Arsenal 4-0 Wigan; the Good, Bad, and Ugly

Thomas Vermaelen, super genius, scores a header between two Wigan players.

Prologue

Lovely morning; the rain was coming down and I spent the early part of the day with my daughter watching Burnley beat Sunderland 3-1 on the back of a really pitiful performance by Lorik Cana. Then I got to Doyle’s where two other Arsenal supporters (Steve and Colin) had driven all the way up from Olympia to catch the match, had a breakfast sandwich, too much coffee and watched an easy Arsenal win. I dare say that whatever residual effects I’m feeling from this obnoxious infection were blown away by this morning’s events.

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Arsenal drew a line under recent controversies by recording a straightforward Premier League victory against Wigan, helped by Thomas Vermaelen’s double.

Telegraph: Vermaelen now stands equal with Eduardo as Arsenal’s top goalscorer this season following a brace today in a routine 4-0 defeat of Wigan Athletic.

Man of the Match

The Telegraph has inexplicably given MotM to Robin van Persie, who’s profligacy in front of goal today more than once nudged me to joke “Vermaelen wouldn’t have missed that.” No matter that Robin worked very hard and was dogged all afternoon by Wigan’s no nonsense defending, it was Thomas Vermaelen who easily wins Man of the Match for me.

First, rising among two Wigan defenders (who are no slouches on set plays it should be noted) for a superbly taken header and to break what was looking by all accounts like another “typical Arsenal performance.” Which is to say 18 shots on goal and no goals.

Then, right after the break, when Wigan looked like they might want to put pressure on the match and steal a goal (something we have seen so many teams do) Thomas simply carried the ball the length of the pitch, dropped it off to Eboue for the one-two, and curled in a left-footed goal that Robin van Persie could take lessons from.

Arsenal supporters have grown accustomed to Wenger’s system of multiple chances and few goals. It’s pretty much a chronic condition at this point that at any given time our club will utterly shred the opponent’s defense only to put in a toothless cross or flubbed shot. I’m not telling you anything with that. But, in Thomas Vermaelen I think Arsenal might have a player who is straight forward, no nonsense and just gets the ball in the net. The type of player that we’ve been missing for quite some time.

Not only is he scoring goals, but he seems to have boundless energy. With the recent performances of Clichy and Cesc seeming a bit out of sorts and perhaps even jaded, Vermaelen is simply brimming with energy. It’s early in the season but if he can keep this pace of play up, along with straightforward defending and goal scoring, well, then he will certainly be the transfer window buy of the year. For today, he’s just Man of the Match.

The Good

After conceding in every match this season and allowing six in the last two, all coming off lapses in concentration and/or will, Arsene Wenger’s team talk must have been all about defending as a squad because today was a prime example of what the 4-3-3 can do to an opponent when everyone works hard and defends together. There was only a brief moment where it looked like the boys had lost focus in the second half when we were up 3-0 and Wigan nearly scored. And there was one over the top play in which Rodellega was given acres of space that had me wondering how with just one man to mark, three Arsenal defenders could lose him simultaneously. But the point is that each time Arsenal recovered and snapped back into the match in order to clean up and keep the clean sheet. So, as a team, Arsenal put in a really tight defensive performance and deserved the clean sheet, Kudos to the whole squad.

As for individual performances, I’d like to single out Alex Song who had another massive game in the holding role and who, even when he put a foot wrong, jumped up and corrected his mistake with hard work or a well timed tackle. Similarly, Eduardo looked very good down the left side, Rosicky looked dangerous both in attack and in defense where he literally put in a shirt shredding tackle, and Clichy seems to have recovered most of the form which made him a fan favorite over the last few years. Good for them and I hope they enjoy their week off, get rested, and are ready to put in the same kind of performance against Fulham on the 26th.

The Bad

I know that everyone will want me to mention the goalkeeping of Vito Mannone here, but I’m not going to say a bad word about the man who managed to keep Arsenal’s first clean sheet of the season.

No, instead I’d like to mention the Setanta USA half-time pundit partnership of Pat Dolan and Paul Dempsey. I’d rather Setanta have dead air, or even worse Tommy Smyth, than these two ass clowns spouting Arsenal myths and prattling on about a club that they clearly know nothing about. Setanta can’t be paying these guys much money at all and it clearly shows in their commentary. They basically just regurgitated all of the negative headlines put about by the press over the last week and somehow that passes as “commentary.”

Please, Setanta, end the farce.

The Ugly

Throughout the match I kept seeing this huge empty section of seats and I thought to myself, ‘I’ve sat near there, is that the away section?’ Sure enough, I saw the large metal fence which indicates an away section and on one side red shirts filled nearly every seat and on the other… almost nothing. Damn, I know it’s a bit of a ride down from the Greater Manchester area to London and I know it’s a recession, but you have to wonder where the away supporters were. The match announcers mentioned that they can barely get 12,000 in their 25,000 seat arena for home matches and so I wonder, have they all gone off to worship at the coffers of Man City?

Either way, it seems to me that Arsenal should make arrangements with the club that, say, the week before if they don’t sell out the away end that they make it smaller and fill some of those seats with Arsenal fans. Put the tickets on special, put kids in there, do something, it looks like an open wound to have that many empty seats.

Conclusion

There’s still five games to go before we reach Wenger’s magical 10th game and can really judge how the season is going to play out. But in five matches Arsenal have won 3 and lost 2 and are tied with Chelsea on a sparkling +9 goal differential. Those two losses were bitter away losses that only happened when individuals lost concentration and/or the whole team surrendered. But I do think that Wenger was right about the team taking positives away from both of those away losses and from the comeback win against Liege on Wednesday. This team has the ability to really push Chelsea for the title, I really believe that and our goal differential shows it. But since we aren’t stacked from top to bottom with multi-million pound superstars like a club like Chelsea, we need, more than any other club, to work together in order to win. Victoria Concordia Crescit is the motto of the club and I think today we showed that when we live up to that motto we can really put in some sparkling performances.

Let’s hope they carry that forward to Tuesday’s Carling Cup match against West Brom and for the rest of the season. Now’s not the time to take their foot off the gas, but to push forward and really see what they and Wenger’s system can accomplish.

Until tomorrow, UP THE ARSE!

Arsenal v. Wigan: time to put it all behind us

It’s been a hell of a week both for me and for the club.

From the low of losing to Manchester City in such dramatic fashion, to the high of a 3-2 comeback victory against Standard Liege, back to the low of Adebayor’s stamp and his club’s insistence that it’s all Arsenal fans’ fault, it’s been one hell of a week. The latter half of which I got to experience with some sort of strep-throat-like illness.

Fortunately, that meant I got to watch the Arsenal v. Liege match, well, let’s be honest: I actually listened to it live on the BBC radio and then watched the match on tape and it was quite a different experience from what most of you had. Live, it would seem that conceding the two early goals Arsenal had the “worst game I have ever seen them play” and even the live announcers were having a go at Arsenal. But watch it again on tape, it wasn’t that poor of a performance. Dudu came out and tried to flick it to Cesc for the give and go, but he missed and the Liege defender elbowed Fabregas in the face to clear room for the shot. Then there was the easy Eboue give away and the ticky-tack foul and a penalty conceded.

If you follow me on twitter you’ll know that despite the highly negative comments of the announcers and the fans in all the forums, I believed in this team and actually predicted a 4-2 win. This team has a lot more to it than a lot of people (especially Arsenal fans, it seems) give them credit.

Yes, it was two momentary lapses of concentration, but watch the match again, knowing that they will win 3-2, with the commentary off. Arsenal played a lot better than a lot of people said, especially players like Song and Diaby. What’s funny is that I thought our worst players were Rosicky, who looked very rusty, and Cesc, who hasn’t seemed the same since the international break, but somehow everyone tore Diaby a new hole and Song was declared man of the match both by me and by the Telegraph.  Roll over Song on that link above to see stats that if he were Paul Scholes would have all of England cooing about how he’s the greatest player since white bread.

Yes, there were defensive lapses, but this is not the end of the world. Yes, there have been defensive lapses over pretty much every match this season, but at least the boss is aware of it and working on it.

I’m very confident that we will learn from what happened to us (the costly mistakes against United, City and nearly Liege), I believe as well that there was a little bit of fatigue physically, mentally.

Many people will point to that and try to say that Wenger is just making excuses, but that is just hand wringing in my book. Arsenal have been missing nine to ten players at various times this week. NINE to TEN: Nasri, Vela, Fabianski, Arshavin, Denilson, Djourou, Rosicky, Walcott, and van Persie, all key players who Wenger could have rotated for these last three clashes but as it stands the only rotations we’ve saw on Wednesday was at keeper, Eboue at right back, and for Rosicky to come back in to the starting lineup (as I predicted). As for the makeup of tomorrow’s squad, Robin van Persie is the only one available from the sick room. The other bit of good news on the injury front, not that he was injured, is that Senderos will be fully fit and match ready for Tuesday’s Carling Cup match against West Brom. The boss said that Sendy will now start to feature for Arsenal and give some of the center backs a chance to rest.

You show me a top team in the league that can lose 10 starters and still put in great performances… Hell, you’ll see what a club like City can do without just one starter when they get eviscerated by United tomorrow.  Think about what United would be like if they were missing 10 players.

Exactly.

We’ve done well, and we are doing well. Let’s all get behind the team and they will produce something special this year.

Of course, the press doesn’t care about any of that, instead, the question which dominated the press conference was about Adebayor. Did we do well for him? Is Arsene ashamed of him? If Cesc, Eboue and Song are all ashamed of him, isn’t Arsene Wenger also ashamed? So on and so on. Wenger to his credit simply repeated “I am focused on beating Wigan tomorrow” and “it is important for this team to make Emirates like a fortress.”

Here here, who cares what Adebaywhore says or does? He showed the world his true colors this week and while they may be a lovely shade of periwinkle at the moment, they will go back to being Adebayor soon enough. Oh, and judging by Arsenal players anger at him kicking lumps into everyone last week, he may want to pack the extra-thick shin-guards on the return trip.

Enough of that, at least until April…

Tomorrow we’ve got a match against Wigan and this isn’t last year’s Wigan that we’ll be playing. Last year, Wigan was managed by Steve “Cabbage Face” Bruce and their entire footballing philosophy was lump and crunch. The old adage “park the bus” was never more appropriately applied to a team than one managed by Steve Bruce, or maybe Sam Allardyce. But this is a new look Wigan, they’ve got a real dangerous man up front in Rodallega, someone who will stretch Arsenal on the wings in N’Zogbia, and a tough defender and threat from set pieces in Paul Sharner. More importantly, Wigan have a new manager this year in Roberto Martinez. His philosophy is to get out and stretch the opponent, play football, make passes, and score goals. And they are especially effective when they score early goals.

That said, their fortunes have been up and down, as would any team which looks to completely change their playing style in just one season: they have played 5, won 2, and lost 3. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground with these boys.

I expect a really open, exciting match tomorrow, one which both teams will challenge for 90 minutes, but which Arsenal should win.

The match kicks off at 7am local time and is live on Setanta USA, which, because I am more that 24 hours on antibiotics and no longer contagious, means I will be making a trip to Doyle’s here in Tacoma. Look for me I’ll be the one in the Eduardo strip celebrating the win.

I didn’t do a speculative lineup today because this damn think took me like 4 hours to do as it was so feel free to speculate away below. Also, I won’t do an  early blog tomorrow, but rather will do the Good, Bad, and Ugly right after the match, say noon? For those of you in England, that means right about the time when you’re really pissed!

Cheers, and UP THE ARSE!