Arsenal 4 Wigan Athletic 1 – On The Home Straight

So it’s 37 down and just one game to go for this campaign,
as Arsenal made it nine games unbeaten in the Premier League as we beat, and
ultimately relegated, FA Cup Winners Wigan Athletic on a wet Tuesday evening at
the Emirates Stadium.

It was a game in which neither side could afford to drop
points, and with Wigan no doubt confident and buzzing after Saturday’s Cup final
victory over Manchester City, it was important we got off to a good start to
put them on the back foot. And that’s exactly what happened, as from the off
Bacary Sagna and Theo Walcott linked up well to cause problems down Wigan’s
left, and it didn’t take long before the deadlock was broken.

It came from a Santi Cazorla corner (his first of four
assists in another fantastic display), and the Wigan defence stood still as the
ball dropped to Lukas Podolski who headed home from close range. From there, the
incentive was with us to push on and extend our advantage, and opportunities
arose for Laurent Koscielny from another corner, as well as a Sagna
shot-come-cross that almost found Kieran Gibbs in the area, both to no avail.

Wigan then grew into the game as the first half neared an
end, before referee Mike Dean became the centre of attention as he so strives
to be at every given opportunity. He’s the sort of man who I imagine was the
only boy wearing shorts in winter at school, such was his desire to gain
attention from his fellow school “mates” who inevitably thought he was an
obsessive twat.

In the space of only a few seconds he arguably correctly
ignored a fall from Cazorla that in all honesty could’ve gone either way, then
awarded Wigan a free kick for an almost identical collision between Shaun
Maloney and Mikel Arteta. I’m generally tolerant with referees as long as they
are consistent, of which this was most blatantly not. It was in a prime
shooting position for an accomplished free-kick taker like Maloney, and his
shot dipped over the wall and into the far corner and Wigan were level at the
break.

You could say Podolski should’ve done better in the wall,
or that Wojciech Szczesny might have been able to keep it out as he got a hand
to it, but it was a fantastic free kick and given their positive end to the
half it was hard to argue that going in all square wasn’t the fair score line.

The intensity rose in the second period, such was both
sides desire for three points and as the game opened up chances came quickly.
Wigan started the half better; with a goal being disallowed for offside and an
Aroune Kone one-on-one chance that was very well-saved by Szczesny, which could
well have been the turning point of the momentum of the match.

Wigan then lost the influential Callum McManaman to what
looked like a bad injury, and from there it was all Arsenal as three goals
inside 10 minutes finished the visitors off and condemned them to the
Championship. Cazorla was involved in them all, as he first broke down the
right and crossed perfectly for Walcott who nicked it past the ‘keeper. He then
took advantage of some lapse Wigan defending to put through Podolski who lobbed
home for his second of the evening, before the Spaniard finished his man-of-the-match
showing by releasing Aaron Ramsey down the left who ran and ran before cutting
inside the area and blasting the ball past a defeated Wigan ‘keeper from a
tight angle (the Welshman’s first goal for quite some time – has anyone died
yet?).

You could see it there and then that Wigan knew they were
beaten, and despite keeping their positivity and pride intact for the final
moments it was a relatively straightforward climax to Arsenal’s home campaign
for the season, and we again moved back into the coveted Champions League
qualification places.

I think it would be fair to say the score line flattered
us a bit, although obviously no-one will complain and as we’ve seen in the news
today every goal may well
count come Sunday evening
.
Wigan fought hard but ultimately our true quality showed at the end, and
whereas we’ve often struggled in the past to kill off lesser teams there was no
such issue yesterday.

Credit must go to our attackers for that, particularly
Walcott who had the sort of positive impact we’ve always known he’s capable of,
yet wished he provided on a more regular basis. Cazorla’s creativeness was
match winning, and although Podolski struggled in the first half he took his
two goals well.

The midfield weren’t particularly aesthetically pleasing,
but they did their job admirably as always, with Tomas Rosicky and Ramsey
pressing and working hard (despite their constant slipping on the wet surface)
and I’m particularly delighted the latter made the score sheet, highly deserved
for the man who has arguably been our best player since the turn of the
calendar year. Arteta was his usual busy self too, although there will be many
concerns with his late substitution forced due to a pulled calf muscle that has him as a doubt for Sunday’s trip to the North East.

Defensively we were sound, with Per Mertesacker and
Koscielny again solid as the centre back pairing. And Szczesny in goal looked
assured, with that second half save from Kone potentially being an incredibly
valuable one, as who knows how the game would’ve panned out had we found
ourselves 2-1 down.

So back into fourth we go, with our Champions League
destiny still in our hands. All that stands in our way now is an underachieving
Newcastle United side managed by Alan Pardew, what could possibly go wrong?! The
mathematics is simple; if we beat them, we’ll at least have the opportunity to
qualify for the group stages of Europe’s elite club competition next season.
And if Everton can take points off Chelsea, we may yet sneak in automatically
which would be quite the turnaround given where we were at only a couple of
months ago.

A quick word on Wigan though, and I echo Arsene Wenger’s comments about it being a shame to see them go down. They play football in the right
way, a lot more so than some clubs (ahem, Stoke City) and are well run too
despite not having the largest fan base. I like to think we showed our class as
fans last night by applauding their cup success before the game, then clapping
the Wigan players off at full time, acknowledging their effort despite their confirmed
relegation. I can only wish them all the best for next season and that I hope
to see them back in the Premier League soon.

For us though, we’re on the home straight and there’s
another St Totteringham’s Day in sight. If last year’s anything to go by, the
final day of the season will be full of twists and turns and whilst our
attention will obviously be on the happenings at St James’ Park (or whatever
they’re calling it these days), we’ll be no doubt hoping that Sunderland and
Everton can help us out by taking some points off of Tottenham Hotspur and
Chelsea, although I wouldn’t hold your breath given the form both our top four rivals
are in.

So strap yourselves in for one final ride, and I’ll see
you again on Sunday when our fate will be revealed. We’re almost there.

Matt Littlechild


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