Arsenal ran out 4-1 winners over Wigan at the Grove yesterday, relegating the Latics in the process, after yet another all-round excellent performance from the Gunners. If Arsenal have been known for any one thing this season it has been strong second-half performances, a trait which has been true both on any given day and with one game left and Arsenal the form team of the League at the moment, a trait which seems to even extend into the season as a whole.
It was only 6 moths ago, December 1st, 2012, that Arsenal were still trying to get some kind of form together after a rocky off-season which had seen their leading scorer demand a trade to bitter rivals Manchester United and their leading playmaker and midfield enforcer work his way out the door through a variety of antics which angered manager Arsene Wenger.
On that day, in front of a home crowd, an insipid Arsenal performance was punished by Swansea City’s upstart striker “Michu” who scored two late goals. The Gunners slipped to 10th place in the League table, the worst start of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal tenure. Boos rained down on Arsenal from the home crowd.
Ten days later Wenger would field a full strength Arsenal team against minnows Bradford City in the League Cup and another soft performance meant that the Arsenal crashed out of the cup on penalties as Bradford fought tooth and nail to defend their 1-1 stalemate for 120 minutes. Some fans pre-called the match and wondered if a loss to Bradford would have echoes of the infamous Arsenal loss to Walsall in 1983 which saw near riots outside of Highbury House force the board to fire then manager Terry Neill.
Much to the chagrin of the Anti-Wenger crowd, the board persisted with Arsene. And Wenger has managed to turn the ship around, despite a powerful challenge from both London rivals Tottenham and Chelsea.
Arsenal and Chelsea are the form teams of the last six matches with both teams taking 2.33 points per game. Arsenal have been one of the best defensive sides as well in this run, allowing just three goals in six matches while Chelsea have conceded five and Spurs eight.
But really, Arsenal turned the ship around after the 23rd of January where the Gunners have lost only one match in League play, conceded just 10 goals, and despite some profligacy up front have managed to score 26. Not only that but a ruthless Wenger battened down the hatches after a horrible performance at center half by captain Thomas Vermaelen against rivals Spurs saw Arsenal slip to their only defeat of the run-in. Vermaelen was subsequently benched in favor of Laurent Koscielny and in the ensuing eight matches, Arsenal have conceded just four goals. None of those goals has come from open play.
Against Wigan yesterday there was a familiar feel to the story but with some new twists. Arsenal came out in the first 20 minutes playing some of the best football I have seen from them all season. Taking ine shots in that opening quarter of the match they were at their best with the imperious Santi Cazorla running the show from the wings before setting up Lukas Podolski with the free header from a corner to get the opening goal. It was number one with a bullet.
But then the familiar “handbrake” feeling crept over this Arsenal team and for the next 26 minutes Arsenal seemed incapable of getting out of their own half. Wigan shut down all service to Podolski as the Gunners sat back and seemingly invited pressure.
Koscielny was forced to make some magnificent stops during this time, none moreso than his acrobatic kick to deny a long ball to Kone.
And Kieran Gibbs was called upon to keep MacManaman quiet on the wings, which he did with excellent tackling and great positional play. But it was an entire team defensive performance during that 26 minute period which strove to keep the Arsenal sheets clean — Ramsey was bursting a lung tracking back and tackling, Walcott played an almost right back position at times to stop the forward runs of Espinoza, which is exactly how Arsenal Letters said Arsenal needed to play in his match preview.
Mike Dean, whose record against Arsenal speaks for itself, manged to inject himself in the game before half time by refusing to call Wigan for pulling on Cazorla’s arms on every possession while blowing up Arteta for the exact same offense on the other side. Wigan were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box and Maloney hit a ripper over the wall which Szczesny got a hand to but not enough to keep the ball out.
1-1 at half time and if there were any worries that the Arsenal faithful would turn the crowd got behind the team, as described by our Man at the Match reporter Chary, and the boos rained down on Mike Dean, along with chants of “cheat cheat cheat.”
The second half kicked off for Arsenal much the way the first had with the Gunners pounding the Wigan box with excellent probing play from Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott, and Aaron Ramsey. In a 10 minute burst, Arsenal scored three goals, relegating Wigan and bringing me to tears of joy for Aaron Ramsey as he scored his first League goal of the campaign. A real cheeky goal it was too — he received Cazorla’s pass, drove at the keeper, looked to see Podolski begging for his hatrick, and no-looked the shot off the keeper’s head and into the net.
And now Arsenal head into the final game of the season, this Sunday, and it’s looking like it’s one for the road. There are three teams vying for two places at the top of the table, all three teams are London rivals, all three teams are playing opponents who have nothing to win (Arsenal’s match is against Newcastle and Geordies boss Alan Pardew has stated that he doesn’t care if Arsenal win 4-0), and there could even be a playoff for third place should Chelsea draw against Everton and Arsenal win by just one goal. It would be the fitting end to what has been a wild season for Arsenal so far.
Xenophobia and Pejoratives
I made some controversial remarks on twitter the other day about how there’s a certain element to the anti-Kroenke sentiment which is, I believe, xenophobic and that there’s a common usage of the word “Yank” that is often used pejoratively. I stand by those remarks.
There are some people who seem to hate Stan Kroenke and all Americans just because we are American. I did a quick Google search and found this comment on Le Grove by someone named Goonerboy:*
That’s not to say that Le Grove or Goonerboy are xenophobes but that comment is certainly attempting to paint all Americans with the same brush and frankly, it’s not as rare a comment as some people would like to imagine.
I have had people say such things to my face, “not you of course” they will say, but they will say it regardless. Which would be astounding except that I have been around when Arsenal fans sing about “gassing the Jews” and have heard more Gooners than I care to count say “I’m not a member of the BNP but I do believe in some of what they say.” Moreover, I have banned many people from commenting here (and probably will have to ban many more after today) and have blocked people on twitter because of comments just like those above.
But here’s where my critique above is being taken out of context, people are accusing me of saying that I think anyone who wants Kroenke out is a xenophobe, which I have never said. I have said “there’s an element” of xenophobia to this and that is undeniable — some people who want Kroenke out want him out because he is American. Just look at the comment above and you can see what I’m talking about.
Why can’t people just say “Kroenke doesn’t understand history” or “Kroenke doesn’t get community”? I would probably agree with that oor at least it would give us something to talk about. But when you start getting out the broad brush and painting all Americans as know-nothing carpetbaggers I’m going to feel the need to defend myself.
*The goonerboy in this comment is someone you’ve never heard of who calls himself goonerboy, not the other guy you’ve never heard of who calls himself Goonerboyblog on twitter and on blogspot, or something.