By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal’s top-four equation is now simple. If they win at Newcastle on Sunday, Arsène Wenger’s side will play in the Champions League for the 16th successive season.
Their situation was simplified thanks to a marauding 4-1 win over Wigan on Tuesday night.
The game was won by eight electric second-half minutes in which they scored three times. Theo Walcott’s cute finish restored the lead initially given to them by Lukas Podolski after nine minutes but wiped out by Shaun Maloney’s expert free-kick just before the interval.
The German chipped home a third shortly afterwards and when Aaron Ramsey fired home his first Premier League goal for 15 months the win was secure.
It is in Arsenal’s hands - and that is all you can ask for with just 90 minutes left in the 2012/13 season
Wigan had caused the home side plenty of problems around half-time but Arsenal’s in-your-face energy secured a crucial win.
Unfortunately Roberto Martinez’s side, so heroic on Saturday, were relegated as a result.
But, for Arsenal, it is deja-vu all over again on the final day of the season. As with last year, Wenger’s men know a victory will secure a top-four place.
And third is still possible if Chelsea slip up at home to Everton.
It is in Arsenal’s hands - and that is all you can ask for with just 90 minutes left in the 2012/13 season.
The last home game of the season is often a shirtsleeves affair. But before kick-off this evening the Emirates Stadium crowd huddled up in the cold and withstood the driving rain.
Wigan were unchanged from the side that had sprung a surprise at Wembley on Saturday to lift the FA Cup.
It may be a hoary old cliché but on this occasion it was true - this was another cup final.
Arsenal began at a pace that suggested they knew the gravity of their situation.
Walcott was their most effective outlet. In the opening minutes his foray down the right ended with Santi Cazorla heading just wide.
In the ninth minute, his probing cross was swept behind by Antolin Alcaraz. Cazorla fired over the corner and Podolski nodded home from close range.
It was the German’s 10th goal in the Premier League, his 14th overall and, more importantly, a huge relief for his team.
The goal switched Arsenal’s tactics from inquisitive insistence to just plain swarming. They were all over Wigan, firing in pot shots with persistence.
In the 17th minute, one such effort from Bacary Sagna was nearly slid home by Kieran Gibbs, the full back on the opposite side.
It was a mark of the attacking confidence of Arsenal at this point.
Wigan had not settled but in the 20th minute Laurent Koscielny acrobatically hooked the ball away from Arouna Kone as the striker bore down on goal. Shortly afterwards, the Ivorian slashed a high shot over the bar.
It was no test of Szczesny but it suggested Wigan were waking up.
Arsenal nearly grabbed another six minutes from half time when Per Mertesacker flicked on Cazorla’s free-kick and Koscielny scuffed an effort inches wide.
But there would be a sting in the tail just before the whistle. Mikel Arteta was adjudged to have clipped Maloney just outside the area.
Once again, the Scot proved his precision from dead-ball situations by curling his effort over the wall and beyond the outstretched fingers of Szczesny.
It was a sucker punch after a half that Arsenal had bossed.
The equaliser seemed to have affected both sides. Wigan were confident and aggressive after the restart and it nearly brought them an immediate lead.
If Emirates Stadium had been holding its breath it could at least start to exhale… and four minutes later puff out its cheeks as Arsenal grabbed a third
A one-two between Kone and Maloney saw the striker momentarily free in the left-hand channel. Szczesny raced out to make a crucial save. Then James McCarthy fired home but was flagged offside.
Arsenal responded. Walcott overlapped down the right and, from his cross, Cazorla was denied twice before Tomas Rosicky’s cross-shot dribbled wide.
The game was wide open. It was no surprise, Wigan were trying to seize their moment on the back of the goal.
Koscielny cut out a dangerous low cross from Roger Espinoza and Emmerson Boyce headed over meanwhile, at the other end, Podolski nodded into the hands of Joel Robles.
The Spaniard saved again after Walcott raced clear down the right on the hour. Arsenal seemed to have found the poise once more and, this time, a goal soon followed.
Cazorla escaped down the right and swept a cross into the heart of the six-yard box. Walcott beat Robles to the ball and prodded home his 21st goal of the campaign.
If Emirates Stadium had been holding its breath it could at least start to exhale… and four minutes later puff out its cheeks as Arsenal grabbed a third.
Szczesny’s punted free-kick was headed back to Cazorla, who nodded Podolski clear. The German gleefully lifted his shot over the advancing Robles.
It was a cushion but nothing felt comfortable enough this evening - although Ramsey’s rapid fourth gave the home side a little luxury.
The Welshman sprinted onto Cazorla’s pass on the byline, cut inside and forced home his shot from the tightest of angles.
The blitz blew Wigan away. They tried to rouse themselves but only a drive Franco di Santo caused any alarm.
This had been an historic season for Wigan but it also cost them their Premier League status. And the Arsenal fans would warmly applaud them off at the final whistle.
Walcott nearly found a fifth in the dying minutes but his volley found traffic in the area.
It did not matter. Arsenal had achieved their objective this season.
All they need now is one more win.
- Ramsey Goal!
- Walcott Goal!
- Arteta 90
- Rosicky 78
- Podolski 78 Goal! Goal!
- Vermaelen 90
- Wilshere 78
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 78
- Maloney 85 Goal! Yellow Card
- Gomez 64
- McManaman 58
- Al Habsi
- Watson 64
- Di Santo 58
- Henriquez 85