In the end it appeared easy, but as ever with this current incarnation of Arsenal, the full story is somewhat more complicated and immeasurably more dramatic than that.
Arsenal defeated Wigan Athletic 4-1 on Tuesday night at the Emirates Stadium in London in a match full of far-reaching implications for both teams. The result ensured Arsenal will enter the season's final day as favorites to finish in the top four and thus qualify for the UEFA Champions League, and it also confirmed Wigan's relegation from England's top flight for the first time in club history.
Lukas Podolski scored twice playing as center-forward, while Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey added a goal each. Santi Cazorla dictated the offense, assisting all four goals in a performance perhaps as effective as Arsenal have seen this season. And thus, fans of Arsenal can cling to several positives as Sunday's do-or-die finale looms.
Cazorla was outstanding, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was solid and even the oft-maligned Walcott turned in a compelling performance. Together they collaborated on what turned out to be a rout, but in truth, the match remained tense for more than an hour.
Santi Cazorla is the first Arsenal player to get four assists in a single PL game since Fabregas v Blackburn in Oct 20095/14/2013, 8:19:34 PM
Until Podolski's second strike made it 3-1 in the 68th minute, the likelihood of a Wigan comeback seemed to be somewhere between possible and inevitable. Arsenal took an early lead again for the third straight game as Podolski headed in uncontested from Cazorla's corner in the 11th minute. But the Gunners lost their initiative soon after and allowed Wigan back into the game with Shaun Maloney's goal direct from a free kick just before halftime.
That left the match poised delicately at the break, and the fact that Arsenal responded so positively will serve as great comfort to supporters. So often this season the Gunners have scored early and failed to finish off a match. This time, after a wobble, Arsene Wenger's men came through in the clutch.
But the joy Gooners are feeling in the aftermath can't hide reality. Even after winning Tuesday, the job is not complete. Only a victory at Newcastle—which admittedly might not be all that difficult—will guarantee Arsenal's place in the final top four.
And besides, for all the high stakes, frayed nerves and tactical complexities, the narrative surrounding this match was, at heart, a simple one for Arsenal.
This match was about doing the job that was both expected and required. Arsenal and Wigan both needed to win—Arsenal to maintain their hopes of a top-four finish and Wigan to maintain their spot in the Premier League—but with the better squad Arsenal had no excuse to lose.
In that sense, to use an old sports cliche, this was merely a matter of taking care of business. A club like Arsenal really should be able to defeat a club like Wigan if finishing in the top four is the objective.
And that is the objective now for Arsenal, no matter how much we tease Wenger for his comments about taking trophies for the top four. That kind of talk satisfies nobody in the end, but if Arsenal are to return to challenging for the league title, it might just be the means to that end.
Beating Wigan was vital and, in the context of so many fast starts and slow finishes, somewhat cathartic. But it was not decisive, and Wenger must have his men ready again in five days' time.
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