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Ruthless Arsenal send woeful Wigan bottom

Wigan 0 Arsenal 4

Arteta 28, Vermaelen 29, Gervinho 61, van Persie 78

A pair of goals in each half saw Arsenal cruise to a comfortable victory over a Wigan Athletic side whose resistance crumbled once Mikel Arteta had opened the scoring with a long-range pile-driver. While Arsenal’s sixth win in seven moved them up to to fifth ahead of Liverpool’s game on Monday night, the four-goal margin of defeat consigned Roberto Martinez‘s team to the foot of the Premier League table.

After making ten changes for the midweek Carling Cup defeat to Manchester City, Arsène Wenger reverted to his strongest side for the trip north to the DW Stadium.

Szczęsny

Koscielny – Mertesacker – Vermaelen – Santos

Song – Arteta

Ramsey

Walcott – van Persie – Gervinho

Last season a Sébastien Squillaci own goal nine minutes from time gave ten-man Wigan a share of the points in a 2-2 draw, while in the previous campaign Arsenal conceded three times in the last 11 minutes to turn a 2-0 lead into a remarkable 3-2 defeat. Arsenal started the day in seventh while Wigan were a lowly 19th, but having secured four points from their last two games after an eight-game losing streak.

Arteta sets the ball rolling

Wigan started confidently and created the first  – and their best – chance of the game as early as the sixth minute. David Jones found space on the left to race down towards the by-line and Wojciech Szczęsny could only parry his cross into the path of Jordi Gómez. However André Santos – whose erratic defending has been the subject of some criticism by Arsenal fans – got in a block to prevent a certain goal. Wigan would not manage a shot on target from inside the area throughout the remainder of the game.

Arteta's long-range strike opened the floodgates (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Arsenal were sluggish for the first quarter of an hour but gradually began to exert dominance over both territory and possession. They had already carved out a handful of half-chances when they pounced decisively twice in quick succession shortly before the first half-hour.

The opening goal was all Mikel Arteta. Thomas Vermaelen brought the ball out across the halfway line and laid it off to the Spaniard, who advanced unopposed into a gaping space ahead of him before unleashing a swerving 30-yarder which seemed to go through the hands of Ali Al Habsi. It was a great strike – and only Arsenal’s third goal from outside the area this season – but not a moment the Wigan goalkeeper will want to see replayed.

Al Habsi barely had time to reflect on his error when he found himself having to pick the ball out of the back of his net again. Robin van Persie arrowed a corner towards the back post for Vermaelen. The Belgian had to back-pedal slightly to reach the ball, but was still able to out-jump two defenders and direct his header just inside the post. The goal broke a run of 179 consecutive corners in the league from which Arsenal had failed to score – a remarkable sequence of ineptitude.

Things could have been even worse for Wigan before half-time, as Gervinho tricked his way to the edge of the area and set up van Persie with a first-time effort which the diving Al Habsi beat away one-handed. Theo Walcott picked up the rebound but fired beyond the top corner.

Gervinho and van Persie complete the rout

Arsenal soon reasserted their control after the half-time interval. Aaron Ramsey dribbled his way into the area and was clearly tugged from behind by Steve Gohouri, but Mark Clattenburg inexplicably waved play on.

Gervinho's goal will hopefully boost his confidence (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

However, any hope Wigan still harboured of launching a comeback was extinguished just after the hour with a goal that was pure Wenger-ball. A 33-pass move – the longest goal-scoring build-up in the Premier League this season – ended with van Persie cutting inside two defenders before striking a shot with his weaker right foot which Al Habsi could only parry into the path of Gervinho. The Ivorian has had a nightmarish run in front of goal of late, but he kept his concentration to keep over an awkwardly bouncing ball and steer it into the unguarded net.

Soon after, van Persie missed the chance to add a goal of his own to his brace of assists. Again he used his quick feet to manoeuvre away from a defender’s attentions and find space for a right-footed shot but, slightly off balance, he screwed his effort wide.

There was to be no denying him, however, as a lightning counter-attack late on brought the Dutchman his 14th goal of the campaign. Per Mertesacker played the ball out into the centre where Gervinho instantly flicked it out wide to Laurent Koscielny. The French defender played a penetrative first-time ball for Walcott, who skipped past Gary Caldwell‘s lunging challenge, drew Al Habsi and then unselfishly pulled the ball back for his captain to sweep home from near the penalty spot.

All that was left was for Arsenal to see out the remaining 12 minutes for only their second clean sheet in their last nine Premier League games, at the end of which a joyous Szczęsny took time out to serenade his team’s travelling support, who had been in good voice all afternoon.

Blackburn’s win against Swansea dropped Wigan to the foot of the table. Things do not get any easier for them over the coming weeks, with three of their next four games against Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United.

Arsenal will travel to Olympiacos on Tuesday in good heart, in a game in which they will field a predominantly reserve team, having already won their group. After that the first team will return to host Everton next Saturday.

Post-match reaction and analysis

Arsène Wenger was pleased with how his team had performed after their slow start:

Wigan started well, created some dangerous situations and surprised us at the start. After that 15 minutes we took control of the game and never looked like losing that. Maybe a bit in the first five minutes of the second half. But overall we had a good team performance defensively and offensively. The confidence is there and you could feel that in the way we played today. I can only congratulate the team. They are growing and they are getting better and better.

He was also pleased to see the goals spread around his side after recent accusations of being a one-man team:

I am happy that Gervinho scored. I am happy that we scored goals, of course. But I am also happy that other players scored, and that Robin van Persie did as well. It is good for the morale of the team and overall I know they can do it.

This was a solid, all-round team performance – albeit against weak opposition – of a type which Arsenal used to produce with regularity but which has been sorely lacking over the past ten months. After a decent start, Wigan were throttled as Arsenal enjoyed 65% of possession and completed more than twice as many passes in the attacking third of the pitch (152 versus 71).

The stranglehold started and ended with Arsenal’s front six, whose movement and passing was too much for Wigan. Both Walcott and Gervinho had busy and productive games, taking on defenders with their pace and switching flanks to stretch the home defence. Van Persie was particularly industrious, regularly dropping deep and wide to offer a willing target. He received the ball 60 times in total, nearly as many as his two wide partners combined (70). In all, Arsenal’s attack was pleasingly efficient, converting seven shots on target into four goals.

Defensively, Arsenal barely broke a sweat. Other than Gómez’s early chance, Wigan offered close to nothing up front, with Conor Sammon smothered by Mertesacker and Vermaelen. The lone Wigan striker saw the ball just ten times before he was hauled off after an hour. For Szczęsny it was probably the easiest game he has ever had.

It has been a long time since Arsenal have dominated an opponent with such imperious ease. It is hard to believe that the horrors of Old Trafford and Ewood Park happened to the same team. 19 points from a possible 21 since their defeat at Spurs have firmly reestablished Arsenal’s credentials as a contender for the Champions League places at the very least. Things are looking up.

Arsenal man of the match: Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard controlled the tempo of the game in midfield, completing more passes in the attacking third (and in total) than any other player. Much of what he does goes unnoticed, but he made passes from all over the field and was diligent in defence too.

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

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