Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday November 25 2007
It is with bleary eyes and beery breath that I compose this morning's symposium, but even with the chords of Courage Bitter resonating through my skull like some sort of horrific cat lead string quartet, I still cannot help but be full of the joys of Spring as Arsenal sit astride the league table by three points with a game in hand. Of course, as I made my way Grovewards yesterday the Kronos Quartet were still resident in my cranium following my Sister's engagement bash the night previous. The talk on the tube from fellow Gooners seemed to be of how much Arsenal would win by, myself and my company were a little more cautious. Wigan had the filip of a new manager watching over them checking out who's being naughty and nice. The international break is a constant thorn in the arse of world football anyway and with several key players missing, it would be a test of Arsenal's ability to maintain their rhythm.
Wigan predictably went with a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Denny Landazaat and Paul Scharner basically sitting in as raised centre backs. Arsenal's double D approach in central midfield, Denilson and Diarra, were a mixed bag early on. Denilson showed plenty of willingness to recieve the ball and pull the strings, but was often met with Wigan's steely resistance. Diarra looked a little nervy early on, playing himself into some unecessarily tricky situations. In the absence of Hleb and Fabregas, Rosicky looked to assume the mantle as the creative pivot. In the opening minutes, he played a stunning through ball to Walcott in the area, unfortunately, young Theo wasn't quite on his wavelength and Bramble swept up. The two were to combine effectively again a few moments later, Rosicky played an identical ball into the left channel, which Walcott raced onto, but his cutback was again hacked away from Adebayor by the impressive Titus Bramble. The home side went a little flat thereafter, seemingly looking forlornly for the twin force of Hleb and Fabregas. But on 20 minutes Arsenal put together the best move of the half, Adebayor twisted his way free of Landzaat, played the ball into Walcott in the area, who shielded away from Bramble before playing the onrushing Adebayor back in, but with his angles closed down, Ade fired at Pollitt.
Marcus Bent headed over on a rare Wigan forray forward, but it was their back four who were more occupied. Eboue played the lively Walcott in down the right channel, Theo cut back for the Ivorian, but he miscued and the ball ran gratefully to a Wigan defender. Arsenal appeared to slip down a couple of gears for the rest of the first period, lacking ideas of how to break the Latics rugged backline. A Denilson shot from range deflected off of Granqvist and looped onto the roof of the net, but it would have been a fortuituous goal that Wigan's bravery scarsely deserved. The second half started much the same as the first had ended, with Barlow's side the picture of resolution and Arsenal lacking inspiration. The sight of Kolo Toure constantly hacking the ball forward to Adebayor, ignoring Denilson's solicitous advances had the crowd howling with frustration. Wigan's defensive solidarity was epitomised by Emmerson Boyce, Rosicky played Adebayor in on goal, but the Brazilian full back made up the ground impressively and robbed the Togonator with a last ditch challenge.
The Gunners' began to turn up the heat, a Sagna ball down the right saw Adebayor time his run correctly, Ade made a beeline for goal but failed to pick out Walcott with a simple cutback. Wenger bought on Eduardo to add some more firepower to the frontline. As both sides became increasingly desperate, tempers flared. Denilson and Marcus Bent had a small flare up on the touchline as the least loyal player in football (Bent as at his tenth club and not close to thirty) would not release the ball for an Arsenal free kick. It was much ado about nothing, the kind of exchange you see dozens of times a weekend, but Bent took a premeditated revenge seconds later by plowing through the back of Denilson in what was a cowardly challenge. A melee ensured which saw Gallas and Heskey exchange a flurry of furious shoves. In truth, another referee might have sent Gallas and Heskey into the warm embrace of the dressing room, but it was yellow cards all round. At the time I felt the triumvirate of Heskey, Bent and Gallas should have gone, but with the red mist having lifted, I think the referee handled it correctly.
However, Heskey obviously did not appreciate his good fortune when he rugby tackled Walcott around the neck on the right side and finished up by landing on Walcott's slight frame. It should have been a second yellow. Walcott was stretchered off and Bendtner came on to replace him. The young Dane would once again make an incalculable impact from the bench. His first involvement was to recieve an Eboue pass back to goal and turn it smartly to Sagna on the right, Banger delivered a sumptuous ball for the undetected William Gallas who used his new B.A Baraccas hairdo to glance a powerful header past Pollitt. Such is the case in games against resolute defences, it is often the defenders that break the deadlock as they can escape enemy radar, Gallas sensed his chance deep from the bowels of the Arsenal trenches and made another in a catalogue of telling late contributions. Anyone arguing about his appointment to skipper now? Tellingly, Gallas made a special effort to celebrate with the Red Section in Block 6 where the fulcrum of our noise comes from. It shows how much players appreciate positive vocal contribution from us plebs.
Wigan were in disarray and the Gunners' banged the final nail in their coffin about 100 seconds later. Bendtner cleverly jinked the ball past Boyce on Arsenal's left and made for goal with Wigan's defence absent. He took his time perfectly before releasing the marauding Rosicky, the Czech playmaker took a touch before despatching a precise shot that trickled in off the post. Game very much over and Bendtner had really made a difference. I sense that this boy is destined for big things, he looks very comfortable in our side and he is proving to be a great impact player. More minutes for him will tell us how far he can go. The final whistle sounded and the now mandatory Arsenal huddle warmed our collective cockles. Strangely, the P.A announcer did not inform the crowd of the other scores from around the Premiership, so my post match Guinness tasted that much sweeter when I arrived at the Bank of Friendship to discover that United had lost and Fergamoan had been sent to the stands. A security risk if ever I heard one.LD.
Date:Sunday November 25 2007
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