Arsenal 4 – 1 Wigan Athletic
1 – 0 Podolski (11)
1 – 1 Maloney (45)
2 – 1 Walcott (63)
3 – 1 Podolski (68)
4 – 1 Ramsey (71)
Well, Arsène said it had to happen; that the job had to be finished at home. To a certain extent it was, enough if it was a performance in three acts. The final outcome has left Arsenal’s fate once more in their own hands; three points at St James Park on Sunday and a top four finish is guaranteed. By his own admission, that is the minimum requirement for a season; fourth. It might be third if that win is by a two-goal margin, combined with an Everton draw at Stamford Bridge. But that is a sub-plot, the main story is Arsenal’s performance on that day.
That is to get ahead of ourselves. Last night, Arsenal acquired the three points with a second half performance which was as good as has been seen in recent weeks. The hand brake applied after Lukas Podolski’s early opener was not so much taken off, as the mechanism was smashed to pieces. Tackles were made, passes improved and counter-attacks effective. The reticence of the first half gone, Arsenal created and took their chances in an eight minute spell midway through the half.
The turnaround was a testament to the inner resolve of the squad, the focus of the players in achieving the required result. There could be a number of players considered for the Man of the Match award and Theo Walcott can have strong claims on it. I know Santi Cazorla has the four assists on the night but Walcott gave a more complete performance, supplementing his attacking play with a lot of hard work providing cover for Sagna on the right, especially when Arsenal let Wigan back into the game.
Walcott has his critics – and on occasion in the past, he has failed to live up to the promise of his youth. There is a growing maturity in his play, one that bodes well for the future, particularly as there will doubtless be a change of right back sooner rather than later. It was his initial burst that led to the corner so perfectly delivered by Santi Cazorla for Podolski to head home. Had the Spaniard nudged home his header minutes beforehand, we would be looking back and saying his performance deserved a goal.
Why Arsenal sat back I am not sure but only an acrobatic intervention from Koscielny stopped Kone having a presentable opportunity. A favoured tactic on Saturday by the eventual FA Cup winners was a long diagonal pass to the flanks. A couple of early attempts at that were intercepted; it was clear that the tactic had been watched, noted and neutered. The play became stagnant, Koscielny went close for Arsenal from Cazorla’s free kick but nothing of any note was created at either end until inevitably Mike Dean fed the preposterous notion of tangibly officiating against Arsenal to their detriment. Cazorla’s fall might have been exaggerated but it was still a free kick. To subsequently punish Arteta with a dubious interpretation of a foul leaves supporters incredulous. Maloney rubbed salt into the wounds with a cracking finish. I cannot recall him doing that every week but he certainly should with that sort of accuracy.
A second for the visitors would have left Arsenal in trouble but Szczesny make a crucial save from Kone. May be that was the tipping point in the match, the moment that the belief started to seep into Arsenal. Wigan did not have a chance of note after but Arsenal went goal crazy as Cazorla centered for Walcott to nip in between goalkeeper and defenders for the second. The Spaniard then headed Podolski clear, the German finishing with some aplomb before the final act arrived in the form of Aaron Ramsey’s superb finish from an acute angle.
The win was all that was asked for, all that was needed. It was a pity that the evening has turned sour with Mikel Arteta’s injury causing concern ahead of Sunday. It would be a tough choice for the manager as to who he uses to replace his captain but most likely that would be Jack Wilshere ahead of Thomas Vermaelen. If you were nervous about last night, you’ll be a wreck before the weekend.
I suppose one should have sympathy for Wigan and their relegation but I can’t quite bring myself to feel sorry for them. It sums up the friendliness to which everyone seems predisposed that I didn’t notice any taunting, a complete absence of “You’re going down with the Rangers” or some such ditty. Not wanting to upset football karma or just that no-one really cared? I am sure that as much as they will treasure Saturday’s FA Cup win, the players would trade that for another Premier League season.