WONDERFUL Wigan Athletic took a massive step towards Premier League safety with a first-ever win at Arsenal - and it was no more than they deserved.
Two goals inside the opening 10 minutes from Franco di Santo and Jordi Gomez gave Latics a dream start.
And despite Thomas Vermaelen pulling one back for the Gunners before the break, Roberto Martinez’s men held on for a famous victory.
Latics are now five points clear of the bottom three after chalking up their fourth win in five games.
They have 34 points from their 34 matches - with Fulham (a), Newcastle (h), Blackburn (a) and Wolves (h) still to play.
All 13 players used were heroes, but special mention needs to go to a back three - Antolin Alcaraz, Maynor Figueroa and skipper Gary Caldwell - that restricted Robin van Persie, the Premier League’s deadliest marksman, to feeding off scraps.
Martinez had been forced to change his starting XI for the first time in six matches, with Shaun Maloney laid low by a knee problem and replaced by Gomez.
The Spanish playmaker, despite not featuring in recent weeks, remained Wigan’s joint-top goalscorer with four goals.
And he fully justified his manager’s faith with a blistering start to the game.
The home side had threatened first when a Bacary Sagna cross was met by Yossi Benayoun, only for Ali Al Habsi to tip the ball over the bar.
But the visitors bounced back to take a stranglehold on the game with two goals in the space of a minute.
First, James McCarthy led a break from an Arsenal corner that saw four Wiganers advancing on two Gunners defenders.
Victor Moses fed Gomez, who picked the perfect time to play in Di Santo.
The Argentine’s shot was half-stopped by Wojciech Szczesny, but Di Santo was able to volley home at the second attempt before the cover could get back.
And the Emirates was rocked to its core when Lastics went two goals to the good with less than eight minutes gone.
Again Moses was involved, the winger again skinning Sagna down the Wigan left.
His pull-back saw James McArthur denied, only for Gomez to nip in and stab home from inside the six-yard box.
Arsenal’s woeful start to the game was compounded when Mikel Arteta limped off to be replaced by Aaron Ramsey at the break in play.
The home fans were up in arm when Latics attacked again in numbers, and Di Santo’s shot was deflected wide with Szczesny left berating his back-line.
At some point, there was going to be a backlash from the home side, and it duly came at the 15-minute mark.
Van Persie engineered a shooting chance only for Emmerson Boyce to come flying across and make a superb block.
Then Tomas Rosicky’s cross was flicked on by Benayoun, and it needed a world-class save from Al Habsi to keep it out.
Unfortunately, the pressure did finally tell on 21 minutes, and again the danger stemmed from Rosicky down the right.
The Czech’s right-wing cross found Vermaelen unmarked in the middle of the goal, and the header gave Al Habsi no chance as it made its way into the bottom corner.
Van Persie then saw a snap-shot tipped over by the goalkeeper, and Johan Djourou fired inches wide after staying up from a corner.
Rosicky and Van Persie were also unable to hit the mark as Latics held on for dear life, before Sagna’s trip on Moses gave Wigan the breather they needed as well as earning himself a yellow card.
A great break from the back by Figueroa at least gave Arsenal something to think about, and Moses fed Di Santo who worked his way into some space down the right.
Gomez was temporarily unmarked on the far side with the defence struggling to get back, although enough red shirts managed to get in between Di Santo and his colleague before the cross could come in
As half-time approached, Gomez had another opportunity to try his luck from distance, but his effort drifted well over the crossbar as Andre Marriner’s whistle signalled the interval.
Latics were always going to have to weather a storm at the beginning of the second period, but they managed to hold their own as the Gunners came out all guns blazing.
In fact, the visitors had the best chance of the opening 10 minutes, Moses again getting the better of Sagna after a good ball from Jean Beausejour.
However, with support in the area, Moses elected to shoot himself and Szczesny pulled off a fine save diving to his left.
The rebound fell towards Di Santo, but he couldn’t control and the defence were able to clear.
Arsenal won themselves a corner at the other end, but Vermalen couldn’t keep his header down and it cleared the bar.
Latics had a corner within seconds after more good work from Moses, and were claiming a penalty as Caldwell’s cross back into the middle appeared to strike the hand of a defender.
The official thought otherwise, however, and Caldwell was soon required back in his own box as Arsenal pressed.
Van Persie’s cross from the left was perfect for Vermalen, but the finish was worful and Al Habsi was able to watch it trickle wide.
Credit to Latics, many away sides would have tried to shut up shop by this stage and protect what they’d got - but not Martinez’s men.
And they created, and wasted, a golden opportunity to seal the points on the hour mark.
Figueroa’s long throw-in released Moses down the middle, and the former Crystal Palace man raced through one-on-one with Szczesny.
Despite having all the time in the world, Moses snatched at his shot from way outside the area - and watched it fly straight into the hands of the grateful goalkeeper.
Buoyed by the let-off, Arsenal broke and Rosicky was caught late by Caldwell at the expense of the game’s second booking.
Arsene Wenger played his final hand by withdrawing Benayoun and Djourou for Gervino and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the latter’s introduction in particular creating a buzz around the home fans.
Martinez responded by sending on Conor Sammon for Di Santo, who could be proud of his efforts ploughing the lone furrow up top.
And Sammon was quickly in the game as he chased a long ball forward, and looked to be denied only by a handball that referee Marriner failed to see.
Latics were continuing to play their football, but hearts were in mouths on a couple of occasions when first McCarthy and then Caldwell looked to have lost the ball only to recover just in time.
Gomez gave way to Momo Diame for the final five minutes, but not before Theo Walcott looked to have got goal-side of Figueroa - only for the Honduran to get his body in front of his opponent and ease the ball away.
There was a collective groan from the away end as five minutes of added time were signalled, but Latics were keeping their opponents at arm’s length thanks to some colossal defending from Alcaraz, Figueroa and particularly Caldwell.
Latics: Al Habsi 8; Alcaraz 9, Caldwell 9, Figueroa 9; Boyce 8, McCarthy 8, McArthur 8, Beausejour 8; Moses 9, Gomez 9; Di Santo 8.
Subs: Pollitt, Stam, Watson, Jones, Diame (for Gomez, 86), McManaman, Sammon (for Di Santo, 75).
Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Djourou, Vermaelen, Santos; Walcott, Arteta, Song, Rosicky, Benayoun; Van Persie.
Subs: Fabianski, Gibbs, Squillaci, Ramsey (for Arteta, 8), Oxlade-Chamberlain (for Djourou, 72), Gervinho (for Benayoun, 60), Chamakh.
Star Man: Gary Caldwell - Shaded the honours from his equally brilliant colleagues Alcaraz and Figueroa