection for this game, but the only change he made to the XI who had won at QPR on May 4 was the return of Kieran Gibbs at left-back in place of Nacho Monreal.
Martinez’s Wigan have played three times in that period, one of them of course a victorious FA Cup Final, so there were simply no excuses for Arsenal not to start on the front foot.
They certainly did that, and were ahead on 11 minutes. Laurent Koscielny proved a distraction at the near post as Santi Cazorla’s corner arrived from the left, and the ball bounced through for Podolski to adjust himself cleverly and head past Joel Robles from close range.
The Emirates breathed a huge sigh of relief but quickly came to its senses. This was nowhere nearly a job done and a Wigan side fighting for their top-flight status were not simply going to lie down.
So it proved. Despite a couple of attempts from long range and Wigan looking a little lethargic at the back, it was the visitors who threatened for much of the rest of the half.
Maloney, who had outshone Manchester City’s vaunted midfield at Wembley on Saturday, again proved a creative force here, while the overlapping Honduran Roger Espinoza and tireless Callum McManaman were also threats.
Arouna Kone was soon racing behind the Arsenal defence, taking advantage of hesitancy between Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny and ultimately winning a free-kick which Maloney curled over the bar.
The Scot was not to be so wasteful on the stroke of half-time when, after he was debatably fouled by Arteta in a decision which enraged Wenger and the Arsenal players, he curled a free-kick over the wall and into net. Szczesny almost saved it, but didn’t, and when he sees it again he will know he should have.
The Pole redeemed himself early in the second half when Kone wriggled clear in the box and unleashed a shot which Arsenal’s No1 did very well to spread himself and block.
Wigan’s tails were up, as they had to be with another miracle escape on the cards. Could Arsenal respond?
Moments later Szczesny was picking the ball out of his net again, but this time it ahd not counted as James McCarthy lashed in a shot from an offside position.
Walcott was suddenly clear at the other end and squared the ball for Cazorla to have a first and then second shot blocked. It was breathless stuff now, and there were still 40 minutes to go.
Arsenal did not look prepared for such a battle after their soporific quartet of games against Everton, Fulham, Manchester United and QPR.
But the Gunners raised the tempo, and raised the roof when Walcott restored the lead on 63 minutes. Cazorla sprinted clear down the right where Walcott usually is and centred to where the England forward was, and bravely nipped in to nudge the ball in.
That changed the atmosphere at the Emirates, relief coursed through Arsenal, desperation through Wigan. But the feeling was that this game was not done yet.
The Gunners faithful wanted the security of at least another goal and five minutes later they got one when Podolski added a third, running on to Cazorla’s header and lobbing a finish over the advancing Robles.
The game was up for Wigan and their exhausted players knew it. When Ramsey stormed in from the left flank and crashed a shot high into the net any hope they had was extinguished.
The last-day heroics will not come from them this season, but they have had a season to remember for different reasons.
Arsenal still have work to do. Winning at Newcastle, even if Alan Pardew’s side are now safe from relegation, is far from straightforward. To the wire we go.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Ramsey, Arteta (Vermaelen, 90), Walcott, Rosicky (Wilshere, 79), Cazorla, Podolski (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 79).
Subs not used: Fabianski, Monreal, Jenkinson, Gervinho.
Wigan: Robles, Boyce, Alcaraz, Scharner, McArthur, Gomez (Watson, 64) McCarthy, Maloney (Henriquez, 87), Espinoza, McManaman (Di Santo, 57), Kone.
Subs not used: Al Habsi, Caldwell, Watson, Di Santo, Fyvie