Arsenal 1 Wigan Athletic 2
I wrote in my Wolves match report that I felt the race for 3rd would be kept alive eventually by Arsenal`s lack of professionalism when facing in certain situations. We totally lost focus in the second half against Wolves and focus isn`t something you can switch on and off wantonly. It has to be there 100% of the time. We were sloppy for the first ten minutes last night and now we`ve thrown the race for 3rd wide open again through a mixture of stupidity and failure to respect the basics of the game. I think I`ve been expecting another result like this for a while. The team didn`t learn from dropped points at home to Wolves or away at Blackburn, Bolton and QPR that you need to play all 38 teams with the same intensity. So why would they have learned by now?
Arsenal began brightly enough. A Vermaelen rangefinder flew just wide of Al Habsi`s goal. Then the Oman keeper turned Benayoun`s header over from Sagna`s cross. Then the game changed, Arteta appeared to injure himself taking a free kick. He went off for treatment but when he re entered the pitch, it was clear he couldn`t continue. Arsenal won a corner. Instead of appreciating that Arteta`s injury meant we were down one defender, the Gunners considered if left them down one attacker. Rosicky and Song both piled into the box and left Arteta as the covering midfield player. Quite idiotic to leave a player that can`t walk as your defensive cover, but there you go.
Arsenal have form for looking more likely concede than score from their own corners this season- think City in the League Cup, Villa nearly took the lead three weeks ago because we didn`t get back from our own corner quickly enough. Wigan cleared and Jordi Gomez raced down the left with di Santo merrily skipping into green space. Gomez played the ball centrally to di Santo, Szczesny raced out to block his first effort, but the ball looped up in the air and di Santo converted the rebound despite the attentions of Yossi Benayoun. It says something quite damning when Benayoun was able to race back to that position with Rosicky, Song, Santos and Vermaelen all huffing and puffing in his wake. When Arsenal attack, those same players don`t seem to lack the pace or urgency to get forward, but somehow lost their legs when it came to the dirty side of the game.
It`s the same attitude that leaves a player that can`t walk back to defend. Like when you were a kid and you just picked the teams in the playground according to a basic principle. The better you are; the further forward you play. All the kids that are rubbish go in defence. Arteta being banjaxed cost us an attacker in this team`s eyes. Even though we were only 8 minutes into the game and had no need to force any issues. A more common sense approach would be to plug the gap and respect the game until he can be replaced. Respect to the defensive side of the game means running as hard and fast towards your own goal as you do towards your opponent`s.
Arteta needed to come off with Ramsey not warmed up. Arsenal were down to ten and were two down within seconds. Victor Moses turned Sagna on Wigan`s left- and not many left wingers manage that. He cut the ball back to McCarthy, who prodded goalwards. The ball was blocked. Szczesny should have dived on the ball using his whole body, but tried to grab at it with his hands. Jordi Gomez was quicker to the ball and Wigan were 2-0 up. Arsenal had a mountain to climb. The home side had form here, coming from two goals down to beat Villa and Spurs. But sooner or later, you get your arse bitten.
Arsenal reasserted themselves and enjoyed their only really meaningful period of the game. Benayoun had another header which was tipped over by Al Habsi. But the goal came when Rosicky powered his way out to the right hand side and spun a cross into the area; Thomas Vermaelen met it with a firm header into the bottom corner. Game back on. Arsenal were briefly inspired. Van Persie dropped deep to collect Song`s pass and sent an arrowing shot towards goal, which Al Habsi tipped over the bar. The Gunners came closest when Rosicky`s corner was headed up into the air by Caldwell. Djourou caught it on the full toss. Al Habsi was completely stranded but the ball flew centimetres wide of the post.
The Gunners had the whiff of blood in their nostrils, but Wigan were clever in the way they killed that momentum. James McCarthy pretended to have an injury on the edge of the area, just after Djourou`s shot flew wide. He took his time getting treated, left the pitch via the most circuitous route possible and Al Habsi must have made the stadium clock yawn with the time it took him to take the resulting goal kick. Al Habsi was eventually booked for time wasting in the 93rd minute. Roughly 91 minutes after he had started. The referee was exceptionally weak in his dealing with it. What on earth is the point of brandishing a yellow in the 93rd minute when the offence has been allowed to persist for so long? A totally token gesture from a referee that lacked a spinal chord.
You can`t blame Wigan really. Szczesny is more than adept at getting rid of a ball when we`re winning and the ref`s not looking. The issue seems to be that referees are so unwilling to see at times. Arsenal did manage to harry Wigan into an error at the back, with Figueroa`s pass to Caldwell going astray. Rosicky picked up the loose ball and found himself in a two on two situation with van Persie. But instead of teasing the defender out, Rosicky passed to van Persie far too early. The Dutchman returned the ball to Rosicky, but by then space was tight and the Czech could only sweep the ball over the bar. Half time came and gave Wigan a chance to reorganise. Given their sterling second half performance, you have to deduce that Martinez used that 15 minutes very, very well indeed.
Arsenal simply couldn`t get through Wigan`s Maginot Line on the edge of the Arsenal area. The home side were guilty of rushing their build up play which prevented them from asserting any kind of rhythm. Still, in these sorts of games, when you`re finding opportunities at a premium, it comes down to the smaller things. Hounding your opponents when they`re in possession, forcing errors, gambling on loose balls coming to you. When I think back to the aerial duels, the 50-50s, the tackles, the loose balls and who got them, Wigan dominated that aspect of the game. It`s why they won and why they deserved to. Against City a week ago we scored a goal as a direct consequence of pushing City into an error in their own half.
Arsenal seem to have trouble doing that when facing opponents in the lower half of the league. Is it because they play with more bodies in our attacking third, or because we don`t consider them worthy of the effort? I would say a mixture of both. We certainly don`t address those opponents with the same intensity we have against the likes of Chelsea, Spurs, City and Milan at home. Without wishing to pick out individuals too much, I`ve noticed a nack Walcott has developed for completely hiding in these situations. His fear of responsibility saw him abdicate on two occasions last night. Like in the second half, when he lost possession to Figueroa, he pretended to lsoe his footing so that he didn`t have to chase back and atone for his error. Or in the first half when Figueroa made a run off his shoulder. This happened right in front of me. He turned, saw Figueroa had gone past him and turned his head again, pretended he hadn`t seen the run and all of a sudden tucked into central midfield so that Figueroa wasn`t his problem anymore.
Wigan probably created the better chances of the half. Moses muscled his way past Sagna, only to find his shot blocked by Szczesny. The ex Palace forward should have buried Arsenal when he latched onto a high bounce, which Santos tried to deal with with his left foot when his right would have been a better option. Moses was through but could only curl the ball into the arms of Szczesny. The only opportunity of note we could carve out came when van Persie wriggled to the by line and found Santos at the front post. Again he went with his left foot, meaning he stabbed the ball well wide, when his right was much better positioned. But there was a dearth of chances for Arsenal and that fed to the crowd, who didn`t muster much of a roar when the board for five minutes stoppage time went up. We knew the game was up.
Wigan competed better and defended well. They were worthy winners. Now we`ve made Saturday`s game extra hard for ourselves. Not only have we pressured ourselves to win it, but we`ve let Chelsea back in to the race for 3rd, thereby handing them more incentive. Suddenly the "Mind the Gap" jibes that rang out prematurely from N5 have stopped. There are always twists and turns at this stage of the season, the only surprise seems to be that so many people are surprised by it- supporters and players alike. At a time when Spurs should be down in the dumps, we`ve handed them a glimmer of hope too and really, the intensity at which we address these games needs to be seriously re-evaluated. Our long term prospects of challenging for anything are completely compromised until we learn to treat every game the same. Sadly, the lessons have been so regular and gone so consistently unheeded, that I have little hope they`ll learn now. LD.
13.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 20.DJOUROU (15.Chamberlain `74), 5.VERMAELEN, 11.A.SANTOS, 17.SONG, 8.ARTETA (16.Ramsey '8), 7.ROSICKY, 14.WALCOTT, 30.BENAYOUN (27.Gervinho `61), 10.v.PERSIE ©. Unused; 18.Squillaci, 21.Fabianski, 28.Gibbs, 29.Chamakh.
Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA