Monday, December 24, 2012

Wigan 0 Arsenal 1

It was hardly a vintage display from Arsenal, but this kind of wins are crucial for Arsenal to secure a Champions League spot. It has been a stop-start season, as illustrated by a fact that Arsenal has only registered three wins in a row for the first time.

On paper, this was supposed to be a routine win for Arsenal. Wigan lay in the relegation zone despite some brave performances earlier this season, including the defeat of Tottenham at White Hart Lane. The injury-ridden squad, which was already small to start with, has been reduced to field midfielders in their typical formation of the back three. Everything seemed to have pointed to Arsenal's comfortable win, but we all knew by now that things were not as easy as they looked. Every club tries their best to make it as difficult as possible for you and Wigan was no exception. We were lucky in the last game because Reading were more generous in that aspect.

The stats painted a totally different picture to Monday night's Reading clash. Arsenal's overall possession was 49.6% against Wigan's 50.4%. Our passing success ratio was 83% vs Wigan's 87%. Arsenal registered total shots on target of 11 against Wigan's 14, with 4 shots on target, vis-a-via Wigan's 3. One may argue that Wigan deserved a point, based on these stats. In fact, if they had been more clinical in their finishing, the result could have been different.

Team selection was once again a major talking point prior to the match. The focus was on whether Walcott would continue with the central striking role. As it turned out, Olivier Giroud was left out of the squad due to a cold, which eliminated the other option. We didn't think that Walcott did particularly well in that role in this game. One can argue that he didn't get enough service, but he had some decent chances. Especially in the game like this away from home, Walcott's inability to hold the ball up and lack of physical presence and strength frustrated us. Arsenal need attacking options depending on whom they play against and he is one of them. He should understand that and stop insisting on the central striker position.

Arsenal's substitutions were also baffling. Ramsey came on for the Ox, who was Arsenal's best player on the pitch and only player that provided creative sparks as our midfield trio were tightly marshalled by Wigan's packed midfield. Ramsey's introduction in place of the Ox in the 75th minute seemed to have killed off Arsenal's attacking intent. Until then Arsenal appeared to look for their second goal to ensure them all three points, but the substitution was a cue for the final 15 minutes to be dedicated to defending the narrow lead. Subsequent two substitutions, namely Coquelin in the 79th minute and Koscielny in the injury time, further confirmed Arsenal's defensive focus.

We must admit that we were disappointed with the negativity at that time as we hoped that Arsenal brand of free-flowing fooball was back and here to stay, following their stellar performance against Reading. However, there were only a few players who played well on this day. Considering that fact, the decision to protect the slim lead and ensure we came away with all three points might have been reasonable. Had the result had gone in a wrong way, they would have certainly been criticised heavily for their gung-ho approach.

Also, we didn't have many attacking options on the bench. As Giroud and Rosicky both had fallen victim to colds, options available were limited to Arshavin and Gervinho. Both of them are notorious for their lack of efforts to track back, it would have been self-destructive if we had chosen to go down that road.

As the only goal came from a penalty, we were once again in the middle of controversy. Some question whether there was a contact in the penalty incident, but replays clearly showed that Walcott was clipped by Beausejour in the make-shift left-back's clumsy challenge and there was little protest from players.

Also, there were two handball claims from Wigan at the death of the game. We watched instant replays on the TV, and even with a help of video cameras, it was difficult to tell. In one of the incidents, the Arsenal player (either Gibbs or Vermaelen) had his arms tucked into his chest, turning his back to the ball. It was hard for the referee to make a decision in a second.

In contrast to those cases, most of the media seem to agree that Wilshere was wrongfully penalised for his perfectly timed tackle on Maloney. The England midfielder won the ball cleanly. Jonathan Moss seemed to have given in to pressure from the four Wigan players who converged on him and the home crowd.

The biggest positive to take from this game was naturally three points. The hard-fought points allowed us to go into the festive period in top four. Another positive was a clean sheet. Away games like this in a cold and wet afternoon in north used to see us end up with a draw or worse in the past, but we didn't give in to physical and mental pressure Wigan mounted on us and held on for a vital three points.

We weren't great in terms of performance, but it was a valuable win.

Player ratings


Szczesny: 7
Made a couple of excellent saves. Did well in a one-on-one situation againt Kone.

Sagna: 7
Drawn into the middle defensively too often for our liking. However, with the most touches (104) and an 82% passing success rate, he didn't do too badly.

Mertesacker: 6
Gave away unnecessary corners. With him in the back four, Arsenal's playing a high defensive line was suicidal in the first half.

Vermaelen: 7
Solid. Led the defence with determination.

Gibbs: 7
It wasn't his best game, but he didn't do anything wrong.

Cazorla: 6
Almost man-marked by McCarthy, allowed little space. But managed to deliver a couple of incisive passes.

Arteta: 7
Kept his cool and scored his fourth goal of the season from the spot.

Wilshere: 7
Worked hard and showed his passion despite tough treatment by Maloney and McCarthy and the harsh decision by the referee.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 8
Our Man of the Match. He was one of the five British young players who committed their futures to the Club last week. It's good to see Arsenal tying down their young talents' futures early before their contracts run down. His performance today was very encouraging. He was strong and capable of running at defenders. Good performance on the right wing.

Walcott: 6
Did little apart from winning a penalty.

Podolski: 6
Fired a couple of powerful shots. Was not influential in attack, but worked hard to help out Gibbs defensively.


Ramsey: 6
Came off the bench in the 75th minute to replace the Ox. Change for worse. The Ox is capable of defending as well.

Coquelin: 7
Replaced Poldi in the 79th minute to shore up the defence and did a good job.

Koscielny: 6
Came on for Cazorla in the 90th minute to fend off Wigan's last-ditch attack and did his job.

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