A Wigan side, fresh from defeating the Premier League Champions elect, took advantage of a crazy ninety or so seconds of defensive chaos in the Arsenal backline to plunder two quick goals and then sat back for the last eighty minutes of the game to gain a win that eased their relegation fears.
Even before kick off an uncomfortably cold evening was made to feel more awkward by Arsenal kicking towards the North Bank in the first half, rather than in the second half which is the usual choice of ends, presumably because Robin lost the toss.
Wigan brought the smallest traveling contingent I’d ever seen, so small only one block was allocated for them, something I’d never seen at Ashburton Grove in the 50 or so matches I’ve been to there.
Forget the talk of Wigan playing expansive attacking football – because, bizarrely, Al Habsi in the Wigan goal was resorting to time wasting within a few minutes of the start, at nil nil even! An ominous portend of what was to follow (and be allowed by referee Mariner).
A few early chances came our way and, as you’d expect, it seemed like Al Habsi was going to have another game of his life against us as he clawed away two goal bound shots.
Sitting slightly to the right of the goal and behind the Clock end I could see all was not right with the right half of the back line – Sagna seemed to be running in cement whenever Moses ran at him and his powers of anticipation, usually so accurate, had deserted him and there seemed to be a lack of communication with Djourou.
For that reason when the first Wigan attack came down our left flank Sagna was easily outpaced and the resulting cross led to an easy tap in, on the second attempt, for Di Santo, the number 9 who then ran to the corner of the Clock end and East stand to give the home crowd the finger.
Unfortunately it was Sagna again who was turned inside out from the second Wigan attack of the game and another foray down our right flank by Wigan led to a partially blocked shot from Gomez which looped up and fell perfectly in front of him to prod into an open net.
Chesney was incensed with his defenders, Djourou and Sagna in particular, so much so that Song had to step in to cool the Pole’s temper with the crowd sensing a two goal lead may not be surmountable this time.
Straight after the second goal Arteta was subbed off so it may seem that our midfield shape had gone in the time Arteta was off the pitch which caused the two Wigan attacks to be so damaging.
Arteta’s replacement Ramsey came on then he, and the rest of his team, were confronted with the prospect of ten men behind the ball and elaborate time wasting for the remainder of the game.
There has been criticism of Ramsey for his slowing down/sideways passing but to my eyes playing against two banks of four he retained possession well and had no choice but to pass sideways when there were no forward options on as the Lancastrian bus was parked firmly in front of Al Habsi’s goal.
Where I was sitting there appeared to be no one getting on Ramsey’s back for the handful of misplaced passes with the crowd’s ire being reserved for the awful timewasting by Wigan, like every re-start taking an age and excessive deliberation about who would take each throw in/free kick.
It became apparent as the first half drew on Marriner was not going to take any action against time wasting and his inconsistent approach with what was a foul drew his competency into question.
Sadly he seemed very eager to blow for every tiny foul against us but let Wigan fouls go unpunished – Sagna was booked for his first foul, and one only in the centre circle, while things like Wigan players climbing and tumbling over Arsenal defenders (Djourou was used as a climbing frame by Wigan forwards on more than one occasion) was ignored.
Despite being hampered by an officious and one sided approach by the referee and timewasting by Wigan, the Verminator pulled a goal back for the good guys with a towering header that the Ashburton Grove faithful were hopeful would start a fight back, while the disjointed Arsenal midfield permitted a few more attacks and corners for Wigan.
Arsenal pressed on till half time but had few chances, a couple of Benayoun headers and a Rosicky shot skied over after a neat one two with Robin, and the first half finished with a sense of anxiety building in the crowd.
Half time brought a few boos for Gazidis as he came pitch side for a presentation ceremony, perhaps his perceived part in last summer’s transfer window fiasco has not been forgotten by all Gooners.
As expected Arsenal started the second half with a sense of urgency but as it became apparent the combination of Wigan timewasting and ten men behind the ball meant it was going to take something special to unlock the massed blue and white defence.
Additionally Marriner’s willingness to give virtually every decision he could to the away side was beginning to grate more and more.
For example a shove on Theo as he drove into the penalty area was not even called for a foul, even though it seemed a DOGSO and therefore a penalty/red card to me while an innocuous trip by Song was a yellow.
As if to confirm how much Marriner was rooting for Wigan, he even put his arm around their number 16 consolingly, proof of how friendly he was with Wigan. This was after he awarded another soft foul against Arsenal as if to say…”there, there, we won’t let those nasty boys from Arsenal stop you getting your moment of glory…”
Even the introduction of the Ox and Gervinho to provide more attacking options didn’t provide any more chances; Gervinho worryingly looked a shadow of the player who was skinning defenders for fun earlier in the season.
As time started to run out Marriner finally remembered he could book players for time wasting, but by then regular time was almost up and Wigan had got the result they wanted assisted by the time wasting by then anyway.
As the final whistle blew the handful of Wigan fans present began to sing that they were staying up and the Arsenal players beat a hasty retreat off the pitch.
Some may complain that they didn’t stay to applaud the crowd much, but if they felt as half as devastated as I did seeing three points slip away I could hardly blame them, although some may rightly feel they should always applaud the crowd.
A slightly more fussy stewarding regime seemed to be in operation as I saw an Arsenal fan ejected for bringing a bottle of Corona to his seat (yes, a fairly dumb thing to do anyway) and another steward spending all the first half picking out anyone using cameras – hence the lack of many pictures this time.
While third place is still in our hands we have made it more difficult for ourselves with this defeat, however our club needs the fans to get behind them now more than ever.
UTA! (twitter @charybdis1966)