Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday January 23 2011
With the prospect of seven home games in the next five weeks, trips to the Home of Football are about to become as regular as a pensioner`s bowel movements. With that in mind (the home game mini series, not a pensioner`s bowel movements), we arrived at the Arsenal Tavern optimistic that the fixture list, coupled with some good recent form, gives Arsenal a real opportunity to work up a head of steam. The general consensus appeared to be that if we can keep a few key players fit that a target of at least one trophy this season should not be above us. It`s not just the chemistry of the midfield trio or the importance of outstanding individuals such as Cesc and van Persie that make this paramount, but so we can maintain the ability to rotate the squad effectively for all four competitions. There does appear to be a sea change in the way the manager is talking, though there clearly is a priority list in terms of competitions, there doesn`t appear to be the same tacit acknowledgment that one game is more important than another that I think we have seen in recent seasons.
A trend in recent games has been for Arsenal to begin very quickly, immediately pinning their opponents onto the back foot and there was no let up in that philosophy yesterday. The Gunners came out bright eyed and bushy tailed and created several chances in the opening fifteen minutes. Wilshere found van Persie in a pocket of space on the edge of the area, the Dutchman turned the ball to Nasri, who shimmied amongst a throng of Wigan bodies and eked out a low left foot effort which Al Habsi got a strong right hand to to beat away. Al Habsi`s palms were warmed again just a few minutes later when Clichy sent an inch perfect cross field ball to Walcott on the right, Walcott arrowed to the by line and cut a ball back for van Persie, whose close range right foot shot was clawed away by Al Habsi. But undeterred by the proliferation of early opportunities, Arsenal did move into a deserved lead half way through the first period. Alex Song and Nasri played a neat one two inside Wigan`s defensive third. Song played a beautifully deceptive feint to arrest the attentions of Diame, allowing him time to deliver a through ball which sliced a ball watching Wigan defence in twain. Van Persie had time to allow the ball to arrive into his stride and he smashed it past Al Habsi`s near post with the Oman keeper turning his back on the shot like a great, whimpering pussy pants.
The game continued very much in this vein, as almost embarrassing one way traffic. The only regret for a very fluent Arsenal was that they did not reflect their dominance in the score line. Wilshere again sprayed a ball to Sagna on the right, who played as a virtual right winger. He sent an inch perfect cross to Nasri on the back post. Nasri touched the ball back to Cesc, but his effort was beaten out by Al Habsi. The clearance only went as far as Sagna, who picked out Fabregas in the area. The captain flicked and jinked his way hypnotically past two Wigan defenders in the tightest of crevices, only for Figueroa`s last ditch tackle to deny what would have been a Goal of the Season contender. But the Gunners next miss was utterly gilt edged. A quick free kick on the edge of our own area; saw Sagna feed van Persie. Walcott was alive to the situation and made a careering run through the centre, which van Persie duly found with an exquisite slide rule pass. Walcott was one on one with Al Habsi, but with Cesc appearing to his left, Walcott elected to pass to Fabregas, undercooking the pass and allowing Gohouri to snap back with a vital interception. The ball broke loose to Theo but his shot was blocked by Steven Caldwell. I still sometimes think Arsenal are too inculcated into their way of playing, so much so that players often take the decision that subscribes to their ethos, as opposed to the best one available. If the pass is the best option, by all means pass, but not at the expense of a clear chance. Fabregas had a defender on his heels all the way, Walcott was unobstructed. Mathematically, Walcott had a much better opportunity than Cesc, even if the pass had been hit well.
Arsenal had further chances still to seal the game when Cesc found Nasri on the edge of the box and Al Habsi touched Nasri`s left foot drive over the bar. Then Nasri`s long corner deceived everyone except for Alex Song who collected on the back post and cut the ball back to Fabregas, but his toe punt was again frustrated by Al Habsi`s alertness. Wigan simply could not get out of their half (35% of Arsenal`s possession occurred inside Wigan`s defensive third in the first half), a point exemplified when Watson tried to break forwards, only to run into an alley of Clichy and Fabregas. Clichy dispossessed Watson and Fabregas broke forward in a 3 on 3 situation. Cesc shifted the ball left to Nasri, who tried to open out his body and curve the ball beyond Al Habsi`s far post, but got insufficient purchase on the finish and hit it straight at the Wigan keeper. At half time you were left wondering quite how we were only one goal ahead. The football had been slick, quick and precise but the finishing lacking. Wigan made an attacking double change at the beginning of the second half and threatened to be more of a nuisance, pressing Arsenal high up the pitch. But just as the situation began to look as though it might become troublesome (listen to the anxious groan of the crowd when Song is fouled in the build up to the second goal), Arsenal`s star turns turned up with a moment of genuine quality.
Song nudged a quick free kick to Fabregas, who was under no pressure at all as he looked up and delightfully picked out van Persie with an arced, wonderfully flighted pass and for the second time in a week, van Persie`s connection at the back post was true, this time with a first time left foot volley past Al Habsi and the result was effectively a foregone conclusion. Wigan`s attempts at damage limitation were made all the more difficult when Song rolled a pass into the path of Fabregas, who was clipped from behind by Gary Caldwell, leaving match official Kevin Friend no option but to award a penalty and a red card. Van Persie stepped up for the penalty and the chance for his first hat trick in English football. I have never, ever recorded anything on my phone in a football stadium before, but I was so confident of Robin`s ability from the spot that I wanted the opportunity to record his special moment. I`ll not be doing it again. Unusually, he seemed over anxious and rather lent back, skying his penalty Rooney style well over the crossbar. Only his second penalty miss in his professional career and the first time he has missed the target altogether. But if he was going to pick a time to miss one, 2-0 up and coasting at home to ten man Wigan isn`t a bad time. You rather had the feeling the deserved hat trick wasn`t going to come for van Persie when he brilliantly turned Watson with a deft flick, creating space for himself for a shot from the edge of the area, which took a lick of paint off the outside of the post.
Even the manager himself appeared resigned to van Persie not grabbing the hat trick as he prepared Marouane Chamakh`s arrival. But with his last touch, van Persie saw the fruits of his persistence. Another quite exquisite dinked ball by Fabregas set Walcott away. Theo wrestled the attentions of Steven Caldwell away, allowing van Persie to run on and lamp the ball past Al Habsi with his right foot. It was just reward for a man who is showing some timely form. With Drogba and Rooney still out of sorts and Torres not involved in a title race, van Persie`s time has come to be the man to shoot his team to glory and move towards the stature he deserves. A couple of months ago some mused loudly as to whether van Persie could get his place back from Chamakh. No disrespect to Chamakh or Bendtner, both of whom I rate and value, but there are only a few players in the league capable of taking van Persie`s second goal the way he did. In the end, the final score did not come close to replicating our dominance, which warranted at least a five goal margin. Wigan did not register a shot on target and were simply over run and overwhelmed. The improved fitness situation has seen partnerships finally allowed to flourish in this Arsenal team. Djourou and Koscielny presided over yet another clean sheet, van Persie and Fabregas look to be back in the swing after their prolonged World Cup excursions and the midfield three of Song, Wilshere and Fabregas is looking the perfect mixture of brains, brawn and guile. Song and Wilshere look like complete midfield players, equally capable of an accurate tackle or a clever pass. Flexibility has been the key to their chemistry, none of this prescribed "you`re a defensive midfielder and nothing else and you just attack and do nothing else" rubbish. We find ourselves in good shape with a couple of home games against lower league opposition, so long as the focus stays correct, we have the platform to continue our assault. I believe this team can achieve great things this season, I`ve a feeling it will be a question of fitness. If we can continue with a relatively clean bill of health, we can be very dangerous in every competition. Also worth noting that the early season "discipline issues" so slaved over by the media have all but disappeared. Tony Penis` Stoke are in the bottom three of the Fair Play League after yesterday`s red card, whilst Arsenal are comfortably ensconced in mid table. Not that Tony Penis will be keen to bring that up.LD.
53.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 20.DJOUROU, 6.KOSCIELNY, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 19.WILSHERE, 4.FABREGAS(c) (15.Denilson `86), 14.WALCOTT, 8.NASRI (23.Arshavin `75), 10.v.PERSIE (29.Chamakh `86). Unused: 27.Eboue, 28.Gibbs, 52.Bendtner, 55.Shea.
Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA
Date:Sunday January 23 2011
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