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Fàbregas the architect, Van Persie the destroyer as Arsenal humiliate Wigan

Arsenal 3 Wigan 0

van Persie 21, 58, 85

With Cesc Fàbregas pulling the strings in midfield and Robin van Persie registering his first Gunenrs hat-trick up front, Arsenal utterly dominated Wigan from start to finish, despite an outstanding individual performance by goalkeeper Ali al-Habsi.

Arsène Wenger selected his strongest available side to start this game, the first of four consecutive home matches:

Szczęsny

Sagna – Koscielny – Djourou – Clichy

Song – Wilshere

Fàbregas

Walcott – van Persie – Nasri

As at Elland Road on Wednesday, Arsenal started at a furious pace. This was as one-sided a 45 minutes as you will see anywhere this season. The home side dominated both possession and territory and laid siege to Ali al-Habsi’s goal, punctuating passages of patient and precise play with bursts of speed and creativity. Half-time statistics of 63% possession and 13 shots (versus none for Wigan) told their own story of a half in which the visitors’ Omani goalkeeper was by far the busiest player on the pitch.

Arsenal bristled with threat from all areas of the pitch, while Alex Song and Jack Wilshere utterly bossed the midfield. Their first half chances were too numerous to catalogue in detail. Al-Habsi saved a couple of testing Samir Nasri efforts from distance, thwarted van Persie with an outstanding reflex save from close range and then denied Fàbregas twice in the space of five seconds. It was utterly one-way traffic, and the only real surprise was that it took the Gunners 21 minutes to open the scoring.

Thanks to al-Habsi's heroics, van Persie's was the only goal for the first half (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

The goal itself was straight out of the Arsène Wenger handbook. Arsenal probed patiently outside the Wigan box, moving the ball out to the right and then back to the left. Song surged into space with the ball, and as van Persie ran off the back of his defender he rolled a perfectly timed and weighted through ball for the Dutch striker. All van Persie had to do was to swing his left boot, and he confidently drilled a first-time shot past al-Habsi.

Arsenal wasted at least three gilt-edged chances to double their lead before half-time, the most glaring being a rapid counter-attack where Theo Walcott passed when it was easier to shoot, and a four-on-two where Nasri steered his angled shot too close to al-Habsi. Add to that two more fine saves by the Wigan goalkeeper and a couple of dubious offside calls, and it was a miracle that it was only 1-0 at the interval, rather than three or four.

Wigan had spent the entire half chasing shadows, and the statistic which showed that all six of their first half fouls had been committed against Fàbregas spoke volumes about the source of much of Arsenal’s rhythm.

Roberto Martinez made two changes at half-time to offer up a greater offensive threat and Wigan did start the second half a bit more brightly – in so far that they weren’t completely overrun – but this was as much due to a temporary lethargy on Arsenal’s part than any significant improvement on theirs.

It took Arsenal ten minutes to regain their stride, but when they did the decisive second goal was not long in coming. Not for the first time, Fàbregas swivelled on the ball in midfield and immediately found Walcott steaming down the right with a brilliant long pass. The England winger was forced wide by al-Habsi as he raced into the box, but should nonetheless have done better than to find the side netting with his shot.

It mattered not. Two minutes later the Arsenal captain sent another searching diagonal ball over the top, this time down the left to find van Persie who, as the ball dropped over his shoulder and with the angle tightening, struck an unstoppable left-footed volley with wonderful technique which left the net bulging. It was a beautiful goal – one of the cleanest strikes you could ever wish to see.

Walcott's pace, combined with Fàbregas's passing, combined to cut open Wigan's defence repeatedly (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

At 2-0 the game was effectively over as Wigan continued to struggle to mount any meaningful threat on Wojciech Szczęsny‘s goal. In the meantime, Arsenal showcased everything that is enthralling and occasionally frustrating about them. Song slid in Fàbregas one-on-one, who was brought down from behind by Gary Caldwell. An indisputable foul; a straight red. Van Persie, on his hat-trick, stepped up and promptly caressed the ball high into the stratosphere.

Again, it mattered not. Wigan had salvaged a point from 2-1 down with ten men in the reverse fixture between Christmas and New Year, but there was never any danger of that happening this time around. Instead, van Persie set about making amends for his miss. He struck the post after curling a 20-yarder beyond al-Habsi, but nothing was going to deny him on this day. With five minutes left Fàbregas – who else? – played a quick ball over the top for Walcott to take into the box. Walcott held off Maynor Figueroa and laid a simple ball into the path of the oncoming van Persie, who smashed it home right-footed.

Three games in a week, three excellent performances. No wonder Wenger was in effusive mood after the match. He lavished praise on van Persie in spite of his horrible penalty miss:

He is back in form. He was already fit and sharp last week and overall we had a good team performance so he could finish a hat-trick.

[He has] always [been the No 1 penalty taker]. What happened today will not change my mind.

Of course it is important to have Robin at this level but we have plenty of offensive players. First of all, let’s hope we can keep him fit until the end of the season. It is down to us to use him in the right proportion of the games we play.

And he had this to say about Fàbregas, whose performance here was as good as anything he produced last season:

I think he was outstanding. At the end of the game he was frustrated because he didn’t score but for me the ball he gave for the second goal was absolutely amazing. The second goal I could watch that and watch it and watch it again because it’s just pure class from the pass to the finish.

He was also delighted with a defensive performance which saw his team keep their fourth consecutive Premier League clean sheet (indeed the last team to score against Arsenal in the league was Wigan):

We look more and more stable and defensively we were questioned a lot on that front. Maybe the fact you [reporters] ask me in every press conference “do I buy a defender?”, it keeps our defenders on their toes.

He remained equivocal about whether he would buy a defender before the transfer window closes, however:

I am open-minded on it and if the right opportunity turns up we will take it. We are not desperate, we have Vermaelen who can still play a big part in the end of the season and we have Squillaci who comes back maybe next Sunday. Song can play at the back too.

It is not just because you want to buy that you find exactly what you need. Trust us – if the opportunity is there we will take it. If it’s not we will play with the players we have.

Arsenal will enjoy few easier games than this defensively. Wigan could muster neither a single shot in the first half nor an effort on target in the entire game, largely because the supply lines to their two most dangerous attackers, Hugo Rodallega and Charles N’Zogbia, were completely cut off by the hard-working Song and Wilshere, who still found enough time to venture forward in support of the attack on numerous occasions. The combination of Walcott’s pace and Fàbregas’s pinpoint passing terrorised the Wigan defence throughout. Nasri was also at his tricky, dribbling best while, in addition to his goals, van Persie’s movement and touch pulled defenders across the entire width of the pitch. In short, this was as good an attacking performance as we have seen from Arsenal all season, and Wigan were completely overrun.

When the only thing wrong with a 3-0 win is a lack of clinical finishing and a skied penalty, you can afford to shrug and smile. Far better to miss chances on a day like this than in a genuinely tight game where it makes a difference. With key players like van Persie now hitting their stride, four clean sheets in a row in the league and a succession of home games to come, Arsenal’s season is now firmly on track. And the team will have the opportunity to rectify their biggest recent blip on Tuesday evening, as they look to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Ipswich in their Carling Cup semi-final. Arsenal cannot afford to be complacent, but a repeat of this performance will surely see them through to a Wembley final next month.

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

2 Responses to Fàbregas the architect, Van Persie the destroyer as Arsenal humiliate Wigan

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