Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday December 1 2010
A mixture of an early week tube strike and a carpet of snow sprinkled over the capital in the last 48 hours has turned London into something resembling the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah. London folk are an incredibly panicky people, deeply engendered by routine. Any threat to the comfortable humdrum is regarded as the sighting of the first three horsemen of the apocalypse. It was therefore disappointing, but not surprising to see so many empty seats at the Grove last night for a fixture that was sold out a long time in advance. I expect at the very reasonable prices (£10 lower tier, £20 upper, £5 for kiddies and old codgers), people are more likely to consider their tickets expendable. But suffice to say had this been a Champions League semi final taking place in the snow, people wouldn`t have regarded it as a problem. For all the talk from the fan base about taking the competition seriously this season, the stay aways confirmed that this is still very much 4th on our priority list.
Arsenal went with a very attacking 4-4-2 line up, with Vela and Walcott manning the wings and van Persie playing a withdrawn striker role behind Bendtner. It`s a formation we`ve moved to late in games we`ve been chasing this season and it`s not really clicked on those occasions, so trying to build some resilience by utilising it was perhaps a forward thinking idea. Arsenal took as little as 90 seconds to forge their first chance. Robin van Persie swung a devilish free kick in from the right hand side, Wigan tried to push up and play offside to no avail and Nicklas Bendtner was left with a free header, but he had perhaps too much time and space to think about what he was doing and ended up not connecting at all. Thereafter, Wigan were well drilled and organised enough to render Arsenal`s advances somewhat impotent as the Gunners struggled to create. But a piece of van Persie ingenuity created the most inviting of openings shortly before the half hour mark. As Jack Wilshere played the ball into van Persie with his back to goal, the Dutchman`s impudent flick set Carlos Vela clear. Vela was already close to the keeper when he received the ball, so he was quite correct to attempt his trademark lift over the keeper, but the execution erred slightly and the ball drifted wide.
A fairly soporific half was brought to life as the opening period ambled towards conclusion, Eboue powered down the right to deliver a cross to the front post where Vela flicked a header just wide of the far post. The pressure told four minutes before half time, Theo Walcott whipped in a teasing left wing corner, Bendtner looked poised to flick it on but missed, which perhaps wrong footed Alcaraz, as the ball cannoned off the Wigan skipper and into the net. Note to other top flight clubs, Arsenal are still the only side in the Premiership classy enough not to announce the name of an own goal scorer. Arsenal should have had cause to work the larynx of the stadium announcer on the cusp of the interval, yet another gorgeous van Persie pirouette set Carlos Vela completely through on goal, but he stumbled comically as he collected the ball. He needs a goal very badly. Wigan`s sole opportunity of note came from a Ben Watson corner, Koscielny`s clearance cannoned towards goal off of Boselli but Szczesny showed great reactions to claw the ball out, van Persie sliced his clearance onto the roof of his own net. The biggest and most sustained cheer of a very chilly night came with the announcement that Wes Ham were leading Manchester United by two goals. Wembley winked just slightly on the horizon. Arsenal`s tempo was slightly more pleasing in the second half and the visitors were restricted to creating the square root of sod all upfront.
Walcott became more involved in the second half; he careered to the by line and delivered a cross which Nicklas Bendtner headed over. But the home side virtually made the result safe half way through the second half with a wonderfully worked goal. Wilshere fed van Persie again, who shifted the ball left to Carlos Vela. Vela slid a first time cross across the six yard area which Nicklas Bendtner gratefully scooped into the net. Wigan never looked likely to get back into the game and Arsenal didn`t look like letting them back in either, for the first time in eons, the last quarter of an Arsenal game was not spent gnashing teeth and clenching fists. Indeed, Arsenal should really have made the score line more respectable. Firstly, when Vela played Theo Walcott through on goal and Walcott opened out his body but curled his Henry-esque finish narrowly wide. Secondly, when Denilson`s through ball found Samir Nasri who skipped around the keeper but saw his effort cleared off the line by Callum Mcmanaman. News poured through of Manchester United`s 4-0 implosion at Upton Park, leaving Arsenal hot favourites to claim the League Cup. But we have seen already this season that unexpected results have become something of a norm; so no need to start reaching for the silver polish just yet. The performance was a controlled and professional one. One might find some angst in some of the finishing yet again (Vela was guilty in this regard, but in fairness, still had an effective game) and more pleasing was the resolution of Koscielny and Djourou. Wigan played to hit Arsenal on the counter attack, but Denilson and Wilshere did not over commit and were able to repel Wigan`s rather blunt attacks. The likes of Walcott, Bendtner and van Persie got some much needed minutes and Kieran Gibbs still looks a strong challenger for the left back slot. The competition now represents a good chance to get a monkey off our backs and provide a launch pad for this squad. I just hope that, if we don`t win the trophy, the stay aways don`t accuse the team of lacking the appetite for it.LD.
53.SZCZESNY, 27.EBOUE, 20.DJOUROU, 6.KOSCIELNY, 28.GIBBS, 14.WALCOTT, 15.DENILSON, 19.WILSHERE (40.Eastmond `73), 11.VELA, 10.v.PERSIE c (8.Nasri `73), 52.BENDTNER (41.E.Thomas `82). Unused: 3.Sagna, 23.Arshavin, 49.Shea, 50.Nordtveit.
Date:Wednesday December 1 2010
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