FA CUP winners Wigan were relegated from the Barclays Premier League as Arsenal moved into the top four with an emphatic 4-1 win.
Scorers: Arsenal - Podolski 11, 68, Walcott 63, Ramsey 71; Wigan - Maloney 45
Referee: M Dean
It was always going to be a big ask for the Latics to lift themselves for such a huge game just 72 hours after their glorious Wembley victory over Manchester City, and so it proved.
There was to be no fairytale ending for manager Roberto Martinez’s men, despite another brave crack at the Great Escape.
As the rain fell on north London, the home side took an early lead. A corner from the left was chipped in by Santi Cazorla, and the ball dropped into space in the six-yard box, where Lukas Podolski stooped to nod it past Joel Robles.
Wigan, though, soon caused panic in the Arsenal box as a deep ball picked out Arouna Kone, and defender Laurent Koscielny had to hack clear as Wojciech Szczesny rushed out of his goal.
Referee Mike Dean drew the wrath of the home crowd on the stroke of half-time when he awarded a free kick after Mikel Arteta had tracked back to go shoulder to shoulder on Maloney, who tumbled over five yards outside the box.
Maloney got up and whipped a brilliant dead-ball effort up and over the wall, down into the bottom right corner – which sparked wild scenes of celebration among the small travelling contingent.
However, an eight-minute second-half spell boosted Arsenal’s Champions League prospects and ended Wigan’s hopes of survival.
A swift 63rd-minute break put Cazorla away down the right, and his perfectly-weighted cross into the penalty area was clipped home by Theo Walcott. Podolski made it 3-1 in the 68th minute when he nodded the ball over Robles. Aaron Ramsey crashed in a fourth on the break in the 71st minute, surging into the penalty area and smashing past Robles into the roof of the net.
While the Latics must now regroup for the challenges of the npower Championship, Arsene Wenger’s men will head to Newcastle in the knowledge victory on the final day would secure another crack at taking on Europe’s elite.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Ramsey, Arteta (Vermaelen 90), Rosicky (Wilshere 78), Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski (Oxlade-Chamberlain 78). Subs not used: Fabianski, Monreal, Jenkinson, Gervinho.
Wigan: Robles, Boyce, Scharner, Alcaraz, Espinoza, McManaman (Di Santo 57), Maloney (Henriquez 85), McCarthy, McArthur,Kone, Gomez (Watson 64). Subs not used: Al Habsi, Caldwell, Fyvie, Golobart.