The Carling Cup has swiftly gone from little more than a training exercise in the eyes of Arsène Wenger to a trophy Arsenal really should now win after the comfortable if unexciting victory over Wigan Athletic ensured safe passage to the semi-finals.
The Arsenal manager clearly wants to end his five-year run without a trophy one way or another, and given the quality of the rest of the teams in this competition it would now be a major surprise if they failed to win it.
No other team left in the Carling Cup are in the top half of the Premier League, making Arsenal runaway favourites to win the trophy they last lifted in 1993. Wenger said West Ham United's 4-0 victory over Manchester United last night proved it would not be a formality for Arsenal, whoever they play. "We have to accept there is no guarantee that we will win this trophy," he said. "We have to fight for every single game to win. We have played 14 consecutive seasons in the Champions League and many people would be happy with that. We are not completely happy with that, and we want to make our supporters as happy as we can."
The 60,000 fans at a sub-zero Emirates went home happy last night, having witnessed back-to-back defeats in Arsenal's previous two home games. An own goal from Wigan captain Antolin Alcaraz and a second-half finish from Nicklas Bendtner, his third of the season, put Arsenal through.
The result was key, but Wenger was also pleased with the contribution of Robin van Persie, who made his first start for the club since damaging his ankle ligaments in August. Playing in the central midfield role normally occupied by the club's captain Cesc Fabregas, who is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, Van Persie orchestrated Arsenal's attacks with his deft left foot.
The best move of a disappointing first half saw Jack Wilshere and Van Persie combine beautifully to put Carlos Vela in the clear. The Mexican saw Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi venture off his line and attempted a sly chip but it bounced harmlessly wide.
As the warmth of the half-time cuppa beckoned, Arsenal suddenly clicked into gear and were very unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Maynor Figueroa handled a cross from Vela which was heading towards Van Persie. Referee Martin Atkinson, however, did not see it.
He also waved away claims for a penalty a few minutes later when James McArthur's trailing arm was hit by a cross from Theo Walcott. This time the official clearly saw the incident but gave the defender the benefit of the doubt. By this time, however, Arsenal were ahead. Walcott's corner was met by two Wigan defenders, but McArthur headed the ball on to Alcaraz and it ricocheted into the visitors' goal.
Van Persie created Arsenal's second, when he passed wide to Vela who crossed low and Bendtner fired home, although his shot took a hefty deflection off the legs of Al Habsi.
Wenger was pleased with Van Persie's contribution. "He has shown class. He still needs games. He played 70 minutes, that's positive. Let's hope he has no reaction and gets stronger and stronger," the manager said.
A dismal night for Wigan was made worse by injuries, a suspected dislocated shoulder for Victor Moses and a possible knee ligament tear for Mauro Boselli. Manager Roberto Martinez said: "People can say we are unlucky but sometimes you earn your luck. I have now targeted the next seven games as a priority, if we are to get ourselves away from the relegation scrap."
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Eboue, Djourou, Koscielny, Gibbs; Denilson, Wilshere (Nasri, 72); Walcott, Van Persie (Eastmond, 72) Vela; Bendtner (Emmanuel-Thomas, 84). Substitutes not used Shea (gk), Sagna, Arshavin, Nordtveit.
Wigan Athletic (4-5-1): Al Habsi; Gohouri, Caldwell, Alcaraz, Figueroa; Stam (McManaman, 79), Watson, Thomas, McArthur, Moses (N'Zogbia, 39); Boselli (Gomez, 81). Substitutes not used Pollitt (gk), Diame, Mustoe, Di Santo.
Referee M Atkinson.