Wigan 0-4 Arsenal: Singing in the Rain
Team: Szczesny, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Santos, Song, (Coquelin), Arteta, Ramsey, Walcott (Benayoun), Gervinho (Arshavin), van Persie
The Short Report
After last week’s stuttering display against Fulham, this comfortable victory puts our pursuit of a Champions League place firmly back on track. Four goals and four different goal scorers went some way to dispelling the myth that we are a one-man team and put paid to a struggling Wigan side who look unlikely to avoid the drop this time.
The AL Report
Last week’s disappointing stalemate with Fulham and the unfortunate Carling Cup exit at the hands of Manchester City had checked our momentum somewhat. What we needed was the sort of routine win I talked about after we had comfortably seen off West Brom last month: solid, unspectacular and accomplished with the minimum of fuss.
Wigan proved to be the ideal opponents for the job. A trip to the DW Stadium should never be the most daunting away fixture, but it is one where we have come unstuck in shambolic fashion in recent years. A combination of injuries and the dramatic overhaul of the squad in the summer meant that Laurent Koscielny was the sole survivor of the eleven that struggled to a 2-2 draw last December.
We lined up pretty much as expected, with Koscielny replacing Johan Djourou at right back and Gervinho restored to the wing at the expense of Andrey Arshavin. The home side came into the match buoyed by picking up three crucial points at Sunderland last weekend, lifting themselves from the foot of the table and sealing the fate of their former boss Steve Bruce in the process.
They made a vibrant start too, nearly catching us out as we were feeling our way into the contest. David Jones sent a dangerous ball into the box, which Wojciech Szczesny could only partially clear. Jordi Gomez should have applied the finishing touch, but his effort was deflected away by Andre Santos.
It was symptomatic of a sluggish and disjointed opening quarter of an hour, but we gradually began to discover our fluency. Mikel Arteta picked out Theo Walcott beautifully on the right, who drilled the ball into the danger area only to see it bounce off Latics skipper Steven Caldwell and into the hands of Ali Al-Habsi.
We broke the deadlock on 28 minutes when Thomas Vermaelen found Arteta in midfield. The Verminator drove forward hoping for a return pass, but instead the Spaniard kept on going as nobody in a blue shirt appeared willing to go anywhere near him. From about 30 yards, he unleashed a swerving shot that went straight through Al-Habsi’s hands, nestling beautifully in the back of the net.
We doubled our lead barely a minute later when David Jones headed Robin van Persie’s cross away for a corner. RVP’s deep ball was met by Vermaelen, leaping high to elude his marker and send a looping header past Al-Habsi for his second goal in successive weekends (three if we’re being unkind).
We could have added a third before half-time when the Wigan keeper finally managed to make a decent save from van Persie’s first-time shot. Walcott fired over after mopping up the rebound.
Aaron Ramsey was in the thick of the early second half action as he shanked an effort over the bar and then should have been given a penalty after being pulled down by Steve Gohouri in the box.
Wigan’s best chance was a powerful low effort from Mohamed Diame that fizzed about a foot wide of the post, but a few minutes later came the moment that broke their resolve once and for all.
We moved through the gears, effortlessly passing the ball around in midfield, patiently waiting for an opening. After a one-two with Alex Song, van Persie wriggled past two defenders in the box, swapping feet to get his shot away. It was pushed out by Al-Habsi, into the path of Gervinho, who swept it home for a goal that should do wonders for his confidence. It was preceded by an astonishing 33 passes too – a record for the season so far (stat via Orbinho).
We were in complete control from that point on – no signs of complacency, just a quiet determination to get the job done. Van Persie and Song combined brilliantly again, but the Dutchman sliced his shot wide. As the clock ticked down, it looked as if we were facing the prospect of an Arsenal victory without an RVP goal. With twelve minutes to go, Walcott ensured that the unthinkable didn’t happen.
Running onto Koscielny’s pass, Theo left Caldwell on his backside, looked up and picked out on the onrushing van Persie to lash home. It sealed an emphatic win and a very productive afternoon for Arsene Wenger’s men who are now just two points off that coveted Champions League place.
Man of the Match
Mikel Arteta has been key to our turnaround in fortunes and he put in a typically classy display at the DW. Replays showed that Al-Habsi should have done much better for the goal, but it was the wicked amount dip and swerve applied by Arteta that made it such a difficult shot to save. Aside from the goal, his crisp passing and dogged defensive work kept us ticking over nicely – he is the glue that holds our midfield together.
Theo Walcott is well on the way to shedding his reputation for being a ‘headless chicken’ with ‘no footballing brain’ for once and for all. He is timing his runs much more intelligently this season and using his pace more selectively rather than continously heading down blind alleys. So often criticised for fluffing his lines when he has time on the ball to think, he showed great composure to look up and wait for van Persie to get in position before teeing him up for our fourth goal. It is a partnership that continues to go from strength to strength.
Moan of the Match
When Aaron Ramsey was hauled down at the start of the second half, it was as clear a penalty shout that I have seen for some time. Mark Clattenberg ignored it and it didn’t affect the result, so perhaps we should just move on. But the fact we’ve been awarded just one spot-kick all season means that I’m beginning to feel more than a little paranoid.
The Final Word
This team is still a work-in-progress, but what rapid progress it is turning out to be.
Wigan away has rarely been an easy fixture for us during the Latics’ seven-season spell in the Premier League. We’ve thrown away two-goal leads, scored late own goals and generally found all sorts of ways to cock up against what should be relatively straightforward opponents.
This time was different. It took us a while to get into our stride, but once we did, there was no chance of Wigan getting anything out of the game. It was refreshing to see the goal-scoring burden shared a bit more evenly around the team and to witness some genuinely unselfish play, especially from Theo Walcott. We appear to be free of prima-donnas for the first time in years as everyone is willing to dig in and fight for each other.
Wojciech Szczesny leading the away fans in song at the end was a nice touch too - another sign that we are all pulling in the same direction.
Next up: Olympiacos should give our mixture of fringe players and youngsters a stern test on Tuesday evening before Mikel Arteta is handed a reunion with his former club, Everton, at the weekend.
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2011-12 | Match Reports