Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick – and missed a penalty – as Arsenal romped to a 3-0 victory over 10-man Wigan on Saturday.
The Dutch star struck after 21, 58 and 85 minutes for the revitalised Gunners who have now lost only once in their last nine league games.
Arsene Wenger’s side created a number of chances and van Persie could even afford to fire a penalty over the bar after Gary Caldwell had been sent off for bringing down Cesc Fabregas in the 69th minute.
That Arsenal went into the half-time break only one ahead was down almost completely to remarkable goalkeeping from Wigan’s Ali Al Habsi, who made six excellent saves in the first 45 minutes.
The Oman star made his first save from Samir Nasri after only two minutes and was barely out of action for any length of time after that.
He made perhaps his best stop when van Persie met Theo Walcott’s fine cut-back with a thunderous shot, only to see the Wigan goalkeeper make a remarkable reflex stop. But he also kept out Fabregas twice and tipped a Nasri effort over the bar in spectacular fashion.
Unfortunately for Wigan it was not enough and although Caldwell did superbly to block a Fabregas effort after yet another Walcott break-away, they found themselves behind after 21 minutes.
This time Alex Song found van Persie with an excellent through-ball and the Dutch striker fired home emphatically with his left foot.
Walcott should have made it 2-0 when clean through but Arsenal fans did not have to wait too long for the strike that clinched three points.
With 58 minutes on the clock Fabregas produced a wonderful cross-field pass from deep that sailed over the Wigan defence where van Persie met it with a first-time left foot shot on the half-volley to wrap up victory.
Van Persie’s missed penalty denied Wenger’s side a chance to improve their goal difference and he also hit the post with a curling effort from 20 yards. But when Walcott superbly held up a long ball into the box the Dutch star was on hand to tap home his hat-trick goal.
It was fit-again van Persie’s seventh goal in the last five games and confirms Arsenal as serious title contenders.