Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday April 19 2010
There seems to have been an ongoing trend this season for my friend`s birthdays coinciding with long distance Arsenal away fixtures. So as I did for Everton, Sunderland (!), Stoke and will do for Blackburn, I travelled to the game fresh from a night drinking in Clapham, with little sleep to speak of. Setting off at 4.30am for a night bus full of aggressive drunks, who took umbrage at some Argentinean lads jumping up and down and singing presumably patriotic songs for their South American home land, to get to Finsbury Park, itself not the most picturesque part of London to be frequenting alone in the witching hour. I really wish some players had a clue or gave a shit what people go through to watch them. Our coach set off at 6.45am and most expected a victory given Wigan`s inability to beat Portsmouth`s reserves on Wednesday evening. With Chelsea`s loss the previous day, a chink of dim light was again visible on the horizon.
After the manager`s rather curt comments about Almunia in the build up to the game, it was no surprise to see a diplomatic injury befall him, whilst Eduardo`s unexplained lack of involvement already suggests the manager has an eye on the summer. Sol Campbell`s installation as skipper was, in my opinion, a message he was delivering to his players and probably all the confirmation we need that Sol will indeed be offered a one year contract in the next few weeks. But the shake ups did not seem to bear any fruit; Arsenal simply didn`t get their game going in the opening stages. The lack of excitement on the pitch was reflected in the stands as the game had a distinct end of season feel to it, despite both teams having it all to play for. Wigan had the better of the first half, but lacklustre finishing let them down. Marcelo Moreno set up N`Zogbia on the edge of the area, but the Frenchman scuffed a shot wide. Arsenal`s first genuine attempt at goal came when Campbell headed Walcott`s corner wide just before the half hour mark. This truly was dire fare from two teams who looked as though they would rather be anywhere else. The supporters began to feel much the same.
Arsenal briefly jerked into some kind of life as Walcott actually had this daft idea that, actually, it might be quite a good idea to get upfield and try to support Bendtner, who looked as though he might as well have been carrying a clipboard and a charity badge such was the eagerness of his team mates to give him a wide berth. Bendtner dropped back to play a neat ball into Walcott, who raced through on goal and attempted a cut back when the shot seemed on. The chance was cleared. But Arsenal did rather limp into a not entirely merited lead on 41 minutes, Bendtner again dropped off the front line, played an excellent through ball into the area, Walcott evaded the close attentions of Titus Bramble, Theo managed to sort of bumble his way through and toe poke the ball into the net. It was a fitting goal in many ways for a cumbersome game, rather fumbled into the net almost by accident. The Gunners were briefly invigorated by their goal, Bendtner was at the heart of their next move in first half injury time, he burgled Titus Bramble of possession and sent a cute back heel into the path of Walcott, who roared past Gohouri before sending a cross shot just over the bar. But at half time in a dull contest, Arsenal had a lead that they hadn`t been forced to work too hard for.
The beginning of the second half saw Arsenal emerge with a bit more impetus, seconds into the second period; it was Bendtner again who found space on the edge of the area, demanding the ball off the onrushing Diaby, Bendtner played a one two with the Frenchman, putting him through on goal, but his whole performance was exemplified in the lazy, casual way he tried to lift the ball over the keeper when a finish with any sort of conviction would have reaped dividends. But from the resulting corner, Nasri`s delivery was met with a firm header by Mikel Silvestre, who steered the ball past Kirkland with a powerful contact. He had scored at exactly the same end in the corresponding fixture last season. In fact, Walcott had scored Arsenal`s opening goal at this stadium last year. The Gunners felt the job was done as the 4,000 of us huddled in the North Stand were left to contemplate how many we`d add to the score line against a beleaguered and demoralised Wigan. Arsenal hadn`t worked overly hard to get into a 2 goal lead and therein lay the problem. The likes of Diaby, Rosicky, Nasri and Sagna had been coasting for most of the game anyway; Walcott and Bendtner joined the ranks of apathy. The signs were there when Rodallega briefly evaded Campbell put tickled a tame shot wide. Wigan have only registered 30 league goals this season and their finishing was showing it. When Victor Moses sprinted past a lacklustre Sagna, only to see the ball trickle out of play, the away side`s arrogance went into over drive.
Convinced the game was won, Wenger bafflingly did not bring van Persie on, despite the fact that he surely needed minutes ahead of the City game next week? Fran Merida, at the club in body only, was brought on instead, which when one considers he even had Vela available, suggests the manager believed the game was won. It wasn`t, and disaster struck. Diaby, guilty of his second half arsed performance in a week, lost the ball tamely on the half way line, his attempt to track his runner Ben Watson was, frankly speaking, a fucking disgrace, as Moses motored to the by line and cut back to fellow Palace trainee Ben Watson, free of Diaby`s pathetic "attentions" to steer the ball past Fabianski. All of a sudden Wigan were infused with belief, where Arsenal would have to struggle to shake off their entropy. N`Zogbia`s corner was then headed towards the bottom corner by Watson, but Nasri hacked clear from the line. It was his only contribution of note. But having been thoroughly disrespected by Arsenal`s sense of smug entitlement, Wigan were about to deliver the fatal upper cut. N`Zogbia delivered another set piece into the area. From there, I`ve little idea what happened. For all the world I thought Fabianski had caught it, the next thing I knew the linesman was flagging furiously and the home crowd were celebrating. I turned to see Fabianski again thump the floor in frustration. I haven`t seen any highlights as yet, so I can`t tell you a lot about the goal other than the fact that Fabianski looked a nervous wreck all afternoon and you have to doubt that he has gotten over previous errors. He played in a reserve game against West Ham a few weeks back and was watched by Wenger personally. The idea to drop Almunia and give Fab another try must have been in Wenger`s mind for some time. Fabianski dropped two crosses in that reserve game, which obviously informed the manager`s decision to persist with Almunia a little longer.
Wenger panicked into bringing van Persie straight into the fray, but the hearts and minds, only 50% visible for the whole game at best, had completely gone. N`Zogbia cut in from the right, nobody tracked him, he made a beeline to the edge of the area, nobody tried to challenge him. He hit a left foot strike towards goal. The keeper didn`t try to save it. It flew in and the gut punch of humiliation kicked in. 2-0 up against a side who have scored 30 goals all season when you have a chance of the title, and you end up losing 3-2. No other side in the top half would have done that, no other side in the Premiership has the same form for becoming easily complacent and tossing away unassailable leads like we do. I actually wasn`t willing the players to come back to 3-3 too hard, a part of me felt they deserved their piece of ridicule and humiliation and celebrating an equaliser to bring it back to 3-3 at that stage, would have felt embarrassing and undignified. The final whistle saw the North Stand empty instantaneously, Bendtner turned and didn`t know whether to applaud the away support or apologise. He did neither, turning towards to look aghast. Eboue sat huddled in the centre circle for a few minutes, William Gallas style. Interesting that nobody has admonished him in the vicious way Gallas was. The rest of the players headed straight down the tunnel, too embarrassed to show their faces. It was the only sensible thing they had done all afternoon.
In the end, the lack of professionalism and respect shown to their opponents was just not acceptable. The official website still shows no hint of an apology from the players or the manager. In the real world, a lack of professionalism that stark would have led to instant dismissal. This is the only time in my whole life I have ever felt that a full refund is in order for those of us that travelled. A 1.30pm kick off on a Sunday for a televised game after a North London derby defeat. It was my friend`s birthday party the evening before and I had to bail out early, a friend who has been very good to me over the years, I left her birthday celebration early to go and watch this bunch of overpaid chimps lumber around like dogs sniffing shit- leaving home at 4.30am. That it seems the players have happily picked up their wages and not yet made any sort of statement of remorse is unacceptable. I accept football has a lot of variables and crazy shit can happen, you can play badly or sometimes the cards just don`t come out your way. But that capitulation was a result of nothing less than arrogance and dereliction of duty. The team have done well this season to claw back some support from the more negative factions of our fan base. Their ability to scrape unlikely last minute winners, the reaction to Ramsey`s injury, the turn around in the respective form of previously maligned players such as Eboue, Bendtner and Diaby. Much of this will be destroyed and unless some consolatory gesture is made by the club and the players in the week ahead, dissenting voices will grow, howls of derision will swell and knives will grow ever sharper. Ultimately, in ten minutes they will have destroyed the respect they have spent months gaining. Frankly, no matter how hysterical the whines, I absolutely refuse to defend them this week. When they emerge from the tunnel against City on Saturday, I will stay seated until they give me reason to get from my feet. The manager talked about finishing the season strongly so as not to invite negative vibes, well they`re going to get a bucolic tidal wave this week. I gave them more than enough this weekend, I gave them my time, my money and my voice and frankly, by keeping hold of their wage packets, they`re throwing that all back in my face. Well now they owe us. They owe us big time. I hope they realise how pathetic they looked yesterday and I hope they are as ashamed of themselves as I am of them today. But I doubt it.LD.
21.FABIANSKI, 3.SAGNA, 31.CAMPBELL©, 18.SILVESTRE, 22.CLICHY, 37.EASTMOND (11.v.Persie `88), 2.DIABY, 8,NASRI, 14.WALCOTT (27.Eboue `81), 7.ROSICKY (32.Merida `81), 52.BENDTNER. Unused: 12.Vela, 24.Mannone, 30.Traore, 43.Henderson.
Date:Monday April 19 2010
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