For both Arsenal and Wigan, the goal down the stretch was simple—win the final two games. On Tuesday, Arsenal took the first step toward achieving that goal, winning 4-1 behind goals from Lukas Podolski (two), Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey.
With the loss, Wigan's relegation is assured, meaning the Latics become the first team in Premier League history to win the FA Cup and be relegated in the same season. With the win, Arsenal regained its fourth-place spot on the table from Tottenham.
Arsenal had the first promising chance of the match as Theo Walcott blazed down the right side of the counter-attack. His centering feed took a bounce before finding the head of Santi Cazorla, whose attempt had enough power to beat keeper Joel but skittered just wide of the net.
And it would be Arsenal that would strike first in the 11th minute. Wigan would totally botch its defense on a corner kick, and the ball would skip into the box for Lukas Podolski in front of net, who had only to direct his header into a wide open net.
That was bad news for Wigan as Arsenal came into the game with an excellent record when scoring the first goal. From Paul Carr of ESPN:
Paul Carr @PCarrESPN
Arsenal is unbeaten in 25 straight league games when scoring first (21-0-4).5/14/2013, 6:57:54 PM
Arsenal continued to be the aggressor as Bacary Sagna's off-target shot nearly turned into a brilliant pass to Kieran Gibbs in the 17th minute, but the left-back was unable to stretch far enough to tap the ball into the net. Then, in the 20th minute, Cazorla found Ramsey open on the near post, but his sliding deflection came from a tough angle and harmlessly fell out of play.
Wigan nearly equalized in the 24th minute as a brilliant pass was played over the top of Arsenal's defense to a streaking Arouna Kone. But keeper Wojciech Szczesny was able to punch the pass clear of danger in the nick of time.
Arsenal nearly doubled the lead in the 38th minute on another corner as the ball seemed to skim off the top of Per Mertesacker's head at the near post, but Laurent Koscielny's weak shot spun just wide of the net.
A bit of Shaun Maloney brilliance would equalize the score just before the half. After earning a free kick just outside of the box (on a bit of a harsh call on Mikel Arteta), Maloney lined up for the free kick himself and curled a beautiful effort that Szczesny got a hand on but couldn't keep out of the net.
The game went into halftime tied at a goal apiece.
Wigan opened the second half with a bang. Kone played something of a one-two with Callum McManaman in the box, who went down looking to draw a penalty but shuffled the ball ahead to Kone in the process. The striker's shot on goal was brilliantly saved by Szczesny, however, keeping the game even.
Moments later, Arsenal were denied on three attempts at goal. Twice, Cazorla had his shot blocked, the first after Walcott found the Spanish midfielder open in the box with a centering attempt. Cazorla attempted a second shot after the first block, this time being denied by keeper Joel before Tomas Rosicky sent a third shot on goal that skipped wide of the net.
Arsenal had another nice opportunity in the 57th minute, but Podolski's header after a cross from Kieran Gibbs was sent directly into the arms of Joel.
Minutes later, the speedy Walcott was sent into the box after a lovely through pass, but he had a tough angle at goal, and his shot was saved by Joel.
He would get his goal, however. Cazorla was sent free on the right side and centered a low feed to Walcott, who chipped the ball over Joel and gave Arsenal the lead back in the 63rd minute.
It was a poor effort by the Wigan keeper, who looked tentative approaching the cross and dove in with his legs, not his hands.
Arsenal would add another in the 68th minute and all but assure Wigan's relegation. Cazorla's headed pass in the middle of the pitch would spring Podolski into the box, and the German striker would make no mistakes, chipping his effort over Joel and giving the Gunners a 3-1 lead.
It only got worse for Wigan.
Aaron Ramsey joined the scoring parade in the 71st minute, finding himself wide open on the left of the pitch with two of his teammates joining him down the middle. He streaked into the box and looked off Joel before smashing Arsenal's fourth goal into the top of the net.
What looked like it would be a tense, even match that went down to the wire had turned into a goal spree for the Gunners.
Santi Cazorla, Arsenal: A+
For my money, Cazorla was easily the man of the match. While he didn't score a goal in this contest, he assisted on all four of Arsenal's scores and was regularly the talisman for the Gunners' attack. On any list of the best additions to a club this season, Cazorla has to be near the top.
Shaun Maloney, Wigan: A-
If there was a positive for Wigan in this game, it was Maloney's absolute brilliant free kick and his play in general. While none of the Latics were particularly bright in this game, Maloney at least gave them hope in a game that ultimately was a blowout.
Theo Walcott, Arsenal: A
Yes, Podolski scored two goals to Walcott's one, but Walcott deserves to be highlighted because he was simply the more dangerous player throughout. His runs down the right side leave left-backs in the Premier League helpless, and his scoring touch has been a revelation this season. He has truly made himself one of the most dangerous players in the league this year.
Joel, Wigan: C-
On one hand, the keeper's positioning in this game was suspect at best, and the Walcott goal that gave Arsenal the lead was a really shoddy effort from the keeper. On the other hand, his defense did him no favors.
|Mikel Arteta (Off 91')||CM||B|
|Tomas Rosicky (Off 78')||CAM||B+|
|Lukas Podolski (Off 78')||ST||A|
|Jack Wilshere (On 78')||CAM||B-|
|Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (On 78')||RW||B-|
|Thomas Vermaelen (On 91')||CB||B-|
|Emmerson Boyce ||RCB||D+|
|Antolin Alcaraz ||CB||D+|
|James McArthur ||RWB||C+|
|James McCarthy ||CM||C+|
|Jordi Gomez (Off 64')||CM||C|
|Callum McManaman (Off 57')||RW||C+|
|Shaun Maloney (Off 85')||LW||A-|
|Franco Di Santo (On 57')||RW||C|
|Ben Watson (On 64')||CM||C|
|Angelo Henríquez (On 85')||LW||C|
Wigan's season is essentially over as the team has officially been relegated. The Latics will close the season against Aston Villa on Sunday.
For Arsenal, the Champions League remains in their grasp. The Gunners are once again in fourth place with the win, one point clear of hated rival Tottenham. The Gunners now travel to St James' Park to face Newcastle on Sunday with a win guaranteeing a fourth-place finish.