Arsenal kept their quest for Champions League qualification in their own hands heading into the final match of the season and simultaneously sent Wigan Athletic crashing down to the Championship courtesy of a pulsating 4-1 win at the Emirates.
Something had to give on a night where both teams desperately needed the three points to keep their hopes alive of achieving their primary objectives this season.
Arsenal got off to a hot start and went ahead after just 11 minutes through a Lukas Podolski header. But Wigan showed plenty of fight to make the game a rip-roaring contest for a period either side of the break as they equalized through Shaun Maloney on the stroke of half-time.
Yet ultimately it was the failings of their injury-hit defense that cost them dear as Arsenal had the quality to pick off the visitors in the second half with a blitz of goals from Theo Walcott, a second for Podolski, and the final strike from Aaron Ramsey.
Arsenal now head into the final game of the season away to Newcastle knowing that a win will ensure a 16th straight season in the Champions League.
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For Wigan, despite the unforgettable memory of lifting the FA Cup for the first time in their history just three days earlier, they now have to face up to life in England’s second tier.
Arsenal came out firmly on top at the start in a manner that perhaps reflected the 10 days rest the home side had enjoyed in contrast to Wigan’s dramatic day at Wembley just 72 hours prior.
Whereas Wigan’s three-man defensive system played a huge part in their victory over Manchester City, in the early stages Arsenal and Theo Walcott took advantage of the space down the flanks of Roberto Martinez’s side.
A Walcott cross had already been headed inches wide by Santi Cazorla before another threatening ball in had to be turned behind by the opposition.
From the resulting corner from Cazorla, Wigan’s defensive vulnerability that cost them dearly against Swansea City last week came back to haunt them once more as they criminally allowed the ball to bounce in the middle of the six-yard box and Podolski couldn’t believe his luck as he simply stooped to head the ball into the net.
Arsenal soon threatened a second as Aaron Ramsey just failed to turn a clever low ball from Cazorla on target at the near post.
But the home side failed to seize upon their early momentum and allowed Wigan to gradually get a foothold in the game as the opening period moved past the halfway point.
There was still a lack of sharpness from Wigan, however, and their only threat came as Laurent Koscielny prevented Arouna Kone from getting on the end of a chipped through ball.
While Wigan were playing better, their defensive problems on set-pieces nearly gifted Arsenal a second goal when another corner aimed toward the near post was allowed to travel into the six-yard box but this time the ball rather hit Koscielny and bounced inches wide.
But late drama at the end of the first 45 minutes rewarded Wigan for their improved play and put both club’s fate firmly back in the balance.
There appeared little contact from Arteta as he went to ground on the wet surface just more than 20 yards from goal, but to Arsenal’s frustration a free-kick was awarded. The Scotland international took full advantage as he repeated his heroics from the recent draw with Queens Park Rangers with a stunning strike hit with pace and dip to beat Szczesny at his near post.
The match appeared to be setup perfectly heading into the break and so it proved as the both sides went end to end at a frenetic and thrilling pace to begin the second period.
It was Wigan that were first to threaten in search of the winning goal they craved.
Kone exchanged passes with Callum McManaman to get behind the defense but Szczesny stood up well to block the Ivorian’s close-range shot.
Inevitably, though, Arsenal fought back off the ropes and put their opponents under pressure.
Initially, Wigan withstood the pressure as Joel Robles did well to stop Cazorla’s initial effort before Tomas Rosicky struck the rebound wide of the post.
But, with Wigan, and particularly their wing-backs, pushing forward, the space was there for Arsenal to take advantage, and exploit it they did.
Just past the hour mark, Cazorla again exposed Wigan out wide defensively as he burst clear down the right. The Spaniard played a low ball across goal of real quality to take advantage of Walcott’s pace as he steamed into the area and the forward just got there ahead of Robles to scramble the ball into the net.
This time there was to be no way back for Wigan. For all their endeavor and quality on the ball, it was their carelessness at the back that eventually proved their downfall both in the match and their season.
Antonin Alcaraz half-cleared with a header on the edge of the area but Wigan’s defenders just stood motionless with Paul Scharner playing Podolski onside as the ball was headed back into the danger zone and the German was allowed the freedom to help the ball over Robles.
And just a short time later, the score line became even more emphatic as Arsenal struck their third in just under 10 minutes. It was a similar scenario to the second goal as this time Ramsey raced clear, breaking the offside trap down the left and had space to come inside before squeezing a shot high past Robles at the near post.
The damage had been done and there was to be no greatest of great escapes as Wigan's eight-year stay in the Premier League came to an end.