Football Football

Podolski double condemns Wigan


PODOWLSKI-WIGANLONDON, England, May 14 – Wigan were relegated from the Premier League just three days after their FA Cup final triumph as Arsenal seized control of the race to finish in the top four with a 4-1 victory on Tuesday.

Roberto Martinez’s side had arrived at the Emirates Stadium hopeful that their dramatic upset against Manchester City would prove the springboard for another great escape in the relegation battle.

But Arsenal desperately needed the points as well as they try to qualify for the Champions League and the Gunners romped home thanks to a brace from Lukas Podolski and strikes from Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey.

Shaun Maloney had given Wigan hope with a first half equaliser, but the Latics, running on fumes after their Wembley heroics, will experience the unique anguish of becoming the first side to win the FA Cup and be relegated in the same season.

While Wigan, four points behind Sunderland with one game left, will be back in the second tier for the first time since 2005, Arsene Wenger’s team are on course to play in the Champions League for a 16th consecutive season.

They had fallen two points behind Tottenham after their north London rivals won at Stoke, but now head to Newcastle on Sunday knowing another win will guarantee a top four finish.

They would not even need three points if Tottenham fail to beat Sunderland at White Hart Lane.

Martinez named the same starting line-up that stunned City, but the Latics seemed sapped of energy and they surrendered the lead in careless fashion in the 11th minute.

When Santi Cazorla lofted over a corner, Wigan’s statuesque defenders allowed the ball to bounce just six yards from goal and Podolski, having escaped some slack marking from James McArthur and Emmerson Boyce, took full advantage as he stooped to head past Joel Robles.

Over 20,000 Wigan supporters had celebrated their triumph at Wembley, but the tiny group, numbering no more than 500, who made the return trip to north London were beginning to get a sinking feeling in the torrential rain.

Wigan’s sloppy defending has been their Achilles heel this season and they were almost caught out again when Laurent Koscielny was gifted yards of space to poke Cazorla’s corner wide from close-range.

Yet somehow Wigan were level in first half stoppage-time.

Scottish winger Maloney forced Mikel Arteta to concede a free-kick in a dangerous area after surging clear of the midfielder, who responded with the slightest of nudges.

Maloney picked himself up to take the set-piece and curled a superb strike over the wall and past Wojciech Szczesny.

Wigan should have been in front at the start of the second half when Arouna Kone played a one-two with Callum McManaman to earn a clear sight of goal, but the Ivorian striker’s shot was parried by Szczesny.

James McCarthy then turned to fire home, only to see the linesman’s offside flag halt his celebrations.

But those two narrow escapes provoked a response from Arsenal and Cazorla forced a brilliant double save from Robles.

Wigan suffered a significant blow when in-form winger McManaman was stretchered off just before the hour.

Wenger’s men were finding space on the flanks far too easily and Wigan’s failure to adapt proved fatal in the 63rd minute.

Cazorla made a run that left Roger Espinoza trailing in his wake and the Spaniard whipped over a low cross which Walcott bundled past Robles’s weak attempted save.

Wigan needed an immediate response, but instead they were dealt a hammer blow five minutes later as more woeful defending allowed Podolski to put the game beyond reach.

Cazorla won a header far too easily and Wigan’s defenders showed no urgency as Podolski ran clear to flick his shot over the hopelessly exposed Robles.

Ramsey put the seal on Wigan’s relegation in the 71st minute as the Welsh midfielder sprinted away down the left before lashing into the roof of the net.