Wigan Athletic 2 Arsenal 2
Apologies in advance, the match report is going to have to be a rather rushed affair, in an hour I have to leave for Birmingham for a family engagement and I also apologise in advance as I won`t be able to contribute to the forum in any meaningful way for the next few days either. Suffice to say, it`s a hectic time of year and I must say I am one of the few English football fans who is not a big advocate of the rammed holiday schedule. About 30 hours after stumbling home from the post Chelsea match drinks, it was off to North London once again for the journey North to Wigan. A gentle saunter through the misty traffic saw us arrive at the ground a good 90 minutes before kick off, allowing us some refreshment at the DW`s purpose built sports bar next to the stadium. The whole of the DW Stadium has a purpose built, flat pack feel to it, based as it is next to a giant car park and leisure centre. It is however, the cheapest away match of the season by far, which is always worth mentioning.
Arsene made 8 changes to the side that beat Chelsea, which is perfectly understandable. The games are coming thick and fast and we have a deep squad. Nearly all of us have complained about the injury situation over the last few years, the club promised to conduct a thorough review of the medical department in the summer and this year we have notably less injuries. Some credit due perhaps? After such a high octane game against Chelsea, it made sense with another tough away game followed by a top of the table clash with Citeh. The players we put out were more than capable of beating Wigan. My only slight criticism was that the front three weren`t the most mobile selection, I think Walcott should have been included to add some variety to a set of attackers who play most of their football in front of a back four rather than in behind it. That said, Wigan flew out of the traps early on, Eboue was played at left back, presumably to counter N`Zogbia who likes to cut in from the right. But the tactic didn`t work early on as N`Zogbia skipped through the Gunners rearguard at will and Rodallega`s running stretched Koscielny and Squillaci. N`Zogbia`s cross was narrowly missed by Rodallega in the opening stages.
The Gunners struggled to establish a rhythm, though Arshavin did poke a close range shot over after good work by Rosicky. But after 17 minutes, the Latics took a lead which was deserved given the run of play, but the way in which it was yielded was somewhat shameful. N`Zogbia pranced his way round Diaby and attacked the area, Koscielny dangled a foot out, before withdrawing, but that did not stop N`Zogbia falling over thin air and Lee Probert being taken in by the act of subterfuge. What was most lamentable about the dive was that N`Zogbia had the beating of Koscielny and would have had a clear strike at goal. It was a dive, I`m calling it. If an Arsenal player does it, I`ll call them on it too, but please for the love of all that is good, can fans of other clubs not offer the tired riposte along the lines of, "Oooh, well Pires did it in 2003." Utterly irrelevant. A dive is a dive and shame on you if you condone it with any kind of spurious logic. Ben Watson stepped up to steer the penalty past Fabianski. Wigan might have had a genuine claim for a spot kick around six minutes later when Fabianski took out Rodallega. Koscielny had prodded the ball well clear of the Columbian by that point, which probably saved the Pole. But the rules don`t say the ball has to be at the player`s feet for a foul to be called.
Arsenal slowly took a stranglehold on the game and nearly equalised when a half cleared Arsenal corner found its way to Rosicky on the edge of the box. He drove the ball goalwards only to be denied by Al Habsi, Gary Caldwell`s timely challenge prevented Koscielny stabbing the rebound into the empty net. Diaby then had to limp off again and you have to express concern over his ability to play consistent competitive football. But the introduction of Wilshere gave us an urgency that would see us take the game by the scruff of the neck. Chamakh flicked the ball on to Bendtner in the right channel, his shot was palmed away by Al Habsi, the ball spun ominously in the air where Arshavin set himself and sent the ball searing into the net with an acrobatic volley. Wigan heads erred groundwards and the Gunners took full advantage. Arshavin drove at the heart of the home defence before slipping a disguised pass to Bendtner. The Dane had time and space to pick his spot and slot the ball into the bottom corner.
However, in the second half, Arsenal looked unsure whether to stick or twist. I do lament that the game was crying out for Walcott at around the 65 minute mark as Wigan inevitably had to push on. Bendtner and Chamakh aren`t strikers likely to punish a high defensive line in quite the same way. The chances rather disappeared as both teams appeared to run out of ideas. Though the Gunners might have killed the game on 70 minutes, Wilshere drove into a parting Wigan defence and slipped a clever clipped pass for Arshavin. The Russian controlled it brilliantly only for Al Habsi to smother the left footed finish. Hearts were a flurry when MacArthur`s searching ball found N`Zogbia in the area, Fabianski was smartly out to block the shot from point blank range. But the match appeared to be petering out, until an exhange of words between N`Zogbia and Wilshere, after Wilshere had fouled the French winger. N`Zogbia held out an arm so that Wilshere could help him up. Jack told him where to get off. N`Zogbia`s reaction was to headbutt him. Stupid move. Lee Probert did not see it, but the 4th official did and N`Zogbia was off.
However, the controversy appeared to buoy the home side and it gave them the shot in the arm they needed to level the game. Arshavin lamentably did not perform the most basic defensive duty when he allowed Mac Arthur to send a cross into the Arsenal box without challenge. The ball was cleared but only for a corner. This lack of defensive perspacacity is something Arshavin himself highlighted, so it is desperately disappointing to see a player of such experience refuse to try and block a simple cross. The upshot was that Watson`s deep corner caught Arsenal off guard as they thought the ball was drifting out of play. However, Wigan were sharper and more willing and Rodallega craned his neck to head the ball back into the area. Squillaci had switched off and left Gary Caldwell, meaning that when he did recover to make the header, he could only direct it into his own net. Wenger immediately sent for Walcott and Nasri but it was far too late, the home side were only ever going to sit on the draw and the effectiveness of both substitutes would be nutured as a result.
That said Arsenal were denied a stonewall penalty when Nasri`s free kick was blocked by the flailing arm of James MacArthur. A clear penalty, utterly lamentable that the three officials missed it, but thems the breaks. The draw was disappointing and very much a case of two points dropped. Winning 2-1 away from home against ten men, you expect to win. But Arsenal have not won any of the games in which they have conceded the first goal in this season. The result was not a disater nor an unfair reflection of the match, but it felt like a defeat nonetheless. Beating Chelsea did not make us world beaters and drawing with Wigan does not render us useless either. There will inevitably be criticism of the team selection, but that doesn`t stop a team performing routine defensive duties. Squillaci, Arshavin, Eboue, these are experienced players more than capable of simply maintaining some concentration. Eight changes don`t prevent you from performing simple defensive rigour, such as stopping crosses, or trying to stop crosses coming in, or staying focussed and alert until the ball is absolutely out of play. The lax defensive attitude of the team is a hubris that cost us two points. Van Persie and Nasri would not have prevented that. The concession of goals from set pieces is a real worry and when you have the likes of Bendtner, Chamakh, Koscielny, Squillaci back defending corners, there is no need to concede two free headers in the box from one corner. Still, the result is not a terrible one, it puts increased pressure on us at St. Andrews on Saturday, win that game and this looks a respectable result on paper, even if it is frustrating that we coulnd`t close the game out. If we don`t win at St. Andrews and our rivals pick up points, I rather suspect the loss of concentration in our own penalty area last night will cause greater consternation.LD.
21.FABIANSKI, 3.SAGNA, 18.SQUILLACI, 6.KOSCIELNY, 27.EBOUE, 15.DENILSON, 2.DIABY (19.Wilshere `27, 14.Walcott `83), 7.ROSICKY(c), 52.BENDTNER, 23.ARSHAVIN (8.Nasri `81), 29.CHAMAKH. Unused: 11.Vela, 20.Djourou, 22.Clichy, 53.Szczesny.