Wednesday 21 February 2018

Gunners hammer final nail into Wigan's survival dream

Arsenal 4 Wigan 1

Arsenal's Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey celebrate Ramsey's goal against Wigan
Arsenal's Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey celebrate Ramsey's goal against Wigan

Henry Winter

Wigan made history at Wembley at the weekend, winning the first major trophy in their 81 years, and then sadly, painfully, tearfully they made more history here, becoming the first FA Cup winners to suffer relegation in the same season.

Wigan now face a Europa League adventure and the Community Shield squeezed in amid the serial skirmishes of the Championship calendar.

Relegation will inevitably increase speculation about whether they can keep their widely-admired manager Roberto Martinez and some of their Wembley stars like Callum McManaman, Shaun Maloney, James McArthur and James McCarthy, who were applauded off by the sporting Arsenal fans at the end.

Basically, anybody at the DW whose surname begins with M could be a target.

For all the enterprising nature of their football, the brutal reality for Wigan is that they forgot the basics defensively. They were level at the break, following Maloney's wonderful free-kick answer to Lukas Podolski's headed opener, but fell apart after the hour.

McManaman's injury knocked them collectively and they seemed distracted. Arsenal countered time and again, scoring through Theo Walcott, Podolski and Aaron Ramsey. Walcott in particular was excellent as England manager Roy Hodgson looked on.

A result that sunk Wigan ended the nerves jangling at Southampton, Fulham, Aston Villa and Sunderland. The result also carried immense significance for the Champions League positions. Arsenal rose above Tottenham into fourth place and victory over Newcastle United next Sunday guarantees them a 16th successive season in the Champions League under Arsene Wenger. As a smile crossed Arsenal's face, only tears flowed down the face of the Wigan 'keeper, Joel Robles.

Almost 500 fans made the journey south again but Wigan looked drained from their marvellous exertions on Saturday. They started slowly, rallied and then faded, ripped to pieces by Arsenal counter-attacking.

Walcott was on form, lifting Arsenal spirits, racing into the space behind Wigan's left wing-back, Roger Espinoza. Paul Scharner tried to get across at times, to cover for Espinoza but it was a clear weakness. One Walcott break took him quickly to the goal-line, and his cutback bounced in front of Santi Cazorla, who directed a stooping header just wide.

Walcott was impressing on the right, tracking back to stop Espinoza. Over on the left, Cazorla then made a more significant impact, curling over a corner that caused total confusion in the Wigan ranks. Their lack of a robust response was partly because Per Mertesacker had moved to the near-post, distracting Wigan's defence. The space opened up for Podolski, whose header arrowed into the net.


Wigan strived to release McManaman, who had given Manchester City's Gael Clichy such a painful afternoon at Wembley. Arsenal supporters had seen what McManaman had done to Clichy and were relieved that one of his successors at left-back here, Kieran Gibbs, largely dealt well with McManaman in the first half. One particularly well-timed interception drew loud approval from the crowd.

They clapped McManaman off when he was carried away on a stretcher injured in the second half. Doubtless a tweak of relief coloured their sporting gesture.

Laurent Koscielny was proving the real rock in the Arsenal back-line, even taking time out from his defensive duties to embark on one long elegant run. The Frenchman athletically stretched out a leg to hook away a long ball from Jordi Gomez which seemed destined for Arouna Kone.

Gomez then had a shot blocked. Maloney and Gomez then combined, feeding Kone, who shot over. Wigan were looking more like a Martinez team, spiriting the ball forward quickly and nimbly. McArthur slid a superb pass down the right, cutting out Gibbs, and sending McManaman through. His cross was cut out by the alert Koscielny.

Still Wigan poured forward. Maloney made a half-hearted appeal for a penalty when his shot caught Mikel Arteta. They were getting closer to the equaliser. They still had to negotiate a nervy moment before that Maloney gem. Another Cazorla corner was met by Mertesacker at the near-post and Koscielny was so close to steering Arsenal further ahead.

Arsenal fans then went into meltdown just before the break.

They were well aware of their poor record when Mike Dean is in charge, of only one win in 16 games at the start of play. They were incensed when Dean awarded Wigan a free-kick just outside the Arsenal area. Arteta was challenging Maloney, not with particularly aggressive intent, but there seemed some contact. Maloney certainly thought so and fell to the sodden soil.

As the home fans bayed their frustration, Maloney calmly placed a great free-kick towards the end of the wall where Podolski was half-jumping. The ball flew past Wojciech Szczesny.

Dean was roundly booed as he headed to the tunnel at the break and when he emerged for the second half. Wigan's mood and tempo remained upbeat until the hour. Szczesny saved from Kone. Robles then saved from Cazorla twice and Walcott as Arsenal rallied.

Arsenal sensed their opportunity when Wigan lost their talisman McManaman. When Cazorla charged down the right after 63 minutes, his cross was scrambled in by Walcott.

Wigan looked exhausted now, and their defence was totally cut to pieces.

First Podolski darted through and chipped Robles. Then Ramsey cut in from the left, gave Robles the eyes, and drilled the ball in. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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