This was always a huge hill to climb for little Wigan Athletic, the hard-trying club that has managed one 11th-hour rescue after another to remain a member of English soccer’s top tier.
But no more – not for the time being, at any rate.
Roberto Martinez’s club needed a mighty win in North London on Tuesday for a chance at staying up. Instead, the slow descent into relegation is now complete following a 4-1 thrashing from Arsene Wenger’s surging and confident club. With the Latics’ amazing win in Saturday’s FA Cup final not far away – in actual, physical distance and on the calendar – Tuesday’s collapse against Arsenal does look so predictable, doesn’t it?
Considering the emotions necessarily spent last Saturday at Wembley in pursuit of FA Cup dreams, and considering the inevitable comedown effect, anything but a two- or three-goal Wigan loss would have been the real shocker.
Wigan had the energy and “umph” to make this one close at the half, all tied at 1. (Why, were those boos we heard around the ground that Arsene built? Hmmm.)
But the visitors seemed to hit a wall after an hour, and Theo Walcott soon made Martinez’s men pay. The Emirates erupted again as Santi Cazorla helped arrange yet another one, this time for Lukas Podolski. That was pretty much that, although Aaron Ramsey added a fourth, not even 10 minutes after Walcott’s winner.
That spectacular eight-minute burst left Arsenal safe for the day and Wigan to begin the grieving process. Wigan thus becomes first team to be relegated from top-flight English soccer in the same season they claim the fabled FA Cup.
Thus, the post-game pictures of dejection from Wigan’s side really were such a stark contrast from the scenes of elation just 72 hour prior. There was Martinez, stoic but raw. One Latic man was crying into his towel.
For the Gunners, Tuesday’s achievement was the latest step towards retaining that sterling Champions League run. Arsene Wenger’s club retains control of its fate, now sitting in the fourth and final Champions League spot available to EPL clubs. Those incredibly valuable three points earned at the Emirates pushed Wenger’s club past Tottenham in the EPL table.
Still, it won’t be easy: While Arsenal travels north to face Newcastle in the final EPL matchday, Spurs’ task at home against Sunderland looks far more manageable. (The full final matchday slate is here.)
More on those matches will be seen in the days ahead; the unresolved status of the chase for top-four status means we can keep spinning the wheel on that one. Not so for Martinez and Wigan. Relegation and all that it implies – for a smaller club like Wigan, it will be so brutally tough to fight its way back into Premiership grace – is the price for too much defensive inattention all year, and for not being able to dodge one more relegation bullet still.