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May 14, 2013

Wigan relegated after Arsenal loss

LONDON -- Wigan became the first team to be relegated and win the FA Cup in the same season after a 4-1 loss at Arsenal on Tuesday ended its eight-year stay in the Premier League.

Arsenal is primed to qualify for the Champions League for the 16th season in a row after reclaiming fourth place to sit a point above Tottenham with one round remaining.

Wigan, weary from Saturday's first title win, briefly posed a threat when Shaun Maloney canceled out Lukas Podolski's opener just before halftime from a free kick.

But a powerful start to the second half yielded nothing for Wigan before Arsenal's ruthlessness produced three goals in nine minutes.

Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and finally Podolski all ripped through Wigan's defense to score and send their opponents out of the league.

"We've had an incredible eight years in the Premier League and we have to take the good things from last few years, and there are many," Wigan manager Roberto Martinez said. "We'll bounce back as we always do at Wigan.

"We're on a fantastic financial footing, we have huge assets and a philosophy for the long term."

Wigan has won plaudits for its style of play under Roberto Martinez, who overlooked any fears of fatigue to stick with the same players who beat Manchester City 1-0 at Wembley Stadium to win the club's first title in 81 years.

But they struggled to replicate the dynamic performance that ultimately overwhelmed City.

"It is sad that they go down because they are a good team, they play good football and are an intelligent team with good players," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "If they stay together they will certainly come up again."

Arsenal needed only 11 minutes to take the lead, with Santi Cazorla exploiting gaping holes in the defense before picking out an unmarked Podolski from a corner to head into the net from close range.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was furious at a free kick being awarded when Maloney went down under contact from Mikel Arteta just before halftime.

Maloney sent the resulting free kick dipping into the net, with goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny at full stretch and getting a slight touch but unable to keep the ball out.

At the start of the second half, Szczesny denied Wigan by coming off his line to block Arouna Kone's effort.

"We were not as fluent or as confident as we wanted to be," Wenger said.

They soon were.

A succession of chances fell to Arsenal. Walcott breezed down the right and cut the ball back to Cazorla, who was denied by goalkeeper Joel Robles. From the rebound, Tomas Rosicky could only sweep the ball wide.

The pressure was telling, and Arsenal made the breakthrough in the 63rd.

A low cross from Cazorla on the right reached Walcott in a central position and he nudged the ball over Joel, who slid in studs-first but couldn't make the block.

Five minutes later, Podolski broke clear and clipped the ball into the net with the outside of his boot.

With Arsenal's cutting-edge finally showing, the energetic hosts compounded Wigan's misery.

Ramsey cut in from the left and lifted the ball into the roof of the net over the onrushing Joel.

"The FA Cup gave us a bit of hope to finish the season in the league on a real high, the youngsters came in and gave us a different sense of confidence," Martinez said. "It was great to win the FA Cup -- that will live forever for the fans. Today is really disappointing but it is something we can rectify.

"It's a difficult time but it's time to look back, get stronger and prepare for the future."

Arsenal, having made its worst start to a season since Wenger took charge in 1996, now looks like heading back into the Champions League going into Sunday's finale at Newcastle.

"It is all open, but it depends on our result. Even third place is not out of sight if we win the game," Wenger said. "It took us some time to get going but I believe mainly because we didn't win the big games, especially at home. That is why it took us a long time to find a level of confidence and to balance the team as well because we had many new players."

Arsenal has failed to win a trophy since 2005, but the fans still stayed behind to cheer Wenger and his team after their final home match.

From jeers in October to cheers in May - the fans in the rain sang "There's only one Arsene Wenger."

Next week he'll become the longest-serving current Premier League manager when Manchester United's Alex Ferguson enters retirement.

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