Advertisements

Poor Arsenal and poorer officiating let Wigan escape with draw

Wigan 2 Arsenal 2

Watson 18 pen, Squillaci (og) 81; Arshavin 39, Bendtner 44

Lacklustre performances by both Arsenal and the officials allowed ten-man Wigan to snatch a dramatic 2-2 draw after Sébastien Squillaci headed into his own net with ten minutes remaining. A point leaves Arsenal in third place, two points behind Manchester City – who they host next Wednesday – but with a game in hand.

Having played just 48 hours earlier and with captain Cesc Fàbregas suspended, Arsène Wenger chose to make eight changes to his starting line-up. Only Lukasz Fabiański, Bacary Sagna and Laurent Koscielny kept their places after the win over Chelsea on Monday night. Nicklas Bendtner made his first Premier League start since Arsenal’s previous trip to Wigan in April, when they leaked three goals in the final 11 minutes to turn a comfortable 2-0 lead into a 3-2 defeat. The team which started at the DW Stadium was as follows:

Fabiański

Sagna – Squillaci – Koscielny – Eboué

Rosický Denilson – Diaby

Bendtner – Chamakh – Arshavin

Arsenal got off to a sluggish start, struggling to string any meaningful passing movements together as Wigan pressed high up the field. Indeed, the hosts were the better side early on, with Charles N’Zogbia‘s willingness to run with the ball at pace causing Arsenal’s shuffled back four no end of problems.

Koscielny had a poor game, but the penalty decision looked harsh (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

It came as little surprise when Wigan took the lead, and that N’Zogbia would be at the heart of it. The Frenchman picked up a ball inside his own half and galloped forward, cutting inside an ineffectual challenge from Abou Diaby and then tumbling over the back of Koscielny’s leg. It was, at best, the slightest of contacts, but the incident also arguably took place just outside the box. However, referee Lee Probert had no hesitation in pointing straight to the spot, and although Fabiański threw himself the right way, Ben Watson‘s penalty gave him no chance.

Arsenal struggled to find a response, with Denilson, Diaby and Tomáš Rosický unable to assert control in midfield. Diaby hobbled off before the half-hour, to be replaced by Jack Wilshere, and the change coincided with a growing if sporadic threat from the visitors.

Having started poorly, Arshavin turned the game with a goal and an assist for Bendtner (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Having contributed nothing positive in the first half hour, Andrey Arshavin then turned the game in the space of five minutes with two sublime pieces of skill. First Marouane Chamakh fed Bendtner, whose volleyed effort was beaten away by Ali Al-Habsi straight to the Russian, whose technique was flawless as he executed an acrobatic scissor kick to send the ball into the far corner. He then seized on a loose ball, turned and accelerated into space before clipping a delicate ball with the outside of his boot for Bendtner. The Dane’s first touch was perhaps better than even he expected, but it took him away from two defenders and afforded him the time to open up his body and coolly steer the ball past al-Habsi’s left hand.

The second half degenerated into a lively but largely scrappy affair. Arsenal had their chances to put the game beyond Wigan’s reach. A difficult long-range header by Chamakh flashed just wide. And at the end of Arsenal’s most incisive move of the game, Arshavin was denied as al-Habsi raced off his line to close him down. But defensively they remained vulnerable. The high-energy pressing game so evident against Chelsea was missing, and both Squillaci and Koscielny looked decidedly uncomfortable against Wigan’s quick breaks.

Again, though, the game appeared to turn on a flash-point involving N’Zogbia. Having just been denied by Fabiański, who stood up big and strong to him one-on-one, he then head-butted Wilshere after the pair had challenged for the ball. It was an idiotic thing to do, and after a brief consultation with his assistant, Probert rightly produced a straight red card.

Squillaci's own goal proved costly (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

With a man advantage, that should have been the signal for Arsenal to close out the match. Instead, it took Wigan less than three minutes to steal a point. Watson’s inswinging corner missed everyone in the middle but was nodded back into the danger area by Hugo Rodallega, where Squillaci, under pressure from Gary Caldwell, headed into his own net.

Wenger immediately sent on Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott to try to rescue the game, and when James McArthur deflected a Nasri free kick a minute from time with a raised hand – virtually a carbon-copy of a penalty awarded to Tottenham at the Emirates when Fàbregas handled in the same situation – it appeared the visitors had earned a lifeline. But it was not to be: Probert remained motionless, leaving Arsenal fans up and down the country scratching their heads about consistency of refereeing decisions and bemoaning the loss of two potentially vital points in the title race. A point was enough to lift Wigan out of the relegation zone to the giddy heights of 16th place.

After the match, Wenger admitted his side had not done enough in the second half:

We were 2-1 up and playing against ten men and we dropped two points. Overall, it was a difficult game with high levels of commitment from Wigan. They caught us a bit at the start and after that we came back into it a little bit. In the second half we didn’t do enough and we conceded two goals from two set pieces.

The pitch became more and more difficult for us to put passes together. [Wigan] defended deeper in the second half and it was more difficult for us to find space. I felt in the first half we had a great dominance and came back well but in the second half we didn’t produce enough or offer enough.

He also explained his reasons for making eight changes:

We had a disadvantage that Wigan played three days ago and only 48 hours ago we played a big game in the evening. I had to change it because we play on Saturday and again on Wednesday so we can’t always play with the same team. But I don’t think that was a problem at all.

No doubt the ire of many fans will be directed at Wenger for his sweeping squad rotation. Personally, I would have made fewer changes, but some were inevitable given the hard-fought win over Chelsea just 48 hours before. Fàbregas was unavailable through suspension. Both Robin van Persie and Johan Djourou have recently returned from injuries and are notoriously brittle, so a degree of caution about their repeated deployment was understandable. Walcott, too, is a recent returnee, while Nasri and Song have both endured heavy workloads this season.

Certainly the XI fielded by Wenger was more than good enough to win this game, but the performance was too disjointed and too many individuals failed to show up on a night when they should have been pressing their case for more regular games. In particular, Denilson’s lack of pace rendered him inadequate as a defensive screen, while Rosický had a largely forgettable evening. As a result, Bendtner and Chamakh were left feeding on scraps for much of the game.

The team was good enough. The performance was not. And, notwithstanding that, if the referee had taken a different view of two key incidents – Koscielny’s trip and the McArthur handball – Arsenal would probably still have won comfortably. But what’s done is done. An even halfway-decent showing would have resulted in three points, so there is no point placing the blame completely at the officials’ door.

A dropped point is disappointing, but not disastrous. With such a congested holiday programme – four games in ten days – it is almost inevitable that even the top teams will drop points somewhere. With Manchester United having drawn at Birmingham, the gap at the top remains unchanged. But it certainly narrows Arsenal’s margin for error. Another slip-up at Birmingham on Saturday – or at home to City next Wednesday – will see the momentum and feel-good factor gained from the win over Chelsea rapidly dissipate. Arsenal can afford one poor performance at this stage of the season; they cannot afford two.

Advertisements

About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

4 Responses to Poor Arsenal and poorer officiating let Wigan escape with draw

  1. aeroberg says:

    I’m starting to get worried about Rosicky. Inspired at the start of the season, his contributions has dwindled down with each passing game since. Wilshere is looking more and more to be the vital cog in Arsenal’s midfield engine. Definitely a better team with him in the side. Heavy responsibilities on such young shoulders.

    • Tim says:

      Agree 100% about Wilshere.

      Rosicky is a worry. He is capable of orchestrating events in midfield – he has a directness which is vital at times when we get too tippy-tappy – but over the last few weeks in particular he has too often been invisible. We knew he was injury-prone when we signed him, but I fear his most recent injuries have now rendered him no more than a bit-part squad player. Such a shame. I hope he can still prove me wrong, though.

  2. Pingback: Agüero underlines the striking difference between Arsenal and City « The armchair sports fan

  3. Pingback: Ruthless Arsenal send woeful Wigan bottom « The armchair sports fan

%d bloggers like this: