By Richard Clarke
“Yes, we are both in the same situation,” said Arsène Wenger ahead of Tuesday’s winner-takes-all game with Wigan at Emirates Stadium.
“But it’s not down to us to decide who goes down. At the end of the day, it's the number of points which decides that. The number of points rewards the consistency of the team throughout the season.”
Of course the same rules apply at the top and, right now, Arsenal are masters of their own destiny.
By Tuesday night it will be a massive 10 days since Wenger’s men last played.
In that period, Chelsea have secured Champions League football and, at the same time, denied Tottenham enough points to push the same fate beyond the grasp of Andre Villas-Boas’ men - at least for now.
It has been a pivotal period for both sides but, for Tuesday’s visitors, it has been both monumental and monstrous. The Arsenal fans arriving at QPR on May 4 will have watched news of their staggering comeback at West Brom with an incongruous shrug. Escapology is just what Wigan do at this stage of the season.
But a subsequent defeat to Swansea sees their Premier League status reliant on mistakes by others.
Meanwhile they have to be flawless. Anything other than victory at Emirates Stadium will send them down. But of course they arrive on the back of stirring and utterly deserved victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup final on Saturday.
Ben Watson’s last-minute header ensured the biggest shock in the famous old competition for a generation. And, if they drop, they would be the first such Wembley winners to be relegated in the same season.
However, right now, the romance of the cup must be replaced by hard-hearted realism.
Because anything other than an Arsenal victory will hand the initiative to Tottenham in the race for fourth place.
Of course, Wenger’s men have their own sideline in late-season heroics. A 16th successive Champions League campaign is at stake and, just in time, Arsenal seem to have found a way to win in recent months.
"We have a good spirit, a good understanding within the squad, so let’s just continue to play. The best thing to do is focus on our game"
Before this weekend’s game they had garnered 34 Premier League points since January 1, only behind Manchester United with 36. That mini-break may have charged the batteries against a side who were fully extended on Wembley’s famously energy-sapping pitch but the manager was more interested in maintaining his side’s momentum.
“Yes, we are specialists [at this time of year]” said Wenger. “But what is more important is that we are on a remarkable run. We have a good spirit, a good understanding within the squad, so let’s just continue to play. The best thing to do is focus on our game.
“I would have loved to have played on Saturday. I don’t know if it will be an advantage or not but it gives us a shorter period to recover before the Newcastle game.”
With Lukasz Fabianski now fit, Wenger has to make a straight choice between his Polish goalkeepers. Kieran Gibbs faced a fitness test on his thigh but the mood was hopeful. Meanwhile Olivier Giroud sits out the last game of his suspension.
Like everyone else, the Arsenal manager marveled at Wigan’s win at the weekend - especially its shining light. However, in the Premier League at least, Roberto Martinez’s side is a wounded animal. That Swansea defeat has utterly changed the equation and Wenger is wary.
“They did extremely well [in the final],” he said. “On the day they were worthy winners and deserved to win the cup.
“[Callum McMananan] was very direct and very positive. He made a huge difference in the game. He is tricky, quick and nobody likes to play against these type of players.
“I believe Arouna Kone had a great game too. He kept the ball to give time to the other players to join in.
“But they lost at home four days before against Swansea in the Premier League and they are in a very dangerous position now.
"You look at yourself and they look at themselves. We will not send them down if we beat them, it is the whole season that sends you down"
“Congratulations to them for what they have achieved in the cup but we want to finish the job in the Premier League and win our game.
“You look at yourself and they look at themselves. We will not send them down if we beat them, it is the whole season that sends you down. When they look back they will look more at the Swansea game.
“I feel Wigan have a bit repeated every year, they always recover in the period where everybody says they are finished. Of course they just get out every time in recent years but when you play with that fire every year it can be dangerous.”
However a ‘health and safety’ reaction is just not the Arsenal way.
Of course the Wigan game is combustible and must be handled with care. But a more reserved, resilient Arsenal have done exactly that in games against the likes of Fulham, QPR and West Brom.
In each of those games they have spent periods of entrenched defence as they protected their lead late on.
That may well happen on Tuesday. It is not even a cup final like Saturday’s for Wigan - there is no extra-time, no penalties.
Just 90 minutes in which they have to win. And the same applies to Arsenal.
Arsenal: Gibbs (doubt - thigh), Giroud (suspended), Diaby (knee).
Wigan: Beausejour (doubt - hamstring), Figueroa (groin), Crusat (knee), Stam (ankle), Ramis (knee), Pollitt (thigh)
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