Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday December 4 2011
This was described to me at about 5.30 on Saturday morning as the Red Hot Chilli Peppers game. "Wigan away, Wigan away, Wigan away now." With the wind and rain audible on my window pane as the alarm sounded, the prospect of the first journey "oop North" since Blackburn in September lay ahead. The weather upon our arrival in Lancashire was the definition of dreary. Howling winds pinned back the overgrown bushes next to the away supporters` car park. The sky was greyer than gravel and the light peppering of rain took on an arctic force carried by the gale.
Attempting a pre match drink in the marquee next to the away end proved to be an enormous mistake. 35 minutes to get served and £3.65 for a pint of the black stuff. People in Lancashire are always at pains to point out how much cheaper booze is in that part of the world compared to London. Wigan did not extend those economics to their visitors. (I bet Blackburn fans paid less). In any case, we made our way through to the North Stand with the throng of 4,500 Gooners. The atmosphere, much like the game itself, struggled to settle into a captivating groove in the opening stages.
Wigan made a fast start and probably should have found themselves a goal up inside 5 minutes. Steven Gohouri`s long ball found Connor Salmon, who touched the ball down to Victor Moses. Moses found David Jones on the left hand side, whose cross was pawed away by Szczesny. The rebound fell invitingly to Jordi Gomez with the Arsenal keeper grounded. Yet somehow, Andre Santos flicked out a boot to deflect the effort wide. It was a crucial moment in the match. Had we found ourselves a goal down, the game and possibly the result could have been much, much different. Fine lines and all that.
But slowly Arsenal began to dominate the game, with Wigan sinking almost involuntarily into their own half. Arsenal hadn`t created a chance of note in the 28th minute when Vermaelen was given all the space in the world to saunter forwards from midfield and shift the ball right to Arteta. Arteta again found a Wigan midfield backing off and just begging him to shoot. He took the invitation from 25 yards; his shot seemingly providing a routine save for Al Habsi. But the Oman keeper changed his mind at the last second and decided to try and catch the ball, in cupping his hands he allowed the ball to squirm through much to our surprise at the other end of the ground.
The general consensus was that Wigan could be there for the taking with another goal before half time. As it turned out, the team responded in less than 2 minutes. Van Persie`s hanging corner made its way to the back post, Thomas Vermaelen leapt like a salmon to beat Connor Salmon in the air and head the ball in via Al Habsi`s unprotected near post. Arsenal`s first goal in over 100 corners. Vermaelen`s 4th of the season, making him more deadly than Torres and Chamakh combined.
The Gunners had the game in a chokehold. Whereas in the past you`ve had the impression that, where Arsenal are concerned, they`re more likely to have it by its ankles, dangling it from a window. But the greater maturity in the side has told significantly in recent weeks. It could have been 3-0 before half time when Gervinho probed in from the left and found an excellent ball to van Persie in a crowded area; the Dutchman took the shot first time and Al Habsi showed sharp reflexes to beat it away. Walcott collected the rebound but curled it over with his left foot.
The second half looked to be unfolding in a fairly routine manner for Arsenal. Their rhythm was only suspended via a quite outrageous refereeing decision. Steven Gohouri and Gary Caldwell collided with one another contesting the same ball; van Persie eked the ball out towards Ramsey. Ramsey smuggled his way into the area. Just as he was about to shoot, Gohouri, in his desperation, both tugged and tripped Ramsey simultaneously. Mark Clattenburg waved play on. A cowardly decision because he knew he`d have to send Gohouri off and one borne of pity for the hosts. It`s a call I very much hope he has to explain to his superiors tomorrow morning, because that was inept beyond belief.
Arsenal`s sense of injustice, married with Wigan`s relief saw Wigan up the tempo for a few minutes. Mohammad Diame cut in from the left hand side and arrowed a long cross shot just past Szczesny`s post. Arsenal however, were impervious to the brief flurry of Wigan belief. They crafted a 33 pass move http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KZjiOa7qkQ&feature=youtu.be to lull Wigan into submission and kill the game off. Arteta`s searching pass found van Persie, he deftly touched to Song first time on the edge of Wigan`s area. Song responded to van Persie`s movement, instantly playing him back in. Van Persie`s feet in tight situations must be approaching the quality and deceptiveness of Lionel Messi`s, shimmying past Gohouri, before feinting his way inside Caldwell. The right footed shot was beaten away, but Gervinho was on hand to scuff the rebound into the net. Gervinho ain`t always pretty, but he`s usually effective.
Wigan rather collapsed and you got the feeling Arsenal could have had as many goals as they wanted. Song and Ramsey played an intricate 1-2 on the edge of Wigan`s area. Song was taken out by Diame but Clattenburg played a sensible advantage, the ball squirmed through to van Persie. He once again shimmied past Caldwell, but was slightly off balance when he sent his right foot shot spinning wide from close range. But the Latics couldn`t keep van Persie out for long.
Koscielny played a smart, first time through ball to Walcott in the channel. His pace left Caldwell beleaguered, the Scottish defender diving in desperately with no avail. Once clear, Walcott had the sangfroid to look up in recognition that his angle wasn`t the best for a shot. Of course van Persie applied the run (and the smart stop when he realised Gohouri was tearing back towards his own goal line), Walcott pulled the ball back and van Persie applied the right foot finish. It`s a combination that produces results very regularly and the captain as very keen to point it out in his celebration. Van Persie is now four goals short of Shearer`s record for league goals in a calendar year, he has five games to do it. Though it should be pointed out that he has already bested Shearer`s goal average for 1995, even if he doesn`t score again in 2011. If you listened to the chant from the away fans, van Persie will slay the record. "He scores when he wants, he scores when he waaaaaaaants, Robin van Persie, he scores when he wants."
Yossi Benayoun had time to see his lob cleared off the line after Coquelin`s through ball. But all in all, Arsenal made it an easy afternoon`s work. It`s true that Wigan that never got near Arsenal, physically or otherwise- as the 33 uninterrupted passes prior to Gervinho`s goal shows. However, that sort of dominance hasn`t prevented us from crumbling before. The hallmark of this Arsenal side is their intelligence and willingness to do the dirty, unglamorous jobs. Yesterday`s performance wasn`t vintage. We just exploited every weakness Wigan showed without fuss. At full time, Wojciech Szczesny, presumably bored by his underdeployment; approached the Arsenal fans, instructed us to shush, before launching into a rendition of "We`re by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen." Perhaps naively given scars accumulated in the past few years, you get the impression Arsenal means something to this group of players. LD.
13.SZCZESNY, 6.KOSCIELNY, 4.MERTESACKER, 5.VERMAELEN, 11.A.SANTOS, 17.SONG (39.Coquelin `74), 8.ARTETA, 16.RAMSEY, 14.WALCOTT (30.Benayoun `74), 27.GERVINHO (23.Arshavin `74), 10.v.PERSIE(c). Unused: 20.Djourou, 21.Fabianski, 26.Frimpong, 29.Chamakh.
Date:Sunday December 4 2011
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