Our performances in the last matches of previous seasons have always danced on the edge between success and frustration. After a ten day break, we faced Wigan Athletic, a team that caused a major upset by beating Manchester City in FA Cup Final on Saturday, a team that has showed Jekyll & Hyde-routine in previous seasons, a trait very familiar to Gooners. Their status before the game – one defeat away from being relegated and FA Cup winners at the same time – spoke for itself. We have had some nasty experiences with Wigan, out of which last seasons defeat at Emirates (1:2) springs to mind.
We didn’t have any reason to enjoy results of Premiership fixtures during last weekend. Both rivals for 3rd and 4th spot won their games after going one goal down which meant we were below the line for the Champions’ League. Unlike us, our visitors could enjoy in Chelsea’s victory over Aston Villa – Chelsea’s victory gave them opportunity to surpass Villa on the table with two victories in two remaining matches. Wigan would – with victory over us – have had 38 points, two less than Aston Villa that they are going to play against in the last week of the season. The fact the Villains would have to play Latics without Christian Benteke probably raised hopes among Wigan players and fans.
Arsene Wenger decided to make a single change to team that won at Loftus Road. Kieran Gibbs replaced Nacho Monreal on the left side in order to deal with Callum McManaman, one of the most dangerous players of our opponents. Lukasz Fabianski returned to the bench after returning from a rib injury.
We started the game with determination that should have been our trademark from the Week One. Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla gave a preview of how influential they would be later. Walcott’s cross was met by Cazorla’s header but it went just a bit wide. Ten minutes after the start, Walcott made another cross that led to our corner. Cazorla made a cross, Mertesacker drew attention of the Wigan defenders so Podolski was left totally alone on the six-yard-range. The German striker nodded the ball into the net in a similar fashion to the one against Bayern Munich in Champions’ League.
That was an injection of self-confidence. Our players were enjoying a spell of slick passing and ball possession with chances like the one Bacary Sagna created without intention to double our lead. The French full-back took a shot but it was a bad one so it went on the left side of the box. Kieran Gibbs was close to sliding it home, but score-line remained the same. On the other side of the pitch, Wigan weren’t ready to roll over – Arouna Kone would probably have score had Laurent Koscielny not made a brilliant clearance. Koscielny nearly left his mark on the game in front of the opponents’ goal – Cazorla made a cross, Mertesacker flicked it on and was close to returning an assist to Koscielny which the French defender gave to Mertesacker against Fulham. However, Koscielny’s finishing wasn’t good as he – perhaps due to surprise that he got a chance – sent it wide.
One of our problems were the soft fouls Mike Dean – as it was expected – didn’t hesitate to give in favour of our visitors on two occasions in the first half. Mikel Arteta’s tackling didn’t help either so Wigan got themselves two chances from free-kicks on their right side of our D-area. After second foul, Maloney sent a well-placed shot – that perhaps touched a few hairs on Podolski’s head – over the wall into our net. It was a similar equalizer to the one we conceded last season against Blackburn when we won 7:1. It was the last chance in the first half and it was a bit of shock for our team that seemed to be in control of both play and result.
The start of the second half proved our players were shocked with the equalizer. Arouna Kone nearly exploited it after a one-two with Maloney, but Sczszesny made a vital save to keep us afloat while McCarthy’s goal was ruled out due to offside. We tried to respond with Walcott and Cazorla again being involved. The former made a low cross for Cazorla who was one-on-one with Joel Robles, but the Wigan goalkeeper made a double save. Rosicky tried to prove that the third time is the charm, but his shot went wide. Wigan tried from set-pieces and came close when Emerson Boyce headed the ball just over the bar.
After an hour, Walcott was released on the right flank and ran into the box. He took a shot but Robles saved it again. Soon after that, Arsenal finally restored the lead. Sagna found Cazorla with precise pass on the right flank and the little wizard fired a low cross into the six-yard-area. Walcott ran on the ball and came first to send it past Robles. Wigan were heavily hit by that goal and it was proven only six minutes later. Sczszesny’s goal-kick was headed badly by Alcaraz (who had an absolute shocker) to Cazorla who nodded the ball forward for Podolski. The German striker clipped the ball over Robles and made the rest of the game easier for both Gunners and Gooners. Cazorla picked himself a fourth assist when his pass to the left flank found Ramsey in counter-attack. The Welshman cut inside and decided to take a shot himself instead of passing the ball for Podolski who was totally alone waiting for his first Arsenal hat-trick to happen. It turned out that Ramsey made a wise choice – his finishing was clinical and it sealed our victory.
The late introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere gave some additional spice to our game but we didn’t score a fifth goal. Unfortunately, our captain Mikel Arteta had to leave the field just before injury time and it is very likely that he’ll miss the decisive match at St James Park next Sunday.
All-in-all, it was a good victory that also meant Wigan are relegated. We managed to win the game with three-goal-margin which leaves us with goal-difference that is worse than the Chavs by just one goal, but also 14 goals better than the one of Spuds. If we win the last game against Newcastle, we will finish among Top Four. If we fail to win, we’ll need some help from Newcastle’s bitter rivals Sunderland to leave White Hart Lane undefeated. With a two-goal-margin-victory over Newcastle, we might end third provided that Chavs fail to win their last match of the season against Everton at Stamford Bridge.
It won’t be easy but with the level of commitment our players showed today, we will take all three points against Newcastle.
on an important result…
We had a quick start and a strong start for the first 20 minutes. We were really dominating and after that we became a bit conservative and pushed forward less and allowed Wigan back in the game. We were unfortunate to go to 1-1 because I think it was a free kick for us. It was a big blow for our team and you could see that when we came out in the second half – we were not as fluent or as confident as we wanted to be. Wojceich made a great save at 1-1. At that stage we were on the brink of conceding a goal.
on Walcott’s goal…
When we scored the second one it was a massive blow for Wigan and they never recovered from that. It then became a comfortable win with goals three and four. It was a tight game.
on Wigan’s relegation…
It is sad that they go down because they are a good team, they play good football and are an intelligent team with good players. If they stay together they will certainly come up again.
on Arsenal’s ‘big’ players stepping up…
Yes, they produced and they scored the goals. Walcott had a great night. From the start he was always a guy who was dangerous. But they [all] stepped up and produced a quality game.
on being courageous…
We became a bit edgy and nervous at the start of the second half. But in these types of games you need to keep your nerve and continue to play like there is nothing at stake basically. It took us some time to recover from the [Wigan] goal.
on playing away in the final game…
I don’t know [if that could be an advantage]. In every single game until the end, for a long time now, we are in a position where we absolutely want the three points. Sometimes when you want it absolutely it takes some creativity away from your team. You could see as soon as it because 3-1 we were more dangerous and played with more freedom. it is part of being a top-level player, to deal with that.
on having to win at Newcastle…
It is all open, but it depends on our result. Even third place is not out of sight of we win the game.
on holding their nerve at Newcastle…
I am confident because we have experience, we play for a long time under massive pressure and we have always found the solutions with the problems that we have faced.
on Arteta’s substitution…
he is not alright, he pulled his calf so that could be a problem for Sunday. We don’t know, we have to wait for 24 hours. He is a massive doubt for Sunday. He is very important, that is why i don’t rule him out at the moment. maybe we will have to push Wilshere in [if he doesn’t make it]. I don’t know.
on the team’s consistency…
If you look at the number of points we made compared with Manchester United, I think we have the same since January 1. But it took us some time to get going, but I believe mainly [it is down to the fact] we didn’t win the big games, especially at home. That is why it took us a long time to find a level of confidence and to balance the team as well because we had many new players.
on stability being important…
At the moment, we prepare for next season as well because the way that you play and finish determines the ability to start well next season. That is a big part, but bigger is to finish well and that is at Newcastle on Sunday.
Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Gibbs
Arteta (c) Ramsey
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