The Gunners, too, were desperate for a win to keep alive their ambition of finishing in the top four and Lukas Podolski capitalised on some w
oeful defending to hand the home side an early lead while a Shaun Maloney free kick – won in questionable circumstances – drew the visitors level before the break.
Roberto Martinez’s side threatened to put the dampeners on Arsenal’s final home game of the season but clinical second-half strikes from Theo Walcott, Podolski and Aaron Ramsey ensured that they both regained control of the final Champions League qualification spot going into the last game of the season and terminated Wigan’s eight-year stay in the top flight.
Neither side came into the high-stakes encounter with fresh injury concerns and Arsene Wenger’s decision to replace Nacho Monreal with Kieran Gibbs at left-back was the only departure from the starting line-ups that last featured for both.
That, though, was an issue. The emotional nature of the Latics’ remarkable turn at Wembley on Saturday offered a draining contrast to their hosts’ 10 days of inaction since beating QPR, particularly considering that, while Wigan were enjoying the greatest moment in their history, notable Premier League strugglers conspired against them with crucial wins.
Consequently, Arsenal imposed themselves on their jaded-looking visitors, were met with flimsy resistance and took the lead just after t
he 10-minute mark. Alarm bells should have been ringing when a free Santi Cazorla hit the deck to send a controlled header skidding wide of the upright and moments later a totally unmarked Podolski stooped to nod home a bouncing corner delivered by the Spaniard.
The Gunners loosened slightly thereafter and, though Gibbs nearly got on the end of Bacary Sagna’s cross-cum-shot, it took Laurent Koscielny’s well-timed, agile interception to deny a lurking Arouna Kone.
More questionable defending from a corner saw Koscielny poke narrowly wide before Walcott saw an effort ruled out for offside as Wenger’s side threatened to render Wigan’s end-of-half ascendancy somewhat impotent. However, moments before the interval, Maloney struck a lethal free-kick from edge of the area that Wojciech Szczesny’s hand could not prevent fro
m nestling into the bottom corner.
Wigan started the second half in a much more confident manner, testing Szczesny right away as the Polish goalkeeper stood firm to thwart Kone’s close-range attempt, while James McCarthy was half a yard offside when he tucked home. Arsenal countered immediately and Joel Robles denied Cazorla as the the home side’s freshness became telling.
Robles was kept busy as he blocked Podolski’s header and Walcott’s near-post drive, though there was little he could do to stop Walcott from prodding home Cazorla’s pinpoint cross from the right flank to re-establish the Gunners’ lead.
Any hopes of Wigan pulling themselves back into the game and saving their Premier League status were dampened shortly after as Podolski grabbed his second, capitalising on some static defending to race onto Cazorla’s header and dink over the advancing Robles before Ramsey once again breached the Latics’ defence to gleefully rifle home inside the near post.
With the job done, Arsenal played out the remainder of the game in the knowledge that, having leapfrogged north London rivals Tottenham, a top-four finish is now in their own hands when they meet Newcastle on Sunday.