x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Premier League: Arsenal send Wigan Athletic packing

Lukas Podolski scores twice to lift Arsenal into third in the table as FA Cup winners Wigan Athletic are relegated, writes Richard Jolly.

Arsenal 4 Wigan Athletic 1

Arsenal Podolski 11’, 68’, Walcott 61’, Ramsey 71’
Wigan Athletic Maloney 45’
Man of the match Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)

Arsenal may be headed to the Uefa Champions League but Wigan Athletic are definitely going to the Championship. While the Gunners are closing in on their 16th consecutive top-four finish, an extraordinary four days culminated in the FA Cup winners being relegated.

Twin trips to London’s biggest grounds, Wembley Stadium and Emirates Stadium, have brought joy and despair. Having won their first major trophy on Saturday, their eight-year stay in the Premier League concluded last night. Four points from safety with a game to go, there can be no great escape this time.

Arsenal’s fate is more uncertain, but it is in their own hands. Lukas Podolski’s brace enabled them to leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur into third. It all comes down to the meetings of North London and the North-east on Sunday, when Spurs host Sunderland and Arsenal visit Newcastle United. They have the tougher game but, with 23 points from a possible 27, they also have the form.

Arsene Wenger has long insisted his side possess character and flair players delivered crucial contributions. Santi Cazorla set up all four goals and Theo Walcott, the scorer of the second, was equally influential.

Wigan, meanwhile, showed the defensive frailties that account for their demotion but showed the attacking intent to show why the Premier League will miss them. The underdogs went down playing with panache.

Yet their problems at the back were apparent from the start when a stooping Cazorla headed Walcott’s cross just wide with Joel Robles beaten. Four minutes later, they were ahead. Wigan allowed Cazorla’s corner to bounce in the six-yard box and the unmarked Podolski headed in. From another Cazorla delivery, Laurent Koscielny was left unattended to prod a shot wide.

Yet comebacks have been a feature of Wigan’s improbable escapes from the drop in the past. Briefly, another was on the cards. They levelled with a free kick won contentiously but scored superbly by Shaun Maloney. The Scot flighted a free kick over the Arsenal wall, beating Wojciech Szczesny.

The turnaround could have been complete. If Szczesny was at fault then, he turned rescuer by blocking Arouna Kone’s shot when the Ivorian bore down on goal following a one-two with Maloney.

Aware a draw was of little use to them, Arsenal were equally more progressive. It made for end-to-end action and, when the Wigan defence were put under pressure, they cracked. Robles had made a terrific double save from Cazorla after Walcott, a menace all night, caught them on the counter attack but the same duo combined for the crucial goal.

It was a role reversal, Cazorla materialising on the right wing to curl in the lovely cross for the Englishman to finish bravely at the feet of the goalkeeper.

Then the floodgates opened. When Cazorla headed the ball forward, the Wigan defence froze and Podolski looped a shot past Robles. With the Spaniard turned provider for a fourth time, Aaron Ramsey’s emphatic finish brought another goal.

Game over and, for Wigan, the most glorious era in their history is at an end, too.

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE