WIGAN manager Roberto Martinez accepts there is no margin for error in their final two matches with the team staring relegation in the face.
Anything other than victory at Arsenal tonight would effectively send the Latics down – they have a vastly-inferior goal difference to nearest rivals Sunderland, who are four points ahead – just three days after winning the FA Cup.
But the situation is not an unfamiliar one for Martinez. In the last two seasons their top-flight existence has gone down to the final couple of matches. “There is no margin for error, you need to win your ‘finals’ – that could be survival or winning trophies like we did on Saturday,” said the Spaniard.
“You prepare for ten or 11 months to get to crunch time and make sure you win the games and that is exactly the situation we are in.
“When you start the season you plan the campaign to try to be successful in the league: some clubs plan to win the league and some plan to stay in it.
“Six points at this stage of the season is vital. Two years ago we had to get all six, last season we had to get three out of six, other years we’ve needed one.
“I don’t see it as an extra pressurised situation as the players have been coping with it year after year.
“We have six points to get and finish the season on a real high.”
Martinez’s positive outlook, which has remained unchanged almost throughout his four-year reign at the DW Stadium, sees his side’s predicament different to the outside world.
It probably partly explains why his players perform so well at this stage of the season when other rivals have crumbled.
And the Wigan manager feels that, had it not been for debilitating injuries which have created something of a defensive crisis, his side could have been comfortable in the top half of the table.
“I don’t see it as survival, I see it is an important moment of the season,” Martinez said.
“The performance we had on Saturday [beating Manchester City 1-0] was something our fans have seen week in, week out and we have been very consistent this season and the best in the way we’ve played.
“But we’ve never had such an unfortunate season in losing defenders. It is not losing one or two but four or five in that backline, and that stops you from having solid partnerships and conceding soft goals.
“If you concede goals cheaply and you are not strong enough in your defensive box, it will have a massive bearing on your results. We have missed Antolin Alcaraz most of the season, Ivan Ramis has a cruciate (knee) injury, Gary Caldwell has a hip problem, (goalkeeper) Ali Al Habsi has a problem in his shoulder, we lost Jean Beausejour and Maynor Figueroa – the list is endless. But we never moan about it, the players never use that as an excuse. We’ve just got on with it and we’ve been able to win a major trophy.”
Wigan went to the Emirates in mid-April last season and won during a remarkable run of seven wins in their final nine matches. That result – and their Wembley win – will give the players confidence.
“In football and in life you need to have pictures of what you want to achieve, and in football it is very difficult to create a vision when you’ve never achieved that,” said Martinez.
“We know when we get our performance right we can compete with them, and we did that last season and it is great to have it fresh in our memories.”
Arsenal, though, also need the points and they go into tonight’s match looking to move back above London rivals Tottenham Hotspur into fourth place as the race for elite European football is set to go to the wire.
“We are on a remarkable run, we have been hugely consistent and we are in a position where our destiny depends on us and we want to finish the job,” said Arsene Wenger, who expects to have goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski (rib) and full-back Kieran Gibbs (hip) available.