Wigan Athletic experienced the two extremes in football in the space of only four days. They had their best ever day on Saturday when they won the FA Cup and today they suffered one of their darkest days when they were relegated from the Premier League after a 4-1 defeat at a rain-soaked Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal were given an early lead when Lukas Podolski headed them in front before Shaun Maloney’s superlative free-kick levelled the game. In the second half Theo Walcott gave the Gunners the lead before Podolski scored a second and then Aaron Ramsey confirmed the three points. Wigan will now be playing in the Championship next season after an incredible eight seasons in the top flight. Arsenal edged closer to a Champions League slot and a win at Newcastle on Sunday will ensure a 16th consecutive season in that competition.
Wigan retained the same starting line-up from their famous FA Cup win, while Arsenal only made one change from their last game with Kieran Gibbs coming in at left-back.
In torrential rain the home team started positively and looked the sharper of the two teams. They took the lead on 11 minutes following a corner, when Podolski was given far too much space in the Wigan six-yard box and stooped to head home.
Wigan struggled to make an impact in the first 30 minutes but following Arouna Kone’s shot in the 33rd minute they started to get a foothold in the game. Callum McManaman was beginning to pose a threat and soon had a shot well-blocked by the Arsenal defence.
The Latics were looking the more likely team to score in the 15 minutes before the interval and they equalised on 45 minutes. Shaun Maloney went down under a challenge from Mikel Arteta and referee Mike Dean awarded a free kick just outside the Gunners penalty area. Maloney produced a free kick of such high quality that it would not have been out-of-place at the Nou Camp. The Scottish magician curled the ball over the wall and beyond the despairing dive of the Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny.
It was a huge lift for Wigan and they started the second half as the team most likely to score. Szczesny denied Arouna Kone at close range and James McArthy had a goal ruled out for offside. But the game was opening up, Arsenal threatened and Latics keeper Joel Robles was forced into a double save before Tomas Rosicky’s shot went wide.
McManaman went off with an ankle injury on 56 minutes and Wigan never seemed to recover from the set back.
It was now end-to-end stuff and Arsenal regained the lead through Walcott after a superb low cross from Cazorla evaded the Wigan defenders and was turned into the net by the England forward.
Five minutes later Arsenal added a third when Paul Scharner played Podolski onside allowing the German forward in to lob over Robles. On 71 minutes Arsenal added a fourth when Ramsey, who appeared to be in a offiside position when he broke away, fired in from a tight angle. The final scoreline was harsh on Wigan and did not fully reflect their efforts in the game.
Following the defeat and relegation the critics will be out in force, pointing to Wigan’s poor defensive record, lack of goals and Roberto Martinez’s failures as a manager. But the truth is that very few clubs would have survived this season with the plague of injuries they endured.
The club have achieved remarkable things during their eight seasons in the Premier League and they have won many friends for their style of football. They have set a new record by being the only club to have appeared in every domestic cup competition, reached a Carling Cup Final, qualified for a European competition and won the FA Cup. Not a bad record for a small town club with a population of 81,000.
It must be a terribly disappointing day for manager Roberto Martinez and Chairman Dave Whelan who have put so much work into growing and developing the club. But both men are determined characters and I believe the club can survive this setback and make a quick return to the Premier League.
Martinez is coveted by many other football clubs and at some stage he will go onto manage a bigger club, but my gut feeling is that he will stay and want to return the club to the top flight.