Wigan 1-4 Arsenal; Resurrection

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way. – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

Yesterday’s match was not a Tale of Two Halves; if you were going to make that analogy it was more like a Tale of Three Thirds with Wigan dominating the first 60 minutes, Arsenal getting a glimmer of hope through some brilliant play at the 60th minute, cutting Wigan apart for 20 minutes and then pouring salt on the wound at the death.

So, I didn’t see it as a Tale of Two Halves, rather, to borrow one of the other major themes from Dickens’ novel, it was Arsenal resurrected. There is no question, Arsenal were dead for 60 minutes. The only question left to be answered was how far down Wigan was going to bury them.

In that first 60 minutes, Wigan dominated play by denying Arsenal space to work their intricate passes. It is a strategy that has worked so well for clubs earlier in the season and Wigan was so good at it that even Arsenal’s saviour, Arshavin, was essentially marked out of the game for 60 minutes. Credit to Steve Bruce and his Wigan team, they put in the kind of hard work and industry that usually guarantees a point against Arsenal; and they did it relatively cleanly.

In fact, in the first half it was Arsenal who were more guilty of dirty play. With Gael Clichy out, a very young, very inexperienced Kieran Gibbs was thrust in to battle and had the exact type of game one would expect; inconsistent. At the end of the day, though, it wasn’t the sloppy headers and brilliant clearances (he nearly cost us on several occassions; he certainly saved us on several occassions) that people will be talking about, it will be the yellow card.

I don’t know what Alan Wiley saw that caused him to produce just a yellow but it was a straight red in my book. Gibbs was the last man, had Valencia on his back and rightly headed the ball back to the keeper. The problem was that he didn’t put enough power into the header. Valencia recognized the error and essentially swam over Gibbs, got in front, and then when he felt Gibbs’ inevitable contact, went straight to ground.  I’m not saying Gibbs didn’t foul Valencia, rather, just searching for a reason why he didn’t get a red card. Maybe it was the contact by Valencia or the ease with which he went to ground but something caused Wiley to just produce a yellow.

Had he sent Gibbs off, the game, and Arsenal’s season, would have been very different. Imagine the next few games with Silvestre at left back and Song in the center, that’s what would have happened had Gibbs gotten the straight red that most people felt he deserved.

As it was, the ensuing free kick hit the woodwork and rather than burying Arsenal completely, and if you count the let off of getting just a yellow it very well could have been the moment of the season. Rather than going into the half down 2 (or 3) goals and down a man, Arsenal were just down one goal.

After 10 minutes of the second half, Arsenal still looked like a dead team. Wenger had abandoned the 4-2-3-1 in favor of a more defensive formation with Cesc providing the cover for the Arsenal cover. Moving Cesc back actually opened things up a bit for Arshavin and Walcott but I honestly didn’t think they were going to slice open Wigan at any point in those 10 minutes. Any chances that Arsenal made inevitably went to Bendtner who’s profligacy of late ensured that headers were more likely to go out of touch than to find the back of the net.

Of course, it’s always at our lowest moments, when the patient seems most beyond repair that this Arsenal team seems to be “recalled to life.” And so it was that Fabianski’s free kick was flicked on by Bendtner, fell to Theo, who expertly dribbled past his man and passed to Arshavin. Arshavin was hauled down, but rather than roll around looking for a penalty, he kept playing, and flicked a lovely little pass to Theo who plumb put the ball in the side netting.

Arshavin. How wrong I have been about him. As he was engineering his escape from dreadful racists Zenit I admit that I made the mistake of underestimating this guy’s character. I kinda felt like he was just another example of spoiled footballers, when in reality he just wanted to get a chance to play at the top level.  And while I don’t want to rush out and buy him a Valentine’s card just yet, I really do love his work rate, his desire to win, and all the positive things he says about the club. And though I complained about the tranfer fee, I’m admitting now that £15m is looking like another Arsene Wenger bargain because this guy has the ability to lift a team from the ashes, like he did yesterday. No matter how much I want to give Man of the Match to Song, I have to give it to Arshavin. That first goal was just so crucial to pulling Arsenal out of the muck.

After that first goal, the conclusion was always inevitable: Arsenal weren’t the same, dead, team that Wigan was eating for lunch. They were alive with sparkle and flair.

Just as the equalizer lifted the team, Arsene went for the jugular and threw Adebayor and van Persie on.Those two immediately opened Wigan up and provided a huge lift.  Though it was Silvestre who was the beneficiary of a set play between Arshavin and Cesc, it was the threat of Ade and van Persie who made Wigan tremble. And though most people will point to horrible defending, in the end, Ade provided link play that led to the final two goals.

4-1 to the Arsenal and most pundits are claiming that the score-line flattered Arsenal, but I’m not so sure. I think that this Arsenal team will always fight back and though they might not link up perfectly, and passes might go astray, they will never take their foot off the pedal like they did against Man City back in November.

I just read a wonderfully frank interview with Arsene Wenger in which he talks about the character of this team and speaks about the mistakes he made this year and last. It’s hard to pull just one or two quotes about but I do want to leave you with just a few thoughts. First, Wenger points at Rome as the turning point of this season, saying

When I look at that match, we are away from home and missed the first penalty. We had kids taking the penalties, yet still managed to win. There is a key moment in all stories and Rome was ours.

We were not losing before, but we weren’t convincing. Since Rome, we are scoring again and we are better linking up as a team.

In a way, that quote exemplifies Saturday’s match as well: they were down a goal, Djourou was taken off injured, they had a mere child playing at left back, and yet, they still managed to win. 4-1 flattering? not for this Arsenal team.

And finally, in case anyone questions what Arsene is doing (I’m guilty of this) , whether he has “lost the plot” and for all those people who publicly called for Arsene Wenger to be fired I just want you to know that Wenger’s response is

I am not running after personal glory. Everything I do is for the club, the players and the supporters.

It’s not that he’s inflexible, it’s that he just deeply believes in these players. It’s not that he’s unaware of what’s going on, it’s that he wants players like Song and Djourou to grow and make a name for themselves. It’s not that this Arsenal team sucked in those first 60 minutes, it’s just that they hadn’t quite clicked yet.

But when they did click, it was a sight to behold.

4-1 to the Arsenal, and next up is Villareal on Wendnesday who are potentially going to be without midfield dynamo Marcos Senna.  Right now? Even if they do get Senna back, I’m not worried. After all, this is an Arsenal team that has been to the edge and just blindly lept into that void. What’s come out is remarkable, and deserves crediteven if they don’t win anything.

Which they will.

Wigan v. Arsenal; Liveblogging some silly video stream

I found a stream if you want to join in. If not, then I recommend jumping out of the fire before you know the final score.

30′ – Fabianski claims an easy ball off a Wigan free kick.

32′ – Beautiful day at the JJB, I’ll give complete lineups at the half. Right now, both teams are poking the ball around with Wigan coming in on the counters and Arsenal sort of tentative going forward.

34′ — Djourou is being stretchered off the pitch, and Sylvestre comes on for him. FUCK. I think there was some tackle on Djourou but I missed it.

37′ — It’s no exaggeration to say that Wigan are in complete control of this game. Arsenal can barely get the ball out of their half, Wigan has had half a dozen free kicks in the Arsenal half and are completely dominating the game. A draw would be a good result. Especially down 1-0.

39′ — Stream has frozen. Likely someone’s mom told them to get off the computer.

Well, that was fun. I got to see part of the score and Djourou get stretchered off. I love steaming videos!

EPIC FAIL

It’s back up, just in time for the second half. Hmm… maybe I should just let it go and catch the second half tonight.

49′– Yes, we’re in the 49th minute of the first half. Kieran Gibbs has a moment of madness, tries to head the ball back to the keeper, doesn’t put enough pepper on the ball, and as he’s getting beaten by the striker, hauls him down from behind. Just to make this clear, Gibbs was the last man, hauled someone down on a very VERY clear foul and gets just a yellow card.

The ensuing free kick nearly results in a goal as Wigan hit the inside of the cross bar.  Looks a lot like Arsenal decided not to show up today.

Lineup in a second…

Bendtner is leading the line, Cesc is on the shoulder, Arshavin out left, and Walcott out right. Song and Denilson are supposedly patrolling the midfield but they are getting overrun by Melchiot and Titus Bramble (who’s combined age is 107).

Second half

53′ — This is as poor as I’ve seen Arsenal play. Gibbs clears a ball off the line off a Mido header and Arsenal were really lucky not to concede there. Fabianski had come out and tried to beat Mido to a header outside the area. A clash of heads took place and Mido is a bit groggy.

Before that Denilson committed a stupid foul and then Cesc committed a stupid foul and Arsenal are reallyt lucky that Wigan hasn’t made this 2-0.

56′ — I thought I saw Adebayor warming up on the sidelines. Anything would be better than Bendtner leading the line. Meanwhile, Cesc is dropping back a bit and covering the two covering midfielders. So with Bendtner basically non-existant Arsenal are playing a 4-3-2

60′ — YES!!! Some interplay between the two strikers (Arshavin and Walcott, see’s Walcott score a goal after Arshavin is hauled down in the box. Way to stick with it, young fella!

van Persie is warming up and looks set to come on.

63′ — WHOA.. Denilson makes room for van Persie. Yep, it’s a 4-4-2 now. Arsene has abandoned the 4-2-3-1 that was an utter failure. Robin comes on brightly and gets stuck in right away. Come on Robin, stay healthy!

Some Wigan c*nt kicked Cesc in the knee, he looked to have gone down a bit easy there.

68′ — Some Wigan c*nt named “Scharner” is sporting the Freddie Ljungberg look. Arsene surprises by removing Theo and putting on Adebayor when everyone knows that he could just bring Ade on for the empty space occupied by Bendtner.

71′ — Ok, this team is full of surprises. After a yellow card foul by some Wigan player, Arsenal’s free kick winds it’s way to Sylvestre who scores a decent goal. 2-1 to the Arsenal and suddenly they are playing well. This team is so unpredictable it’s not funny.

But you know what they say? “Champions find a way to win.”

74′ — I take it back, “Scharner” has blue hair with a big red stipe. GHEY.

75′ — Ade plays a beautiful touch to Song who just doesn’t quite have the final touch to play Ade back in. That is quickly followed by a brilliant pass from Cesc to Gibbs to Arshavin who’s shot hits the post. Robin follows up but is judged to be offside. Arsenal are all over them now.

78′ — I agree Geraldinho, his defense is cringe worthy (he just played a header straight up in the air.) I bet that’s why Cesc was moved back.

80′ — SHAWN WRIGHT PHILLIPS IS WATCHING ARSENAL (why???)

83′ — Robin van Persie is judged to have fouled on the edge of the box and earns a yellow card. This was all set up by some poor clearances by the Arsenal defense who, between Sylvestre and Gibbs, can best be described as “desperate.”

85′ — At the risk of being too negative, Arsenal’s free kick goes into the empty space that Bendtner occupies and is tamely headed sort of in the direction of the goal. This happens again two minutes later.

89′ — Adebayor makes a great run in the counter but plays in a poor ball to Cesc that is easily cut out by Boyce who makes a school-boy error and lets Ade take the ball back off him. Arshavin is the lucky recipient of the poor defending. As I type that, SONG (of all players) makes a MAZY run and scores a great right-footer, low and in the side net. Undefendable, Arsenal 4, Wigan 1.

This Arsenal team is truly amazing. Play like utter shite for 50 minutes and then turn it on for half an hour and beat the shite out of opponents. I don’t understand it, I really don’t.  Youth? Maybe.

Oh well, it’s a win, and a damn solid win at that. Next up Villareal in the Champions League and we’ll need Sylvestre and Gibbs to really be on their games in that one if this match was any indication.

See you tomorrow.

Oh, and I have a surprise post coming up in just a few seconds.

CHEERS!