Arsenal 4 Wigan 1: Euro-Bound Gunners Condemn Latics to Relegation
The final outcome was bluntly simple for both sides – win or bust!
On the Blue corner stood a team that was threading on relegation waters with an outside chance of surviving the drop despite enjoying a night in the spotlight following their impressive win over Manchester City in the FA Cup final, which ultimately cost Roberto Mancini his job. On the Red corner stood a team that had its eyes firmly fixed on a Champions League berth, as wins from its rivals over the weekend turned out to be an eye opener.
As expected, Wigan arrived at the Emirates with the same set of heroes that triumphed in Wembley and Arsenal featured the same XI that secured that nervy win over Queens Park Rangers 10 days ago with the only exception being Kieran Gibbs’ return to first team action at the expense of Nacho Monreal.
Arsenal began the game with more urgency with Theo Walcott using his pace to evade Espinoza on the right before lofting a cross that was nodded narrowly wide by Santi Cazorla. The heavy downpour was incessant but it wasn’t going to disrupt one hell of a footballing night.
With just 10 minutes on the clock, Santi Cazorla swung in a corner and some trademark horrendous Wigan defending paved the way for Lukas Podolski to nod the ball home at point blank range.
Mikel Arteta intercepted the ball superbly before instigating an attack in an unorthodox quickfire fashion from those his aging legs. After teeing up Podolski, the German drilled the ball into Wigan’s danger area but there was no Gunner in the box to exert the damage. Bacary Sagna made a foray forward and after some intricate Arsenal interplay, he fired a tame shot that skewed wide with Gibbs making a futile effort to dispatch the ball goalwards.
Wigan threatened Arsenal with an over the top ball that caused Wojciech Szczesny problems but Laurent Koscielny was on hand to make a superb clearance. His introduction to the team in the skipper’s stead has improved Arsenal’s defense and the results on the pitch have proved that fact.
Callum McManaman got in behind Gibbs and fired a low drive into the heart of Arsenal’s defense but Kos the Boss popped up with the goods yet again, making another vital interception. The French defender was the quickest to react to another Cazorla corner but his effort wasn’t far off the mark.
Cazorla continued to pull the strings in midfield, cushioning an inch-perfect through ball to Walcott that matched the finish but the assistant referee’s flag spared Wigan’s blushes. Just when it seemed as if the Gunners were going to go into the break with a well-deserved lead, Arteta conceded a soft free kick at the edge of the area. Shaun Maloney stepped up with a precise shot that rattled Szczesny’s net, despite the fact that he got a hand to it.
Both teams knew that a draw would have been ineffectual so they had to go for broke, and in quite surprising fashion, it was Wigan Athletic that almost opened the scoring the start of the second half when Arouna Kone’s shot was blocked bravely by Szczesny. Kone and Maloney were in the thick of things again, as they connected with James McArthur that rifled a shot through Szczesny’s legs. However, the assistant referee made a right offside call.
Walcott was having a stormer on the right and made mince meat out of Espinoza before swinging a cross that was fired goalwards by Cazorla, forcing Wigan’s goalie, Joel, to make a fine save. Cazorla had a second bite of the cherry but Joel coupled with some last-ditch Wigan defending blocked the ball and it fell kindly to Rosicky whose shot was blasted wide.
McManaman was one of Wigan’s bright sparks in the first half but he suffered an injury and was replaced by Franco di Santo. Walcott continued to terrorize the Wigan rearguard down the right and he lofted another cross that was controlled by Gibbs. After dallying on the ball, he dinked a cross for Podolski but his header was easy pickings for Joel.
Rosicky exploited Walcott’s blistering pace with a carefully-weighted through ball and the winger bore down on goal with Podolski making up ground to expect a cut back. Walcott fired the shot straight at the goalie albeit from an acute angle much to the disgust of Podolski.
After constant pressing and probing, Arsenal finally got a deserved lead when Sagna located Cazorla on the right hand side. The diminutive magician drilled the ball into the area and it was nicked in by Walcott for his 21st goal of the campaign. Wigan launched a counter attack harboring plans of an equalizer but with Kone beating Arteta for pace, Gibbs made a vital block before Walcott mopped things up.
Moments later, it was Route One stuff from Arsenal as Szczesny’s punt was intercepted by Aldonin Alcaraz to the path of Cazorla that nodded an intelligent pass to Podolski. Joel rushed on to protect his goal but the German Machine lobbed the goalie to make it 3-1. While the Gunners were basking in the euphoria of some breathing space, Cazorla split the Wigan defense open with a pass to Ramsey. After darting unmarked into the danger area, Ramsey finished aplomb with a blasted effort that slammed the roof of the net.
In eight minutes, the Gunners had smashed in three goals. Magical stuff.
Arsene Wenger made some routine substitutions with Jack Wilshere and the Ox coming on for Rosicky and Podolski. By leaving the pitch for the 22nd time this season, Podolski created a new record as Arsenal’s most substituted player in a single campaign, surpassing a record held by Freddie Ljungberg…Meanwhile, Frank Lampard broke the record for…
Late on there was a concern for Arsenal as Arteta was withdrawn for what seemed like an injury and was replaced by Thomas Vermaelen that went straight into the defensive midfield position. Interesting.
Depending on the extent of Arteta’s injury, the Verm might be experimented there but I’m in no position to make such conclusions.
The ref’s final whistle was like music to the ears of Arsenal, Sunderland and Aston Villa fans, as the result was enough for them to be where they had hoped to be. However, it signaled the end of an eight-year adventure for Wigan Athletic and their FA Cup-winning manager, Roberto Martinez, that could be tempted to jump ship to Everton.
Arsene Wenger spoke about his team’s performance, Wigan’s relegation, the extent of Arteta’s injury and many more in his post-match interview. This victory has sent Arsenal back to fourth place with some false hopes of even leapfrogging Chelsea to third place which will be dependent on their result in David Moyes’ final game as Everton’s manager.
Tottenham will be hoping for the Gunners to slip up on the final day but they’ll have to come through the energetic Paolo di Canio and his Black Cat Army. Arsenal did him a massive favor yesterday by condemning Wigan to relegation.
I certainly wouldn’t mind if he returns the favor.
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