FA Cup winners Wigan Athletic were relegated from the Premier League as Arsenal moved up into the top four with an emphatic 4-1 win at the Emirates Stadium.
It was always going to be a big ask for the Latics to lift themselves for such a huge game just 72 hours after their glorious Wembley victory over Manchester City, and so it proved. Lukas Podolski nodded the Gunners in front on 11 minutes, but Shaun Maloney gave the visitors hope when he crashed home a free-kick on the stroke of half-time. However, three goals in the space of eight minutes just after the hour from Theo Walcott, Podolski and Aaron Ramsey meant there was to be no fairytale ending for Roberto Martinez's men, despite another brave crack at the Great Escape.
Wigan had named an unchanged side from the one which famously beat Manchester City on Saturday, meaning goalscorer Ben Watson started on the bench. England midfielder Jack Wilshere, who is set for an operation on his troublesome ankle at the end of the season, was again among the Arsenal substitutes. As the rain fell on north London, it was the home side who took an early lead. A corner from the left was chipped in by Cazorla, and the ball dropped into space in the six-yard box, where Podolski stooped to nod it past Joel Robles.
Wigan, though, soon caused panic in the Arsenal box as a deep ball picked out Arouna Kone, and defender Laurent Koscielny had to hack clear as Wojciech Szczesny rushed out of his goal. Arsenal almost produced a carbon copy of their opening goal from a corner on 38 minutes, but this time Koscielny stabbed the ball wide.
Referee Mike Dean drew the wrath of the home crowd on the stroke of half-time when he awarded a free-kick after Mikel Arteta had tracked back to go shoulder to shoulder on Maloney, who tumbled over five yards outside the box. Maloney got up and whipped a brilliant dead-ball effort up and over the wall, down into the bottom right corner - which sparked wild scenes of celebration from the small travelling contingent.
That was, though, almost on at the start of the second half when Kone played a neat one-two and burst into the Arsenal penalty area before rifling an angled shot at Szczesny, who saved well at his near post before James McCarthy then saw his effort ruled out for offside. Arsenal broke away down the right through Walcott, and his cut-back found Cazorla, but the Spaniard's shot and follow-up effort were saved before Tomas Rosicky slid the loose ball wide.
Gunners fire three in quick succession
Then came the eight minutes which boosted Arsenal's UEFA Champions League prospects and ended Wigan's hopes of survival. A swift 63rd minute break put Cazorla away down the right, and his perfectly-weighted cross into the penalty area was clipped home by Walcott. Wigan made a change as Watson came on for Jordi Gomez.
However, there was to be no fairytale ending for the Latics as Podolski made it 3-1 in the 68th minute. Cazorla was again the provider, his cushioned header putting the German clear, played onside by a meandering Paul Scharner, and he nodded the ball over the keeper. Ramsey crashed in a fourth on the break in the 71st minute after collecting the ball down the left channel, surging into the penalty area and smashing past Robles into the roof of the net at the near post.
Wilshere came on for the closing stages, as did Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to further stretch the beleaguered Wigan backline, but the damage had already been done earlier in the campaign. While the Latics must now regroup for the challenges of the Championship, Arsene Wenger's men will head to Newcastle United with the knowledge victory on the final day would secure another crack at taking on Europe's elite once again.
In the other Premier League match tonight, Manchester City defeated Reading 2-0 in their first match without former manager Roberto Mancini.
Sergio Aguero bagged the first goal five minutes before the break and substitute Edin Dzeko added a second in the 88th minute as caretaker boss Brian Kidd guided his second-placed side to victory a day after Mancini was fired.
From the outset it was second-placed City in the driving seat as they had a number of early chances against a relegated side looking to avoid finishing bottom. First, Aguero was denied by impressive Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, who palmed away his stinging drive after three minutes.
Then James Milner kept the pressure on, only for McCarthy to make an initial save before Aguero followed up and Sean Morrison blocked. Royals, still in 19th place, had little in reply, but when they did muster an attack it tended to either come from or through Hal Robson-Kanu.
The Wales winger saw a shot skid wide of the target before Joe Hart was forced to make a low save when Robson-Kanu played in Gareth McCleary on the edge of the box. At the other end, McCarthy continued to excel as he showed lightening-quick reactions to push a Carlos Tevez header to safety.
Aguero opens the scoring
But there was little he could do to keep out Aguero's opener as Milner played a one-two with David Silva before picking out the Argentina international, who side-footed home. It was a move that looked as if it had come straight from the training ground and Reading's defence were as static as cones.
In the second-hale Adkins' side took the fight to the former Premier League champions. But even with a changed back-four City were still too strong. Playing a high line City were afforded time on the ball and enjoyed knocking the ball through midfield with Yaya Toure and Milner working hard in the engine room.
Rare advances from Robson-Kanu and McCleary were easily mopped up and lone striker Pavel Pogrebnyak failed to get into the game. Tevez should have added a second to put the game to bed in the 60th minute but fired way off target. He attempted to make up for that miss by firing another fierce shot towards goal - only for McCarthy to parry again.
Dzeko made sure of the three points as he showed neat skill and composure before firing past McCarthy from 12 yards. City's search for a new manager now goes on with one game left in the Premier League this season before they jet off to America for an end-of-season tour.