LONDON: Arsenal are within touching distance of the fourth and last Champions League slot courtesy of a victory which saw Wigan Athletic created undesired history as the first club to win the FA Cup and suffer relegation in the same season.
They might even become caught up in a play-off complication.
The Gunners’ 4-1 win over Wigan last night in North Londonarrived courtesy of two goals from Lukas Podolski and a sudden acceleration at the start of the second half.
Arsene Wenger’s men need to win at Newcastlein the last round of matches on Sunday afternoon to cement a 16th successive presence among the European club elite. Only if they fail to win can Tottenham overtake by winning at home, simultaneously, to Sunderland.
The likelihood is victories for both the north London rivals since the north-east clubs no longer need fear relegation. Wigan’s defeat sent them down to the second division [the Championship] along with the already-doomed Queens Park Rangers and Reading.
Only possible catch is if the Gunners win by one goal at Newcastle and score two more goals than Chelsea manage in a draw at home to Everton. That would make the clubs joint third and Arsenal and Chelseawould have to play off for the automatic Champions League qualification spot.
That would cause fixture headaches all round. Chelsea are contracted to an end-of-season tour to the United States next week while England play friendlies on May 29 against the Republic of Ireland and then in Brazil on June 2.
Neither club would want the season to stretch into June but the play-off regulation is part of Premier League rules.
Back in north London doomed Wiganwent down bravely. They conceded that early headed goal to Podolski but equalised just before the interval through midfielder Shaun Maloney.
Roberto Martinez’s men needed to push on for a win to maintain any hope of avoiding the drop but in so doing they left gaps which Arsenal exploited ruthlessly through Theo Walcott, Podolski again and Aaron Ramsey.
Podolski wrote a strange slice of history himself on becoming the most substituted Premier League player ever when he was replaced for the 28th time this season in 31 starts in all competitions. Wenger has attributed his policy of perpetual Podolski rotation to worries about the player’s susceptibility to fatigue.
Wigan, who exchanged Saturday’s tears of joy for tears of sorrow, may struggle to regain the Premier status they have struggled to maintain for the past eight seasons. They will also struggle to hold on to Martinez. He is favourite to succeed Manchester United-bound David Moyes at Everton.
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