The Road From Wigan Pier – Where Next?

The good news, the only good news, for me yesterday was that I was in a work meeting as we went down to defeat to the Pie Eaters at the DW Stadium in Wigan. In fact I wasn’t so very far away, in Altrincham in fact. My train home from Manchester to London had a few disconsolate stragglers from the Gooner Nation returning home.
It isn’t so many years ago that Wigan Athletic would have been playing Altrincham in the old pre-Conference (now the Blue Square Premier League) Northern Premier League (now the Unibond Premier League). In the days before the Conference was established, all football below the Football League was regional. How times change.
Having now watched a recording of the whole game it was a horror show. Whilst not playing that well, having trouble maintaining consistent possession and creating chances, we were two-nil up shortly after the half time oranges. Courtesy of goals from Theo Walcott and Mikaël Silvestre that should have been all she wrote for the three points.

Lukasz Fabiański will have wished he hadn’t been picked yesterday and had stayed in bed on his 25th birthday. There wasn’t much you could say about his sub-par performance except “awful”. At 25 years old he shouldn’t be making the handling and positional errors that he is, he should be rapidly maturing and in contention for the regular first-team slot in goal. I think the only two choices now are to put him out on a season’s loan to see if he can come up to shape or let him go (assuming he’s willing that is, I don’t know when his contract expires). He’s not good enough to be first reserve at the moment, never mind first choice. I’d definitely be shopping for a top of the range goalie in the summer if I were the boss.

Arsčne was right not to exclusively blame Fabiański for the defeat in his post-match comments. The whole team seemed to go to sleep after we went two goals up. That’s inexcusable. A relapse into the sort of unprofessional lack of concentration and over-confidence which has done us in too often in the future.
Now we’ve all but lost any chance of a second place finish (never mind the title). We need six points from our remaining three games to absolutely assure third place and avoid the Champions League play-off round which we need like a hole in the head in a World Cup year. Five will probably be enough but not certain. One big loss for us and one big win for Spurs, seven points behind us on 64 but with a game in hand would rapidly reduce the current goal difference gap of eleven. Next Saturday’s game at the Grove home to Manchester City suddenly becomes very important for the wrong reasons. We should have been on course for a late run for the title. Now we need to ensure a third place finish.
I’d pick Don Vito Mannone in goal next Saturday. Yes, he made mistakes when he briefly got the nod earlier in the season, managing to hang on to top spot after coming into the side due to injuries to Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabiański ahead of him. Yes, he made mistakes and is fallible too, but he’s the best we’ve got just at the moment I think. He’s got the size and is the most likely of the three to make the exceptional save. At the end of the season I’d get the cheque book out to a top of the range goalie. One name we’ve been linked with who wouldn’t be my personal choice would Sebastian Fray. From the times I’ve seen him I think he’s a little over-rated. Not a bad keeper by any means but not who I’d be looking to.
The sad fact is I can’t see any British goalie on the horizon who I’d want to see us go for. The decline in goalkeeping in these isles is sad. Brazil, a country that struggled to produce decent goalies to go with their fantastic production line of outfield talent only a few decades ago (almost all the top Brazilian clubs had foreign goalies then), now produces better goalies than we do. I digress.
The rest of the side for our remaining games pretty much picks itself with the never-ending injury curse. Andrey Arshavin has gobbed off yet again, this time criticising the club’s medical and physiotherapy staff. I’ve called before in this blog for a detailed review of all the injuries we’ve suffered and the subsequent treatment of them. I’ve got no evidence to suggest that we’re not on top of this but only a fool wouldn’t ask the questions after the dreadful run of long-term injuries we’ve had. As for Arshavin he may or may not have a point about the treatment of injuries. There may also be something we’re not doing right to do all we can to prevent injuries in the first place. I simply don’t know. I do know that a lot of Arshavin’s performances this season have been less than stellar to put it charitably. He’s a wonderfully gifted player, of that there’s no doubt. There are times when he seems less than interested though.
Much as I love and adore London, I recognise that there are many who don’t, including people born and brought up in The Smoke (as it happens I wasn’t born here. I came to London when I was five from Wales with my parents. It’s one of things I adore about the place. You can be from anywhere on the planet and be a Londoner). Arshavin appears to be one who isn’t enamoured with our fair city. Fair enough. We’re all different.
He is however paid handsomely to play football for Arsenal. Here’s a thought mate. Why don’t you just shut up and soldier? I think Arshavin could still make a big contribution to our cause. I hope he stays. But don’t let us hold you back old son. If you’re not happy, bugger off somewhere else. If I had the great good luck to have the gift you do – so rare that it opens the door to wealth beyond most people’s dreams – I’d thank my lucky stars a lot more and whinge a lot less. About a seventh of our fellow citizens around the world are trying to get by on about 70p a day, nearly one BILLION people who survive on an ANNUAL income equivalent to what you make in about in about seven MINUTES. That’s more than the entire population of the 49 nations of Europe. You spend on dinner in a nice restaurant with your missus what they earn in a year. Do us a favour. I’m all for people speaking their mind but don’t tell us how hard done by you are. Your problems are problems most of the world would love to have.
Returning to events yesterday afternoon one of the few silver linings for me was the performance of Craig Eastmond. Unspectacular, not particularly eye-catching but efficient and workmanlike. I think the lad continues to show real promise. There have been some emotional outbursts in the Gooner National blogosphere last night and this morning. We seem to be in danger of an emotional spasm. Some want Wenger to be given his P45. Whilst not uncritical of the manager myself, let’s save all that until the last three games of the season are out of the way. We don’t want this season to REALLY get away from us.
Keep the faith!

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