How do you repeat a one-off? Wigan Athletic, whose scramble to safety was one of the stories of last season, are threatening to do the same again, with even more style.
Having been bottom of the Premier League for most of January, February and March, Roberto Martinez's team have won four of their last five games, against Stoke, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal.
Not many in Wigan's position could play with that utter freedom from the dread of the drop which often freezes their relegation rivals. This liberates them to play some stirring football. "The manager has a real calmness in this situation, when others could really start to panic and lose your head a bit," captain Gary Caldwell revealed after Monday's 2-1 win at Arsenal.
That is football bravery: trusting that constructive play will deliver results. For much of this season the results have not followed, but Martinez's recent development of an inventive, coiled-spring 3-4-3 system has delivered them.
"We've been playing well for a while now," Caldwell said. "We played West Brom at home, and probably played the best we've played out of this run and drew the game. Since then we've learnt that when we're in front, we have to keep playing and we have to be a lot more solid when we're defending."
Wigan were good at both on Monday. It was a perfect example of a well-executed plan. Two fast breaks brought two early goals by Franco di Santo and Jordi Gomez, both owing to the numbers thrown forward by that 3-4-3 formation.
Once ahead, they were designed to cope. The arrangement of players provides more passing angles than a 4-4-2 would, and the players retain the ball well. When Arsenal had it, Wigan's wing-backs could drop into a back five, preventing Arsenal from working an overlap.
Although Wigan sit five points clear of the relegation places, the job is not done yet. They have four games left although, with two of them against Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers, their chances look better than they have done all season.Reuse content