Wigan 0-1 Arsenal: early Christmas presents

The rain was coming down in biblical proportions, the players looked like they were running in treacle, the passes were slow, the pitch was bumpy, Arsenal looked disinterested for long periods, and Wigan fought tooth and nail but Arsenal managed to take all three points at the DW stadium thanks to a well-taken Mikel Arteta penalty.

It was raining so hard prior to the match that many wondered if the game wouldn’t be canceled and judging by the empty seats in the stands, many Wigan fans stayed home regardless. Arsenal’s away support, however, was there in numbers and whereas Roberto Martinez’ men had to toil in the rain in relative silence*, the Arsenal enjoyed a full atmosphere boisterously filled with holiday cheer.

As you would expect on a cold and wet day in the Northwest, there was no room in the Arsenal end for those who weren’t there to support. And so, when two men tried to unfurl an anti-Wenger banner in the Arsenal end, a scuffle broke out and several Arsenal fans were ejected.

If only the Arsenal players showed as much fight as the fans. Arsenal started the game well enough and within 11 minutes already had two shots on goal. It was shaping up to be the kind of game where the opposition keeper plays out of his skin but after the second save Wigan closed up shop in the middle of the pitch and cut off service to Cazorla. The problem for me is that Arsenal never looked too bothered to try to get back into the game.

Before the match, Cazorla opined that perhaps the Premier League needed a winter break and right from kickoff looked as if he had already taken the week off. It wasn’t entirely his fault, all the Arsenal men looked sluggish except the lively Jack Wilshere who was covered in mud within minutes.

Wilshere was both putting himself about and was the target of reciprocal fouls and for the third game in a row it was apparent that the opposition targeted him for rotational fouling. Wigan kicked Wilshere repeatedly in the first half but it would be the Arsenal man who picked up the game’s first yellow. He was dispossessed in midfield by Shaun Maloney and went in hard but fair to win the ball back. Referee Jon Moss took several tense moments to sort out which card to produce but in the end it was just a yellow.

FOUL!

It was a terrible call by Moss. Replays showed that Wilshere won the ball and went in just one footed. Was there a little malice in the challenge? Perhaps, but that’s to be expected when a player of his caliber is kicked for 40 minutes. It was hardly a reckless challenge, however, and if that card is the standard for yellow cards I dare say more players should be getting yellows.

Wigan’s formation meant that Arsenal would struggle in midfield with possession. The Latics always had an extra man in midfield and given the bonus of being allowed to foul constantly, kept Arsenal quiet. That said, Arsenal’s lack of movement compounded the problem of the Wigan formation and effectively meant that Arsenal were forced into a lot of one-on-one situations. It happened far too often that one of Arsenal’s fullbacks would try to take the ball out of the defense, only to find himself hemmed in by two Wigan players and with the only option a square pass into a midfielder who had a defender shadowing him.

The water-logged pitch gave Wigan another advantage as the ball looked like it was crawling rather than Arsenal’s usual quick passing. More than once I felt nervous when Arsenal passed back to the keeper because I kept thinking that the Wigan forward would get to the ball first. That extra fraction of a second gave Wigan time to close space and pressure the Arsenal players in midfield.

The stats bear this out and Arsenal ended up actually conceding possession and completing fewer passes than the Latics. More worrying, though, was that Arsenal never really fought to get back into the game. Save for the 5 minutes after Wilshere’s yellow card, the other 9 outfield players often looked like they were trying to run away from the ball rather than to it.

Arsenal didn’t win any of the key “hustle” stats that I keep, except aerial duels. The Gunners’ tackling was mostly absent, interceptions were dead even, and Wigan even outdribbled Arsenal. It really looked like a lack of application on Arsenal’s part. Like they just weren’t moving to make themselves open to receive passes and weren’t trying to win the ball back in midfield. I lost count of how many times I saw Arteta or Wilshere surrounded by 4 Wigan players and no one to pass to. So, he was forced to try to create something out of nothing. Inevitably, the player was dispossessed and Wilshere led all players with 4.

As I said from the start, this is partially down to the fact that Wigan played a 3-5-2. That five-man midfield is usually countered by playing wide and getting into the space around the three defenders. It looked like Arsenal employed this tactic in the second half and the interplay between Ox and Sagna down that right side picked up significantly after the break.

Sagna finished the game as Arsenal’s leading passer in the final third, Ox got 2 of 3 dribbles right in the second, and Walcott’s only completed pass in the entire second half happened in that same area when he exchanged passes with Cazorla, creating the chaos which led to the foul and penalty. It looked like Wenger singled that area of the pitch out to focus Arsenal’s attack.

Arteta put away the goal and Arsene made the rally signal, imploring his team to park the Wengerbus. One-by-one, Wenger removed creative players and put on central mids and defenders. Arsenal ended the game playing what looked like a 5-4-1 and you have to wonder if Wenger had been given a fourth sub whether he would have removed Theo Walcott. Whatever you think of the tactic it worked. There were a few moments where Wigan threatened as time ran down and Martinez felt aggrieved that his side weren’t awarded a penalty for what looked like a Gibbs handball but in the end, Arsenal did just enough to hold on to all three points.

Qq

*Except that fucking drum.

24 thoughts on “Wigan 0-1 Arsenal: early Christmas presents

  1. +12 Vote -1 Vote +1craig

    Jack’s not going to make it through the end of the season if the ref’s let this shit happen. Every time he touches or attempts to touch the ball he is kicked. It’s every team, every time. Where is the fury that was vented at Wenger for overplaying him 2 years ago? Can we get some of that vitriol aimed at the English players who are happy to sacrifice their country’s greatest talent? Or the managers who instruct their teams to go out to hurt him (because that’s what it is… you can’t take studs in the ankle 8-10 times a game, 2 games a week, for an entire season and not get injured. It just doesn’t work that way)? Or how about some of that good old English jingoism to condemn the johnny foreigners who try to hack down ‘good old jack’? For God’s sake, can some of that ridiculous knee-jerk malice that Arsenal suffers every week for once be directed to our benefit?

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1santori

      Jack bears the brunt of it cos he gets stuck in for us.

      We’re missing a bit of physicality in the middle when certain teams adopt the rough em up approach. Jack is trying to add the extra aggression for us.

      What we really need is someone to give us the physicality Diaby did when he was available (cough).

      Hence I’d prefer someone like Capoue @6’2 whereby we can benefit from the height, his build and dynamism going forward in addition from defensive strength.

      As a plus, he can cover at CB (where he has also played) which means for the meanwhile, TV could be deployed at LB if need be as cover for Gibbs (and the ineffectual Santos)

  2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Nikki

    To notice the tactical change by subbing the creative players to a more defensive minded players was not that hard. But to notice that Wenger actually targeting the weak spot of the opponent, was a great job. I always felt that Wenger only tactical decisions in a game was with the changing of a players. I felt that every match, he would emphasis on playing a certain way and keep on doing that until it work, without actually exploiting the weakness of the opponent. I guess I’m wrong so thank you for another insightful post Tim.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1TRoberts

      So – maybe people will leave Podolski and Gibbs alone when not much happens on the left side? “Pod was absent most of the game. Gibbs barely touched the ball in the final 3rd.” Maybe tactics should be looked at prior to mouth opening?

      *Note: I am in no way saying that you, Nikki, are saying these things or need to look before talking – I just replied to a good observation you had of the article – and even thumbs-you-up’d! :)

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Nikki

        Thank you for that.
        To know whether we exploit the opponent weakness, first we have to know what the weakness of the opponents. Based on the formation, like Tim said, a three defender formation will have opening in the channel and can be exploit by wingers. From what I saw, Oxlade and Sagna did exploit the weakness whereas Gibbs and Podolski seems to cut inside most of the times. I supposed Podolski should have do what Oxlade did by providing option in the channel, but because he didn’t do it, the flow of the match continually comes from the Ox-Sagna axis.

      2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1santori

        I’m not sure how astute it is to weaken the side where you carry the most threat (Chamberlain).

        As mentioned before, whilst Giroud and Rosicky were absent, we were far from having restricted options. We could have moved Podolski in field and slotted (Arsharvin wide, whilst retaining Santi middle)and even if we did take Ox out for whatever reason, we could have moved walcott RW where his pace would trouble the 3 man defense better.

        bear in mind as well that Wigan were set up to counter Walcott by crowding him out in the middle and sitting deeper.

        So not sure how effective the tactic was. If anything, seemed to make us more vulnerable as we ceded territory toward the end (as oppose to continue a forward threat) thereby inviting the opportunity for a mistake at the back with only one goal up.

  3. Vote -1 Vote +11NilToTheArsenal

    Agree with Craig@12:42, well said. Wilshere’s getting the crap beat out of him on a regular basis and I fear it’s only a matter of time before he succumbs to some dire opponents’ ministrations. His yellow card was a joke for perfectly good, legal if aggressive tackle.

    Playing this ridiculously high line makes me cringe when I see Mertesacker and his lack of pace get get caught out so often.

    Thrilled with the 3 points and the namesake victory obviously, but disappointed that there seemed to be so little between the two sides, especially as Wigan were depleted of so many starting players. If play like this on a heavy pitch a lot of opponents will be hoping for rain when the play Arsenal.

    It’s positive overall though, to know we can park it, hoof the ball and grind out a stubborn victory.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1santori

      The reason why Wilshere attracts the foulds is because he is also most competitive.

      He is trying to make up for the lack of physical presence in the middle.

  4. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1ctpa

    The saving grace for Arsenal was that Wigan’s FBs were terrible when crossing the ball from dangerous positions. Our FBs never got into dangerous positions and never made a cross, not even a bad cross that I can recall. The other saving grace is that Kone shanked Wigan’s best chance and got greedy at the wrong time.

    We really need to sort out our FK takers.

    When you play Wigan away, you get a newbie referee who is still learning the ropes, hopefully.

    These 3 points are no more than we deserved for showing up and playing on that rugby pitch in the rain.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1santori

      Pitch was horrible and more suited to the employment of Giroud than Walcott.

      I don’t think the Walcott experiment is convincing other than in games whereby the opponents are open and defend high up.

      It guises the fact that we do need another striker with pace and situational awarenesss around the box + technical skills.

  5. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1a different greg

    I suspect that no arsenal striker has covered as little ground as Theo did today.
    Could you find out how far he ran and offer some comparisons?
    Thanks

    Whilst we attacked well down the right we also gave them huge amounts of apace out there. Both our full backs wanted to tuck in and congest the middle. Podolski covered this space brilliantly and I was worried when he was subbed.
    Ox on the other hand didn’t supply this cover, this can only be deliberate. I don’t think targeting one flank is as effective without someone likely to put a cross away.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1santori

      He’s a bit wasted up top for his attributes where his pace would have been better used against the Wigan flanks as amply demonstrated by Chamberlain.

      Much rather he tried starting LW and given option to cut in with Podolski as front man instead.

  6. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Cliffy

    All those who wanted Wenger out and said Arsenal will struggle to get to top 4….and had lost faith in this team…Merry Christmas Jack Asses…!!!

    Hope Rosicky will get in and give Jack the breather that he needs in the next game…
    Well dispatched penalty from Mikel Arteta…If Ox could get that goal that one goal he deserves..he can play a little more confidently. Theo is getting a fair understanding of what strikers feel when he used to not get his crosses right..

  7. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Shard

    I’m happy with the victory yesterday. A good, hard fought 3 points. 3 wins in a row, and back ahead of our lovely neighbours. Of course, we still have to improve but we can leave aside all that for the moment. Some Arsenal supporters seem really weird to me. When we lose, nothing else matters. But when we win, “it’s just papering over the cracks”. “We got the ref’s help”. “It’s only Wigan/Reading/WBA” etc.

    Watching the Swansea-Manu match. If RVP had reacted like that in an Arsenal shirt, he would have been sent off. Is that alright to point out, or does that make me a conspiracy theorist? Jack being targeted is plain to see. I’ve been noticing it, and I wonder why more isn’t made of it? Perhaps they’re all hoping he’ll get injured again and then they can blame Arsene Wenger for destroying England’s brightest hope.

    1. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Tee Song

      And if any player other Paul Scholes tackles like he does, he’d have set the record for BPL red cards. The match commentators indulgent chuckling and *wink-wink-nudge-nudge* which follow every late Scholes challenge is disgusting. I don’t understand why a professional footballer being paid millions of pounds can’t either learn to tackle or maybe simply not tackle if it’s a skill which is beyond him. Instead, he’s given free rein to assault fellow professionals as he pleases. I think he’s savvy enough to use the refs’ indulgence to his advantage and knows full well what he’s doing with every “poorly timed, poorly executed” challenge.

    2. Vote -1 Vote +1Yan

      You know, I thought exactly the same thing regarding that RvP incident, so count me in as a conspiracy buff. Swansea is really fun to watch, Chico Flores and their midfield did a terrific job containing Utd. Chico had rooney in his pocket all 2nd half.

  8. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Tee Song

    Wilshere was fouled repeatedly and I counted at least two fouls on him which were worthy of yellow cards by the offending Wigan player which weren’t even judged to be fouls. The yellow card on Wilshere was simply the puke icing on a shit cake of a performance by another incompetent BPL ref. I’d always assumed that the sustained assault on Arsenal players was because of their lack of an English passport. I’d hoped that with a strong British core of players that would stop. However, when the future savior of English football is afforded so little protection, it seems that the refs just see Arsenal and let the kicking begin.

    As for the performance, I’ll take the three points. I was happy with the more defensive approach after taking a lead but this team has got a lot to learn about defending a one goal lead. Up until we scored, we outshot Wigan nine to four with four shots on goal to one. Afterwards, Wigan had ten shots in the last 30 minutes. If defending is first and foremost about limiting opponents shots, that wasn’t great defending. Sure, we saw the game out but I thought we didn’t control the game defensively well in the end. I don’t think we can expect opponents not to score late goals if we allow them ten shots in the last 30 minutes of every game.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Shard

      I never felt the assault on Arsenal by players, media, and refs alike was to do with us being ‘foreign’, nor even just the north-south thing (Does anyone know what the dividing line between North and South England is?) But I do think having a British core will make a difference. It’ll just take time for it to seep into everyone’s consciousness that the traditional justifications blurted out can’t be right or true anymore.

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1santori

        Agree with TeeSong.

        We didn’t control the game enough and rode our luck by inviting pressure where our main tactic was to plug the dyke by adding more defensive players.

        Sometimes(particularly for us), the best form of defense is offense (and away from our defensive zone) and we negated that by withdrawing Chamberlain.

  9. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1santori

    Audition #1 : Walcott Centre Forward.

    Verdict : Nah. Good contribution for the penalty but other than that, playing him up top negated his better attributes with a wily Wigan sitting deeper and crowding him out with 3.

    Not to say he can’t be sued as a striker but I would think it best on special circumstance (more open defense adopting a high line/counter attack opportunities)

    2) Audition #2 : Chamberlain RW

    Great effort by Ox out wide and by far our best outlet with muscular and creative/if direct runs. Still some work to be done defensively but learning very quickly with games and at a higher rate than Theo. not to disparage Walcott but as I’ve said before, he is replaceable with the quick progression of some of our young prospects. BUT crucially, we must not replace just by internal promotion. Still think we need another wide man who can add guile and creativity. Someone who can play across midfield and complement Santi would be ideal.if Walcott is sold.

    3) Audition #3 : Al Habsi

    Not going to happen IMO as Mannone is a decent if unspectacular back up. Still you wonder if it is pennywise pound foolish not to grab the Wigan man who has one of the best records for saves (105) in the PL. @33, would give Szsc a good push.

    4) Audition #4 : Giroud

    Where he? Supposedly he is still not 100%. Lets hope he doesn’t become Chamakh mark 2 and by Walcott’s perfromance up top, it may not be likely.

    But the big CF could do with an option with pace AND technical skills/awareness. Someone slightly more ample than Walcott would be ideal. But very short list of top talent in this area.

    Audition #5 : Gaffer

    Why he would take off our main threat going forward is beyond me (and likely RVP…if you remember)

    Again, with Ramsey out wide. Waste of time.

    Instead we then invited Wigan into our half and rode our luck with only one goal as cushion. Not good.

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