23,000 Fans packed into the JJB Stadium to see this contest in the spring sunshine. The Arsenal away support had to compete with the northern drum beats and the vociferous bank of loud Blue and White banner and scarf waving Wigan fans.
Arsene Wenger picked a side that beat Wigan with ease according to the score surely? 4-1 is an emphatic score but when Wigan succeeded in going in at half-time one nil up feeling that arguably this Arsenal team should have been reduced to ten men, (as Keiran Gibbs had tugged down Valencia when he was clearly the last man) then others may say that we were lucky. Ok It was not pretty, and it rather vindicates my calls for Gooners to have a sense of perspective when suggesting we are going to destroy everyone left to be played this season.
Putting our fourth choice striker as point man in such an important game was extremely risky, and it almost seemed a major error as he squandered the best two chances presented to Arsenal in the first half. The first a food and drink header when he was unchallenged and facing a quality cross, the next when he shot woefully wide of the near post. But this is precisely why Arsene Wenger is the right man for our club. Having experienced the media hype over Macheda of Man U, hopefully you will understand why I say that. Arsene Wenger is right to rely on his fourth choice striker to wrap up the mediocre teams in the remaining league fixtures. This is called squad rotation. We will have our best strikers, rested and fit for the Champions League and FA Cup. Arsene Wenger has not had luck with injuries this season and his misery was compounded by the loss of Djourou from a knee injury after 35 minutes. But one can really say that lady luck has decided to reward us in other ways.
It was after Mido’s lucky strike in the 18th minute that saw Denilson outjumped and Sagna present a soft header into the path of the Egyptian, that Gooners thought that the defensive display was set to get worse, when having seen the exit of Djourou, and Gibbs somehow stay on the pitch with just a yellow card, Wigan ended the half with Ben Watson crashing the resulting free kick against the angled upright of Fabianski’s goal.
Half time Wigan 1 Arsenal 0 (Mido 18’)
Arsenal came out brightly only to meet a degree of play acting and off the ball gamesmanship from the Wigan players. My concerns about the ease with which teams seem able to walk through the centre of our midfield despite our defensive duo of Song and Denilson was finally eased when Walcott turned on the afterburners. His electrifying pace and short passes to his colleagues had the result of pushing the Wigan defensive midfielders back, thus creating more space for Song and Fabregas.
Fabianski collided with Mido, after Silvestre missed the flight of a hopeful long high ball down the middle. Mido tried to carry on for another five minutes but was finally forced to leave the field.
Arsenal attacked down the flanks, and kept a high line relying on Toure to hold the defense together. Wigan sensed that this tactic was ripe for a counter attack, but it was Arsenal who showed them how to do it. Arsenal have used the long ball at times when it was least expected, and Toure’s sky bomb was flicked on nicely by Bendtner, an enterprising one-two between Arshavin and Walcott left the Englishman ten yards out on the right and he struck the ball cleanly past Kirkland.
Wigan 1 Arsenal 1 (Walcott 61’)
When Fabregas went down clutching his right leg, Gooners held their breath, fearing the worst. Happily there was nothing to fear, Arsene Wenger substituted Denilson for van Persie and Walcott for Adebayor, and Fabregas was able to push forward. Our Spanish genius was fouled by Brown near the goal line and after the yellow card, was unable to prevent Fabregas dancing past him and looking up to size up his options, he picked out Silvestre who gratefully buried the ball into the Wigan net from eight yards through a melee of players.
Wigan 1 Arsenal 2 (Silvestre 71’)
The introduction of Adebayor replaced the pace of Walcott, and Wigan were pushed back even more. The tall Togalese striker laid on a lovely bal to Andrey Arshavin whose shot should have found the far bottom corner of the net, but it struck the post and van Persie put in the rebound from an offside position. Now if confidence is everything, then Keiran Gibbs has managed to survive his testing debut. One can only hope that Clichy comes back quickly, because with Silvestre now in the centre back berth for Djourou, Wenger may be forced to play Sagna at left back and bring on Eboue at the right back position.
I have maintained also that part of the beautiful game of Arsenal is the rapid counter attack. Pace is something that lifts the fans and scares the defences of any team in Europe. Arsenal and the typical Wenger counter attack was finally in evidence as van Persie played a ball out from his 18 yard box to Adebayor some ten yards away. Adebayor used the pace that we always knew he had, and attacked the remaining two Wigan defenders. His attempted assist to Fabregas was understruck, but the rebound was fortunate enough to come back to Arshavin who struck the ball crisply with his right foot past Kirkland from 20 yards out.
Wigan 1 Arsenal 3 (Arshavin 90’)
Five minutes of overtime was crowned with a sublime goal from Song. It was no more than he deserved after his good performance. A throw from Sagna on the right found Song who played a one two with Fabregas, and then producing pace that I have never seen, he made an angled run past two defenders before striking the ball low and firmly past the despairing dive of Kirkland’s right hand into the corner of the Wigan net. GAME OVER!
Full time: Wigan 1 Arsenal 4 (Song 93’)
Ok to be honest, on the basis of the first half display, some may argue that the score flattered Arsenal. However Arsenal connoisseurs will appreciate that the game lasts 90 minutes, and if the second half performance can be duplicated in the first half, then we shall soon be destroying teams for fun. This is not to say that I am joining the hype bandwagon that says Arsenal will win the FA Cup and Champions League as well as finishing third. Far from it. But what I can say, is that Arsene Wenger has shown that he is able to produce a playing formation to secure his 18th unbeaten game in the premiership with his young players.
Ok so Keiran Gibbs got run ragged, but coming in as second choice left back, he will improve defensively, but maybe not in time for the games against Chelsea and Liverpool, but I liked the way that he never gave up. Denilson was not substituted for a poor display, but today Song proved that the anti Song Lobby need to eat a little humble pie. He tackles better than Denilson in my view, and is not so easily shrugged of the ball. If he can add scoring to his array of skills, then he will have silenced a few more of his critics. Adebayor looked hungry and is finally going to be our new secret weapon. Arshavin will score goals and could make the difference at Wembley next Saturday.
Fabianksi looks able to keep goal and is not afraid to come out for crosses. Despite the loss of Gallas and now Djourou, the defensive woes seemed to have got worse. Toure now is going to be the difference between success and disaster in my view. If he can keep injury free and keep his legs going for ten games, then in addition to my man of the match award today, he may well be responsible for us raising some silverware this season. He has an eye for the long ball out of defence and is key to motivating and pulling together our back four. Today as Arsenal pushed forward with their attacking big guns, it was Toure that gave the midfield confidence at the back.
Well done Arsenal, a wonderful second half demolition of the Pie Eaters, to set us up for the confrontation against the Chavs next Saturday. EIE!
Wigan: Kirkland, Melchiot, Boyce, Bramble, Figueroa, Valencia, Watson (Koumas 85), Brown (De Ridder 78), Rodallega, Scharner, Mido (Kapo 58).
Subs: Pollitt, Kingson, Sibierski, Edman. Booked: Brown, Boyce, Bramble.
Arsenal: Fabianski, Sagna, Toure, Djourou (Silvestre 35), Gibbs, Walcott (Adebayor 68), Denilson (Van Persie 63), Song Billong, Arshavin, Fabregas, Bendtner.
Subs: Szczesny, Nasri, Vela, Eboue.
Booked: Gibbs, Van Persie, Song. Ref: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).
We have now opened up a temporary 9 point lead over Aston Villa and 10 points over Everton.
What did she wear???
Fabregas the King.