Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Arsenal 1 Wigan Athletic 2

With the defeat at Loftus Road still fresh in our memory, it is easy to compare this game with it. Both opponents are fighting for survival. The scoreline was the same. They took a lead as a result of our defensive errors. However, we think Arsenal actually played better this night than in the QPR game, but Wigan played better than QPR and us.

Obviously, the most damaging factor behind the loss was the two early goals conceded within a minute of each other. They were the result of a series of mistakes. The build-up to the first goal started with RVP's poor corner. Wigan's clearance was then met by Sagna's loose header, on which Wigan did not fail to take advantage. Arsenal defenders, who were high on the pitch, ready to receive the corner, were totally caught out of position. Arteta may have been the deepest player on the pitch, but he could not even walk, signalling for a substitution. Szczesny made a right decision to come forward to the edge of the box, but he was beaten to the ball.

Sagna was unable to stop Moses from crossing for the second goal. Djourou did nothing to prevent McCarthy stubbing a shot, which Szczesny failed to gather and allowed Gomez to tuck the ball into the net.

These mistakes were "horrendous" according to Arsene Wenger, but we were also unlucky because during these minutes we suddenly found ourselves playing with 10 men after Arteta had succumbed to injury. We didn't see the incident in which Arteta sustained an ankle injury, but the subsequent events, including two goals, happened so quickly that we didn't even realise Arsenal were one-man down until the camera showed Arteta having a treatment off the pitch.

The early two goals had a detrimental effect on the deat without doubt, but we should still have been able to outscore Wigan. We think the real decisive factor lied in our attack.

We started the game very well, but Arteta's injury changed everything. In the post-match interview, Wenger explained that Ramsey wasn't ready when Arteta took himself off the pitch and as a result, the team had to play with 10 men much longer than they had liked. Ultimately, it cost us dearly.

Being a natural central midfielder, Ramsey was an obvious choice for Arteta's replacement, especially with the urgent nature of the substitution, but he is an attack-minded central midfielder and often plays in a more advanced position. He was hardly an ideal replacement for Arteta. In fact, he didn't seem to understand his role. The Welshman didn't possess Arteta's fluency and accuracy in distribution. Perhaps he played his usual role, but that upset the balance of the team set-up.

If you remember how well Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played in midfield against AC Milan alongside Rosicky and Song when we had mini midfielder crisis, he could have been an interesting option instead of Ramsey, but we would never know.

We still looked to be able to win the game or at least take a point at the end of the first half, especially just after Vermaelen scored a goal. We created enough chances to score another goal and had momentum to do so. The team's desire to win the game was embodied by Vermaelen. At the same time, Wigan's defence showed a gaping gap we could have capitalised on. After the break, we had very bright moments and could have scored an equaliser, but it was jut not our night. How Satos' deflected shot missed RVP and then went through between Walcott's legs is beyond our belief. Wigan had tightened up their defence afterwards.

It's always disappointing and disheartening to see our team outplayed by the opponents. We don't think we lacked urgency. Wigan just defended so well that we could not get through their defensive wall. Too many Arsenal players were below-par to beat a good Wigan side as well.

We would like to mention the referee's appalling decisions. They were inconsistent and even one-sided. He blew the whistle so often he interrupted the flow of the game, especially when Wigan players went down. On the other hand, he didn't even give us a free kick against Figueroa's challenge on Walcott, even though it was clear that the Wigan defender made no attempt for the ball. Also, Andre Marriner took too long to penalise Al Habsi and Wigan for time-wasting. Such behaviours should have been stopped much earlier as they had started it in the first half.

Arsene Wenger called the defeat by QPR "an accident" and we have seen how Arsenal responded to it in the Manchester City game. Hopefully, we will see a similar kind of reaction this time around in the Chelsea clash on Saturday. We have Koscielny back from suspension, which is a massive plus. Although Arteta's injury seems to be serious and he could be sidelined for quite some time, fortunately, Diaby and Coquelin started full training this week. They should present more suitable options as Arteta's cover than Ramsey. Although it sounds a little feeble just after the home defeat, we are still on a decent home form. We always play better against top teams than lower-table clubs.

Obviously the loss to Wigan is a big blow for our bid for third place as we were looking to cement our position by extending the gap to Tottenham and Newcastle to eight points. We are still five points ahead of them, having played a game more. Yet, a top-three finish is still in our hands.

We have to see how Chelsea's Champions League game against Barcelona on Wednesday turns out and how it affects Saturday's league game physically and mentally. Let's hope the mid-week game will take some energy and sharpness out of the Blues for Saturday, but the result will be just good enough to keep their hopes alive for the second leg so that they may be tempted to rest some key players against us ahead of next Tuesday's clash with Barcelona.

Player ratings

Szczezny: 5
He could have done more to stop Wigan's second goal. Made a good save to stop the game going beyond our reach.

Sagna: 5
He had trouble coping with Moses all night.

Djourou: 4
Unconvincing defensive performance. Nearly scored, though.

Vermaelen: 7
He showed his determination to win. Scored his sixth goal of the season. Not a bad record for a defender who missed two months of the season.

Santos: 5
Typical Brazilian defender's performance. Good going forward, not reliable defensively.

Rosicky: 7
He was all over the pitch in the first half. Set up Vermaelen's goal via a brilliant cross. Faded in the latter stages of the second half.

Arteta: N/A
Suffered an ankle injury early and was replaced in the 8th minute by Ramsey. If he was rated by the impact he could have made had he stayed on the pitch, it could be 8. His impact on the team was obvious by his absense. He could have kept the whole team together by keeping the shape. He was sorely missed.

Song: 6
Tried those incisive passes of his with no success. Played a central defensive role after the Ox replaced Djourou in the 74th minute. Not at his best.

Walcott: 5
Very quiet. Couldn't get behind Wigan defenders.

Benayoun: 7
Made two very good headers, which forced two excellent saves from Al Habsi.

van Persie: 6
Not his best game. He fired a powerful long-range drive, which was a good effort, but too straight at the keeper. Although his goal drought ended in the last game, it is a worry that he seems to have lost his magical touch which have saved us from dropping points a quite few times this season.


Ramsey: 5
There is a superstition or conspiracy theory, whatever you call it, going around among some Arsenal fans. When Ramsey scores a goal, a famous person dies within a couple of days. Apparently, those famous people include Osama Bin Laden, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston. Whether they are major celebs or minor ones, sadly people die everyday whether Ramsey scores or not. With the latest news about the health of a certain pop legend grabbing the headlines for the last couple of days, it wasn't too difficult to imagine what those fans would have said if Ramsey had scored on this night. Fortunately for the pop legend, and unfortunately for Arsenal, Ramsey didn't score.

Gervinho: 5
60th-minute replacement for Benayoun. Had a quiet game. He didn't have cohesion with the rest of the team, but in the latter stages of the second half, none of Arsenal players seemed to have it, as Arsene Wenger described it as "we dropped our level, lost our team play, our cohesion and tried too much individually".

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 5
Made a good run, but could not get through Wigan's defence.


Andre Marriner: 4

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