Wigan Counter Punch Effectively Against Arsenal’s Predictability
Arsenal 1 – 2 Wigan Athletic
0 – 1 di Santo (7)
0 – 2 Gomez (8)
1 – 2 Vermaelen (21)
The pressure was on and Arsenal were found wanting. A win would have made them clear favourites for third place in the Premier League but this defeat has muddied the Champions League qualification waters. Sir Alex Ferguson proved to be rather better informed than we suspected as Arsenal made schoolboy errors and succumbed to defeat at the hands, or rather the feet of, plucky little Wigan.
Post-match Arsène clearly identified the problem,
I felt in the first half we had enough chances to come back to 2-2, but the second half we dropped our level, lost our team play, our cohesion and tried too much individually. There was not enough petrol left in the tank anymore. We didn’t see anyone who could make a difference. They defended well. We had a tremendous amount of possession but didn’t create a lot in the second half.
The news of Jack Wilshere accentuates that lack of creativity; the bench was uninspiring in that sense with a marked absence of creative spark. Even so, the talent was there in Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho; it never truly emerged. Fundamentally this performance was not good enough from start to finish. The players have to push it to one side and focus on Saturday. That this match was lost is not entirely surprising as it confirms the inconsistency of this season; that is the biggest barrier to making any challenge for silverware next season and is not something which can be solved with two or three signings although they can be the catalyst for such changes.
Arsenal never recovered from two brutal sucker punches early in the match. Vermaelen had gone close whilst al-Habsi made an important save from Benayoun before Wigan used the counter-attack as effectively as their hosts have ever done. From van Persie’s corner, Wigan exploited space on the Arsenal right as Sagna had pushed forward; di Santo reacted quickest to Szczesny’s attempted block and ball was in the back of the net. Ninety seconds later Gomez capitalised on rank bad defending as a succession of Arsenal players failed to react to the ball, culminating in Szczesny’s Wilson-esque dive that failed to gain control of the situation.
Two down, both conceded with ten men effectively on the pitch as Arsenal failed to get the injured Arteta replaced in a timely manner. The reactions on the bench were as tardy as those on the pitch.
Unsurprisingly Wigan lowered their ambitions and sought to protect their advantage as Arsenal started to recover. Benayoun was once more thwarted by al-Habsi before Rosicky’s corner was met with a powerful header from Thomas Vermaelen. With sixty-nine minutes remaining, the recovery was underway. Except it never really materialised. Possession is nine-tenths of the Law but wasting that dominance is a cardinal sin.
Arsenal came close with van Persie denied by al-Habsi whilst Djourou and Rosicky threatened. At the other end, Gomez blazed over as the interval loomed. Santos and his captain were both blocked in their pursuit of an equaliser early in the second half but as much as they controlled the match, there was little end product.
The malaise which engulfed Arsenal’s performance was summed up by the difficult night encountered by Bacary Sagna. Moises got clear to draw a good save from Szczesny; an important block before an altogether more routine save from the same player when having muscled his way past the best right back in the league, Moises should have made it 3 – 1.
The visitors were content with their performance, Arsenal immensely frustrated summed up by the demeanour of Robin van Persie post-match. It shows the ambition when their behaviour manifests that way; pressure valves need a release.
This is a troubling defeat. The season has been punctuated with inconsistencies, excellent runs ended with poor defeats or nascent winning spells struck down before reaching their prime. There is enough experience in the squad that, to me at least, does not rest easy with accusations of complacency. Whether this is a “one-off” in a season of “many-offs” will be known at the end of the ninety minutes against Chelsea. However, as well as Wigan played, it was matched and exceeded by Arsenal’s sterility. No fingers can be pointed at the officials, few contentious incidents needed their decision-making flamboyance. Purely and simply this was a night where the performance was not up to the required standard.
The injury to Arteta is the most concerning aspect away from the loss of three points. The Spaniard is a crucial member of the midfield, appreciated at the club by player and supporter alike with his absence acutely felt. In that sense he is reminscent of Gilberto Silva when he joined; you didn’t truly appreciate his abilities until he is missing. The upcoming fixtures require a fully fit squad. Or if that is not possible, as much of it as fit as possible with all of the key personnel present and correct.
As it is, Arsenal sit five points clear of fourth having played a game more. What is more important; points or games in hand. Along the Seven Sisters, they will claim the latter; I’ll take the former.