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van Persie Leads As Arsenal Waltz To Victory Over Wigan

Arsenal 3 – 0 Wigan Athletic

1 – 0 van Persie (21)
2 – 0 van Persie (59)
3 – 0 van Persie (85)

Caldwell Sent Off (70)

Wigan Athletic continued their appalling record at Arsenal, overwhelmed from the kick-off by an Arsenal side determined to continue their title challenge. Robin van Persie grabbed the headlines with a hat-trick but the Dutchman should have joined the exclusive club of players who have scored five goals in a game, denied by the post and an indulgent penalty miss.

van Persie had to settle for the first hat-trick of his Arsenal career, something that is long overdue. The Dutchman was not the only star; there were eleven on the pitch with concentration and application key to a fluid performance.

Arsenal’s passing was crisp and even, few moments of over-intricacy in the area, the majority of chances requiring Al Habsi in the Wigan to produce another good display. The Omani international is keen to add his name to the list of goalkeepers who raise their game when they come to the Emirates.

With Manchester City succumbing at Villa Park, Arsenal established themselves in second place, two points behind Manchester United although that gap  will surely increase to five as the game in hand the current leaders have is played at Bloomfield Road this week.

Arsenal started at a terrific pace, one which was maintained for the ninety minutes without ever really extending the hosts. Before ten minutes was passed, Al Habsi had denied Nasri and van Persie with good saves. When the goalkeeper was not involved, his defenders were blocking shots as if their careers depended upon it.

Fabregas was denied on two occasions by Caldwell and Gohouri. Rome’s Spanish Steps may be a much-admired tourist attraction but London yesterday witnessed the footballing equivalent with Cesc back to his best form. Weaving through the Wigan defence, he got to within striking distance before Caldwell Jr sent the ball behind for a corner.

The breakthrough during this procession of missed opportunities. Alex Song observed in a recent interview that he was more confident in attack. His pass to van Persie confirmed that, the Dutchman thumping home his shot.

Cesc would wage his own war on the Wigan goal for the rest of the first half. It was to no avail as Al Habsi made a great save following Sagna’s excellent run and cross whilst defensive interventions once more stopped the Arsenal captain in his tracks.

The second half was more of the same but at a lower tempo. Perhaps minds were straying to midweek; perhaps a more considered approach was needed to ensure that superiority turned to goals.

Nasri and Walcott both teased early in the half before van Persie struck once more. Cesc placed a sumptuous pass into the Dutchman’s path, his volleyed finish giving the Spaniard’s efforts their deserved reward. The platform for a larger victory was now complete.

Ten minutes later, it seemed that the first van Persie Arsenal treble would be completed. Fabregas burst into the area, latching onto Song’s pass. As Al Habsi advanced, Caldwell Sr closed on the Arsenal captain and hauled him to the floor. The penalty and subsequent red card were easy decisions for the referee to make.

This is Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal though, nothing which can be easy is made so, van Persie hoisted his penalty into the stands as his manager buried his head in his hands. The Dutchman was given chance to make amends soon afterwards, his curled effort struck the outside of the post having evaded the outstretched limbs of Al Habsi. van Persie, it seemed, was as fond of doubles as his English predecessors.

His luck changed with five minutes to go. Theo Walcott provided cover as a human shield in the penalty area, delayed and then deferred to van Persie. This time the Dutchman did not disappoint, the finish emphatic.

It was the expected victory over a struggling side. Tinged with some disappointment that only three goals were registered, the performance deserved more, especially in the first half. However, three points was the more immediate concern with goal difference not materially affected despite Birmingham’s capitulation at Old Trafford.

’til Tomorrow

Wigan Preview & Transfer Talk

We have been here before; Wigan defeated in the Carling Cup at home, they visit in the League not long afterwards. On the two previous occasions that has happened, Arsenal’s margin of victory has been by a single goal. That will suffice this afternoon as well.

The top three all play this afternoon, all against teams with relegation on their mind, currently occupying places 16 to 18 in the Premier League table. With Manchester City playing away at Aston Villa, that might be considered the toughest of the three fixtures. Perhaps Arsenal’s biggest enemy is complacency.

Arsene cannot allow that to happen. Arsenal have not so much as dropped a point in the home encounters with today’s visitors. Indeed, not one goal has been conceded in the last five matches at Arsenal between these two sides. Continuing that record today would be nice but not apparently necessary for victory to be achieved.

There will be more rotation from the midweek victory over Leeds but Arsene would still be expected to field his strongest line-up. In defence, the only change will be Kieran Gibbs making way for Gael Clichy. Lukasz Fabianski’s injury is taking time to heal; Arsene is in no hurry with Szczesny performing admirably in his absence.

In midfield, Wilshere and Cesc will return, Nasri pushing to the left in place of Arshavin with Denilson dropping out. van Persie and Walcott will complete the changes, Chamakh and Bendtner making way. There were reports that the Dane would be on his way but Papa Bendtner put the mockers on any loan deal. Quite why Arsene would let him go on loan is another matter; with the injury record of Arsenal’s forward line, the chances of more than one of them going anywhere are, I would suggest, nil.

The line-up this afternoon I expect is:

Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Clichy; Fabregas, Song, Wilshere; Walcott, van Persie, Nasri

With Ipswich to come in midweek, it would be no surprise to see Wenger want to make early substitutions. That presumes a wide enough lead has been established to permit this. If that can be achieved, Miquel for Djourou, Denilson for Song and Arshavin for Nasri might be prime amongst his thoughts.

Bank of Arsenal – Loans To Suit All Purposes

Elsewhere, Arsene was keen to talk of the loan deals being arranged. Carlos Vela is apparently going next week, joining JET, Henri Lansbury and Aaron Ramsey in going for varying spells. Although Wenger did not specify where Vela’s destination, he re-iterated that guaranteed match time is key to a successful deal. Hardly surprising that the manager is insisting that Vela plays; he could stay at Arsenal on the bench, doing little.

Arsene was coy about incoming signings though. Diaby and Squillaci are expected to return to the first team squad this week although whether or not it is in time for midweek remains to be seen. Both of them have impacted on Wenger’s thinking over centre backs.

Gary Cahill was the subject of media enquiries yesterday with Arsene reticent to comment, silence being interpreted as confirmation of an Arsenal bid with nary a thought being given to the notion that Arsene may not be interested in the Bolton player.

The reason for that might just be the temptation of a Woodgate. Apparently signing an injury prone centre back is just what Arsene needs to solve his injury problems. Whoever Woodgate’s agent is, they have earned their 20% this week for planting the story with the ever-gullible Sky Sports.

Wenger hinted at what may happen if no new centre back arrives this month. Diaby into the midfield, Song into the heart of the defence should the necessity arise. Whilst I am all for forward planning – or is that disaster recovery – Wenger’s original comments about the subject still hold true: three centre backs is too few to last the rest of the season.

With no guarantees given about the success of Thomas Vermaelen’s operation, sorry procedure, it is surely too risky for Arsene to continue with just Koscielny, Djourou and Squillaci? Not quite as daft though as signing Woodgate. Still, God Bless the denizens of Hounslow for giving us a post-Christmas giggle.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

Arsenal Hit By Wigan Sucker Punch

Wigan Athletic 2 – 2 Arsenal

1 – 0 Watson (18 pen)
1 – 1 Arshavin (38)
1 – 2 Bendtner (44)
2 – 2 Squillaci (81 og)

N’Zogbia sent off (77)

As the New Year beckoned, a dawning of a new Arsenal Age was heralded by a well-deserved victory over Chelsea on Monday night. As with all epochs, the transition into Champions stuttered in the immediate aftermath of the first step being taken. Arsene rang eight changes from the first game of this week and witnessed his charges come within ten minutes of gaining three valuable points.

The disappointment comes from the knowledge that those dropped are largely of Arsenal’s own making. Having emphatically crushed the myth of not being able to win big matches, Arsenal were unable to make Wigan truckle, the hosts recovering a point with a spirit which may yet serve them well in their fight against relegation.

For the opening half an hour, Arsenal were indecisive, uncohesive and generally out of sorts. The changes wrought evidence of a side that had not played together. Suspensions and long-term injuries cast their shadow over the starting line-up. Before a quarter of the match had passed, a deficit had to be retrieved.

Eboue in as left back was caught out of position, waiting on the edge of the Wigan area for a pass which never arrived. Having broken up an Arsenal attack, that space was quickly exploited by N’Zogbia who ran toward the Arsenal area, chaperoned by Koscielny. As Squillaci came to provide more pressure, a small opening emerged between the two centre backs, N’Zogbia went through it and theatrically threw himself to the ground.

In the first of his decisions which brought more questions of his aptitude to referee at this level, Lee Probert pointed to the spot. Replays clearly showed no contact with the Wigan player was made but exposed Koscielny’s naivety in flailing a leg in that situation.

Equally, the question must be asked as to why the Arsenal duo did not shepherd him away from the area. The younger of the French pair had positioned himself correctly to do so but between them, they did not apply enough pressure to force N’Zogbia towards the relative safety of the touch- or bye- lines. Whatever the case, Watson’s penalty was perfect, powerful and into a corner which Fabianski could do nothing to stop, despite guessing the direction correctly.

Arsenal’s cohesion sparked from Wilshere replacing the injured Diaby and paid almost immediate dividends. Having previously made two perfectly-timed interventions in his own area, Koscielny almost equalised, Al Habsi failed to hold Rosicky’s strike and with Koscielny poised to draw Arsenal level, Caldwell blocked maintaining his side’s lead.

The game changed through two moments of Arshavin magic. Infuriatingly inconsistent, the mercurial Russian brought Arsenal level with an acrobatic strike following Al Habsi’s save from Bendtner. Before the interval, he turned provider, forcing the Wigan defence onto the back foot, he found Bendtner who bundled his way through before calmly finishing. A not entirely deserved lead at half-time came as a result of a vastly improved end to the half.

For the second period, there was more controlled possession from the visitors, frustrating the hosts and reducing them to sporadic raids. Cleverly had the only real opportunity to bring equality to the proceedings but fired over.

Having scored an own goal in the recent Carling Cup encounter, Alcaraz tried to repeat the feat, heading into the side netting whilst Chamakh headed just wide. With twenty minutes to go, Wilshere chipped the ball into Arshavin’s stride but the Russian could not gain enough leverage to lift the ball over the advancing Al Habsi.

With the pressure deflating, life was breathed into the game once more. McArthur and N’Zogbia broke, exchanging passes before the French international saw his drive parried by Fabianski. Minutes later, the mists which descended over the Wigan player’s eyes matched the colour of the referee’s card, a situation entirely of the official’s making.

Incorrectly penalising Wilshere for a non-existent foul, the youngster and N’Zogbia exchanged words. As play moved up the pitch, the Frenchman butted Wilshere and was correctly dismissed. Yet his team-mates still refused to give up hope. With ten minutes to go, a deep corner was headed back across goal towards the waiting Caldwell; Squillaci intervened to with a header that sent the ball into the net instead of over the bar to safety.

The denouement came with more refereeing inconsistency. Nasri had been a late substitute following the equaliser. His freekick on the edge of the area was batted to safety off a Wigan arm in the same way that Cesc was penalised against Tottenham. This time, the official refused to award a penalty; it is impossible to fathom why. From his position, Probert had a clear view that the ball was diverted by a deliberate movement of the hand yet he chose to ignore that.

In the end though, the dropping of points is the fault of Arsenal, mistakes by officials only serve to distract from defensive failings. The equaliser was an appalling goal to concede. Squillaci was the wrong side of Caldwell in the final moments, a basic error by an experienced player, something which happens to often, not just to the Frenchman.

Even so, the year ends with Arsenal in third, two points off the top having played a game less than Manchester City but one more than United. It is a good position to be in but 2011 needs to see a consistent run put together if the promise is to materialise into reward.

’til Tomorrow.

Wigan Preview: A Test Of Athletic Performance

Arsenal travel to the DW Stadium in the middle of a fixture maelstrom, this the second of seven fixtures in seventeen days. The lunacy of English football is highlighted for all too see yet, depending on how the matches go, nobody will complain with six wins and a draw from this schedule. One win has been achieved and a draw in the first leg of the Carling Cup will suit most. That leaves just the small matter of four Premier League and one FA Cup win to go.

English football has spurned many opportunities to reshape it’s footballing calendar. A quick glance at Arsenal’s matches show that potentially ten fixtures in thirty three days may have taken place by the final whistle against Everton on February 1st.

That total follows the month to date in December where only five were scheduled. FA Cup replays are archaic and must now be dropped. Whilst that week ought to be free – Arsenal must be confident of beating Leeds despite of the Yorkshire clubs good form – it would definitely be so if the ties were resolved on the day, as is the case with the Carling Cup.

For Wenger, tonight’s team is a test of his balancing skills. He rang five changes on Monday and a similar number or more should be expected tonight. Too many changes though and Wenger is facing the possibility of a totally disjointed performance, undoing the good of three precious points so recently gained. A different mindset from the players may be the key to this, treating it in a similar way to a Carling Cup tie might help, playing for a regular place their motivation as well as a victory which will draw them level with both Mancunian teams.

Having been a surprise (and successful) inclusion in the starting line-up against Chelsea, it seems unlikely to me that Johan Djourou will start this evening. Recently Wenger observed that the Swiss international would be gradually returned to first team action following his injury-plagued 2009-10, two games in forty-eight hours would surely be too much.

As with Robin van Persie, nobody can complain about them missing out tonight. Wenger is hidebound in his transfer philosophy, to the frustration of many, but on this occasion such rigidity of beliefs can only be good for the squad in the long-term.

He and van Persie are not the only ones who will surely be missing; Fabregas picked up his fifth booking on the season and stays at home, resting ahead of the visit to St Andrews. Whilst Lukasz Fabianski will remain in goal – after all, he had little or nothing to do on Monday bar picking the ball out of the net – Gael Clichy picked up a couple of nasty little knocks which would benefit from a rest.

Sagna would move to left back with Eboue on the right. Defensively reshuffled but three of the four played together for seventy minutes at Newcastle; hardly the best of friends in those positions but nonetheless, not total strangers.

In midfield, the physical demands of Monday will have been most telling. Alex Song may be fit but a rest this evening would be in order. Similarly Samir Nasri cannot surely continue with this gruelling schedule of fixtures coming up; he too needs to be at least dropped to the bench. In their place would come Denilson and Diaby.

The starting line-up I would pick is:

Fabianski; Eboue, Koscielny, Squillaci, Sagna; Denilson, Diaby, Rosicky; Walcott, Chamakh, Arshavin

Undefeated in their last five home games, anyone who expects Wigan to roll over may be in for a nasty surprise. Since first two games of season when they shipped ten goals, Roberto Martinez’s side have conceded nineteen goals in the subsequent sixteen games. Relatively speaking, they are running things tightly. Alas, they suffer from a paucity of goals, fifteen in the Premier League this season is the worst record in the top flight.

Martinez deserves some credit; despite being engulfed in a relegation battle, his side has held true to their priniciples and refused thus far to submit to the long ball and physical aspects of survival. Whether this will remain over the course of the season is unknown but the win at Wolves last weekend will have boosted their confidence in the same way as Arsenal’s has been.

The only thing that matters this evening is the win. With a team full of changed personnel, consistency of performance will be hard to achieve. A failing Arsenal are constantly accused of having, is an inability to win when playing badly or at a lower level than expected. Tonight would be a good sign of that being cast asunder as the failure to beat ‘big clubs’ was.

Forget revenge for 2009-10; it is irrelevant. This is 2010-11 and the top of the table beckons. Three points means goal difference is all that separates the sides. A big enough win to overcome that hurdle should not be expected.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

Escape From Alcaraz As Arsenal Slide Into Semi’s

Carling Cup Quarter Final
Arsenal 2 – 0 Wigan Athletic

1 – 0 Alcaraz (41 o.g.)
2 – 0 Bendtner 67

As Manchester United were humiliated at Upton Park, Arsenal barely stumbled into second gear in victory over an unambitious Wigan Athletic side which showed no sign of improving their dismal away form this season.  In reaching this stage, Arsenal became the first team to reach fourteen League Cup semi-finals and with the remainder of the final quartet to be completed this evening, has perhaps the best chance to win the tournament for the first time during Arsene Wenger’s reign.

Arsenal were rarely in trouble during their ninth consecutive League Cup quarter-final and will believe that with the chances created, a more emphatic margin of victory should have been achieved.

Arsene rang the changes from the Premier League side with Emmanuel Eboue posting the biggest recovery since Lazarus having crumpled to the turf in Braga barely a week ago. His initial contributions were flamboyant, a fashion statement with white tights that would have caused envious glances from Keith Weller and promptly giving Wigan two openings in the first quarter of an hour, Moses finding the side-netting whilst Boselli should have done better with a wayward backpass from the Ivory Coast international.

Once the first fifteen minutes had been consumed, Arsenal started to exert a stranglehold on the game. Carlos Vela and Koscielny were denied breaking the deadlock, adding to Bendtner’s earlier miscued header.

The Mexican though was to be the author of his own misfortune in front of goal. As the half hour approached, Wilshere and van Persie combined with the Dutchman’s backheel finding Vela free in the penalty area. Having buried many such opportunities before, unsurprisingly Vela opted to lift the ball into the net only for it nudge wide on this occasion. It would be hard to decide who was more surprised by the miss; the crowd, Vela or Wigan. Before the interval, Arsenal’s standard Carling Cup front pair would both miss with presentable chances, Bendtner perhaps more culpable in this instance.

The breakthrough did come minutes before the half-time whistle. Walcott’s corner was missed by the Dane but not by Alcaraz, diverting the ball into his own net. All goals count and this one merely served to prove the point that Arsenal possess more threat from set-pieces; the delivery is very much improved this season.

The second half began as the first had ended; Arsenal very much in the ascendency, subdued by the weather but too good for the visitors. It took twenty minutes and more spurned opportunities before victory was sealed. Vela and Bendtner combined to good effect, the Mexican’s cross eventually met by a sliding Dane.

Walcott and Nasri both went close as the match drew to it’s conclusion, the England international missing the far post whilst the intervention of a Wigan defender on the line prevented the Frenchman from increasing the Arsenal tally.

Contentiously, Arsenal were denied two penalties from Martin Atkinson. Whilst the second is perhaps easier to understand – arguably the ball could have been to Figueroa’s arm – the first was baffling. It was immediately apparent that Figueroa had used his hand to prevent van Persie capitalising on an attack yet Atkinson failed to award a spot-kick when many of his peers would have had no hesitation. It is this type of inconsistency that drives supporters mad.

The biggest positive for Wenger though was the seventy minutes completed by Robin van Persie, the Dutchman was captain for the night and seemingly unscathed from his outing. The starting XI will only be stronger for his full return. van Persie was Man of the Match, the manner of the game entirely suited his rehabilitation, less harry and hassle than the Premier League.

Carlos Vela meanwhile is being criticised unfairly in some quarters for his misses last night. With 115 first team minutes played in the last two months, some expectations are too high. Players should be ready to come into the first team and play well – which Vela did last night, all things considered including the overall performance which I don’t think was anywhere near the levels that Arsenal can reach. The Mexican has a huge weight of expectation on him, built from the hype surrounding him as a teenager. His progress may not have been as he expected but his ability marks him out as a star of the game in the future. At 21, time is on his side. Patience is another matter.

The trials and tribulations of the preceding weeks are beginning to fade into the distance as consecutive wins bring the train back onto track. A big December awaits with the visit to Old Trafford and Chelsea coming to The Emirates, alongside a decisive European encounter with Partizan. The top three all have tough fixtures this month and two more consecutive wins will set these important weeks up nicely.

’til Tomorrow.

Carling Cup Preview: Are Wigan-er Win This Competition?

Wigan may pitch up at The Emirates this evening but if they do, will anyone else with weather warnings being issued. Arsenal have told everyone to plan as if the match is going ahead and so we shall.

Tonight’s visitors are no strangers to Arsenal in this competition. Recent seasons have seen them win 2005/06’s semi-final and lose in the fourth round in 2008/09. Their record at Arsenal though is less impressive, having lost every visit, not having scored since February 2007s Premier League defeat.

Arsene is not taking the tie lightly and will field a side similarly strong to that which took the field in the impressive victories at Tottenham and Newcastle. He has several decisions within that to make though. Manuel Almunia has returned to full training and might consider this to be a stepping stone to regaining his place as Arsenal’s Number One.

However, Szczesney did nothing wrong at Newcastle once he had got over his initial nerves. It might be considered a slap in the face were he not to be selected for this fixture. Indeed, whilst Almunia needs the matches to regain sharpness, Szczesny merits inclusion. In the past, Wenger has used these fixtures to keep his goalkeeping No.2 in shape but at the moment, that position in the squad must be considered up for grabs.

Elsewhere tonight is the perfect opportunity to give Robin van Persie a start. Having warmed the bench recently and trained in the interim, the Dutchman needs a sharpner to be ready for the Premier and Champions League fixtures. Were that to happen, the front trio would not be out of place in either of the more senior competitions, presumably Bendtner and Walcott will start as well.

With those changes in mind, I would expect a line-up along the lines of:

Szczesny; Eboue, Djourou, Nordtveit, Gibbs; Denilson, Eastmond, Nasri; Walcott, Bendtner, van Persie

The more experienced members of the squad can be available on the bench. With Squillaci apparently suffering from knee-knack playing Djourou and Koscielny this evening makes little sense, the risk of injury should preclude the younger Frenchman’s involvement beyond a place on the bench.

Wenger observed that he was taking the tie seriously, that every competition was there to be won. Undoubtedly it is and looking at the remaining teams in this competition, the players Wenger has been using are more than a match for any of them if on top of their game.

It is the attitude which Arsene sought to emphasise:

I know their attitude is spot on, I know they have the quality

The win at Villa Park and more to the point, the overall performance, displayed the vastly overused hyperbole, of ‘character’. Mentally, the team were deflated by consecutive defeats but those cobwebs were shaken collectively and in fairness, the margin of victory should have been greater.

Whilst there is a media perception that the team is ‘brittle’, it is not necessarily the truth. Pulling defeat from the jaws of victory is not unique to Arsenal as Chelsea’s recent defeats prove. It is however, not fashionable to commend Arsenal and too many are ready to accept this as Gospel. Time for that to change.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

Arsenal Found Wanting In Wigan Defeat

Wigan Athletic 3 – 2 Arsenal

0 – 1 Walcott (41)
0 – 2 Silvestre
1 – 2 Watson (80)
2 – 2 Bramble (88)
3 – 2 N‘Zogbia (90)

Sometimes excuses can be made for poor performances. For the defeat yesterday, there can be none. Arsène clearly stated the frustration:

When you are 2-0 up and you play for Arsenal Football Club I believe you would not use the injuries as an excuse when you lose the game

He could have been more succinct and said that a two-goal lead held by Arsenal should never be dropped. Such is the nature of football that they sometimes are but rarely can I remember one being surrendered so cheaply. Three goals conceded in the final ten minutes is a clear signal that confidence is gone. That is Arsène’s biggest problem and one which is hardest to resolve.

Perhaps it is not that difficult to understand either this or the defeat at Tottenham. Barcelona had ended a trophy challenge. Perhaps it was the comprehensive nature of the defeat in the second leg which affected the display at White Hart Lane. It was evident in the aftermath of that game that belief in winning the title had ebbed away. Perhaps that had not seeped back in sufficient quantities following Chelsea’s defeat at the same stadium.

Arsenal knew that a win was required and for eighty minutes, it was being achieved. Not comfortably but being achieved. As full-time was signalled, the whistle was not the only thing blown; a lead and title aspirations, no matter how vague, went with it.

Arsène’s post-match comments echoed those uttered after the defeat at White Hart Lane on Wednesday. They were about maturity, cohesion and their absence from the Arsenal performance, something else he has to address before the season’s forward steps are lost in a run of mediocrity and engulfed in negativity as the final games unfold.

That almost an entire first choice XI was missing from the starting line-up indicates why the performance was not as cohesive as it could have been. Yet the idea of the squad system is that injuries can be coped with. They have been until now. It is a testament to the strength of the squad that a title which was long gone pre-Christmas last year was still achievable with five games to go.

Culpability for the defeat is shared equally by the players. Nobody tracked Watson’s run for the Wigan opener; Fabianski was at fault for Bramble’s equaliser; three defenders were between N’Zogbia and the goal when he shot – not just ahead of him but directly in line and not one of them got close enough to make a tackle.

Prior to that, possession was ceded too readily to a Wigan side chasing victory for their survival. Surely that desire cannot have been overwhelming the desire to win the title. Not every player lacked it; Eastmond and Campbell were the notable exceptions whilst at times, Bendtner was so isolated that he could have played chess with Bramble rather than chasing the ball such was the paucity of support.

Yet a two goal lead was fashioned either side of half-time. Warning signs of a goal at either end had been given. Wigan had several good opportunities in the opening quarter of the game, missed through tame efforts on goal or through the pace of the ball beating the outstretched legs of the intended target.

Meanwhile Campbell headed wide and Bendtner scuffed a shot as he lost balance to remind the hosts that their spell of pressure was coming to an end. Gradually, the midfield triumvirate of Eastmond, Nasri and Diaby imposed themselves albeit not as forcefully as they could have done, especially in the case of Diaby. It was an infuriatingly inconsistent performance, sublime and lackadaisical in equal measure. One where the immense talent he possesses was submerged beneath mediocrity.

The breakthrough when it came was reminder of what the squad is capable of, especially in the case of Theo Walcott. Running onto a perfectly weighted pass, he ran into the area, smuggled the ball through a couple of half-hearted challenges and when it seemed the chance was lost, threaded the ball under the armpit of the advancing Kirkland. It left you wanting more from the England international, more on a regular basis.

The lead was doubled shortly after half-time when Silvestre headed home, the Wigan defensive errors a blueprint for those which Arsenal followed. With a two-goal advantage at a team fighting for their Premier League lives, the shutters should have come down with Wigan picked off on the counter-attack.

It did not happen. Defending in the formation employed starts at the forward line and yesterday afternoon that simply did not happen. Time and again, the defence was exposed through lack of application in defensive duties, not by one individual but by a collection. For this formation to be more successful, the players need to fully comprehend what is required of them.

Goalkeeping though is a serious issue. Fabianski is not a bad goalkeeper, simply not ready to be Arsenal’s Number One at this moment in time. His age is on his side but Wenger needs to act quickly. Almunia is a reliable Number Two, able to slot in when required. Neither is consistent enough to be Number One. With the Pole, I suspect that will come with time but he needs to play more often to get that consistency in his judgement. He should have punched the corner which he palmed on Bramble’s head; youthful impetuosity or supreme confidence led him to incorrectly believe the ball could be caught.

It is a crushing defeat in the sense that it was to a large extent, unexpected through the fixture and the two-goal lead. Talk, however, of finishing outside of the top four is lunacy; to some extent not finishing in the top three is likewise. Points advantage plus remaining fixtures for all involved should be enough to see Arsenal through. It is however must crushing for me in the capitulation in the final ten minutes, the lack of mental strength to pull through to a win when one was required.

Finally, ACLF has been nominated for best 2009-10 Best EPL Club Blog Award which you can vote for here.

‘til Tomorrow.

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