Wigan Review: Arsenal Stumble Again
Premier League 2011-2012 / Game 34 / Emirates Stadium
Arsenal 1 (Vermaelen 21)
Wigan Athletic 2 (Di Santo 7, Gomez 8)
What a disappointing result last night. Arsenal had the chance to put some psychological pressure on the chasing third-place pack by taking three points from the game. As it is, we are now under pressure ourselves to ensure Champions League football next season.
Arsenal started with the same team that beat Wolves, while Wigan were forced to leave Shaun Maloney out of the squad due to a late knock. In his place, Jordi Gomez started up front to the right of Franco Di Santo with Victor Moses on Wigan’s left.
We started brightly enough and dominated possession in the opening minutes. Vermaelen had a crack from outside the box early on and a header fell to Benayoun from Sagna’s cross which was tipped over by Al Habsi. The Gunners were looking comfortable at this point.
That changed dramatically in the 7th minute with a superb counter attack by Wigan. With Arteta limping on the edge of the visitors penalty box, Benayoun was caught napping. Moses fed Gomez, who squared perfectly between Santos’ legs for Di Santo. Szczesny came out and made a good block, but the ball looped over and fell perfectly into the Argentine’s path to put it into the empty net. 1-0 to the visitors.
With Arteta off the field and Ramsey not yet warmed up, Arsenal were in for another shock in the very next minute. Moses did brilliantly against Sagna on Wigan’s left and pulled a ball back in the box. Szczesny couldn’t collect the initial pass and as the ball bobbled around, the unmarked Gomez stepped in to make it 2-0 to the visitors.
Ramsey came on to replace Arteta. And after an initial couple of minutes of more Wigan pressure, the Gunners got back into the game. There was a feeling that the goals had come too early for Wigan and Arsenal had plenty of time to turn the screw and get a result.
After the second goal, Wigan sat a little deeper. This allowed Rosicky, Ramsey and Song to get time on the ball but with the Latics defending with a back line of five, sometimes six players, Arsenal were unable to find space to attack.
I thought we responded well to this challenge initially. With so many Wigan bodies in the box, it was going to be difficult to play the ball past them on the ground and Arsenal used the aerial threat quite often. Benayoun kept drifting in and Vermaelen and Djourou were up at every opportunity.
Arsenal seemed to be firmly back in the game in the 21st minute when Vermaelen got in between Caldwell and Figueroa and buried Rosicky’s perfectly whipped in cross with a strong header. We made 11 crosses during a 15-minute period between the 10th and 25th minute. While only 3 were successful, one was another goal-bound Yossi header brilliantly saved by Al Habsi in the 16th minute and one was Vermaelen’s goal. It seemed Arsenal finally had a Plan B to counter Wigan playing deep with 10 men behind the ball.
For some reason, we abandoned this approach for the rest of the first half, making just 3 crosses in the remaining 20 minutes, with not a single one being successful. Arsenal reverted to the passing game and Wigan sat deeper and deeper. Some decent opportunities came, RvP shooting straight at Al Habsi from outside the box and Santos’ right foot curler going wide. But the best chance fell to Tomas Rosicky after a quick break and a one-two with Van Persie, but the Czech was unable to keep his shot down.
At the other end, Wigan were always a threat on the counter and created a couple of good situations themselves. They also played ‘professionally’ during the last 5 minutes of the first half, slowing the game down and breaking up play whenever possible.
Everyone expected Arsenal to come storming back in the second half. It never happened. Roberto Martinez instructed his men to come out more and pressure Arsenal’s midfield. The midfield started getting increasingly isolated from Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott up front. We had a lot of possession but Wigan looked the more likely to score from counter attacks.
On the 60th minute, Benayoun came off for Gervinho. I guess this was done with the view to stretch the Wigan defense, but Gervinho constantly tried to dribble in and constantly kept running into a wall of blue shirts. As Desi Gunner rightly pointed out (see his Twitter timeline), Benayoun’s withdrawal meant we lost a player who was at least getting into the box, thus blunting our attacking threat even more.
If anything, Arsene Wenger might have left Benyaoun on and replaced Walcott with Chamakh. Theo had a very poor game and had no joy against Beausejour all night. With Chamakh on and a runner from midfield, or even Vermaelen running into the box, we could have put more pressure on Wigan by having four players to aim at in the box from the flanks.
All ifs and buts, of course. There is no guarantee Chamakh would have made any difference and Benayoun was quiet for the first 15 minutes of the second half. And playing Chamakh without consciously changing our game plan would have yielded no results either.
As it is, the Ox came on for Djourou in the last 15 minutes and played through the middle. We got even narrower and never really looked like scoring.
Unlike the game at QPR, I can’t fault the players for committment. They tried hard and kept probing but Wigan were resolute, well organised and hard-working and tactically we had no answer. They played 3-4-3 with the ball and 5-4-1 without it. We just played our 4-4-2 and expected the door to open. But the Latics had it firmly shut and try as we did, we never found the key last night.
Besides the three points dropped, the major worry is Mikel Arteta’s injury. The Spaniard’s calmness was missed in the latter stages of the game, when we were too anxious to create and forgot to look up and play. Arsene Wenger warned that the injury looks serious, a scan later today should provide more news on that. Fingers crossed.
In the post-match, Arsene was unusually scathing in his criticism of the players:
Is it mental or physical? It is hard to know why. I felt in the first half we had quite a good response to being 2-0 down, but in the second half there was not a lot to come. We finished with Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Gervinho and Van Persie offensively and we didn’t create a lot.
It’s a big disappointment this, and you hope the players will regroup for the game at the weekend. I have been quietly confident about the Chelsea’s visit, they’ve been far from convincing in recent matches and have required massive amounts of luck (read refereeing blunders) to grind out results. And with Barcelona on Wednesday night for the chavs, early kick-off on Saturday should suit us.
As this season continues to prove though, nothing is what it seems and we’ll need a healthy dose of our famed mental strength and determination to bounce back. We’ve done it before and we can damn well do it again, so here’s looking forward to Saturday.
Come on you Gooners!