Not quite the result that Arsenal were looking for but hardly the same as last season’s shambles. Wigan gave their best and were rewarded as hesitant display from our defence afforded the home side a reprieve with a draw. Arsene Wenger made 8 changes to the side that faced Chelsea, all of which totally understandable given the 48 hours gap in between the 2 games.
Sebastien Squillaci, Emmanuel Eboue, Denilson, Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby, Nicklas Bendtner, Andrey Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh all came into the side while only Lukasz Fabianski, Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna were retained from Monday. On paper, those that came in were full internationals except for one Brazilian. Player for player wise, we still have the right quality to beat a Wigan side.
As I said in the preview, I would have prefer to have at least the attacking unit from Monday to start and play a minimum of 50 – 60 minutes. Just to edge us into the lead before getting a well deserved rest. That did not happen but Arsenal did hold the lead going into half time. Something which looked very unlikely at the start of the game.
As it is when that many changes were made, our play were about as disjointed as it can ever be. Passes were astray as the midfield never clicked. Diaby did not even last half an hour in his starting return and was duly replaced by Jack Wilshere. In which time, we had already gone a goal down as Ben Watson slammed home a Wigan penalty. Depends on how you look at the actual foul, Koscielny definitely retracted his feet and there are still doubts as to whether contact as actually made with Charles N’Zogbia. Not an unfair reflection on the balance of the game as Wigan were looking ominously dangerous each time they go forward.
The introduction of Wilshere brought about the changes in the pattern of play. Arsenal were having more controlled possession and after a couple of feisty challenges, we wrested control of the game. First, Chamakh lifted a beautiful ball into the path of Bendtner. For a moment, the Dane looked like he was in two minds, whether to shoot or lay a pass to Arshavin. He opted for the former and it was a very good volley but was saved by Ali Al Habsi. You could almost guess what happened next.
Arshavin duly powered home the rebound. A fantastic overhead volley right into the bottom corner. It was a typical Arshavin performance. For the 37 minutes that preceded that goal, he hardly showed any interest in the game. Perhaps still angry over his exclusion from the Chelsea game. Just to further highlight the kind of maverick he can be, Arshavin then helped Arsenal get the lead.
Just 5 minutes later, he returned the favour to Bendtner. It was Arshavin’s pass that saw Bendtner get between 2 Wigan defenders before calmly slotting home in exactly the same spot for the first goal. It was just rewards for Bendtner’s performance which grew better with every passing minute of the game. He swapped flank with the Russian to provide more support to Eboue on the left and that helped to limit the threat of N’Zogbia.
We continued in almost the same vein in the second half as we kept good possession. That was done without doing too much to trouble Al Habsi but also effective as we nullified every threat Wigan had. However, we all know how important that 3rd goal is, given the solidarity of our defensive performance this season. Unfortunately, that never looked like coming and the game turned on its head in the 77th minute.
N’Zogbia, who has been Wigan’s stand-out player, stupidly plants his head onto Wilshere’s. With that being an off the ball incident and evidence provided by the 4th official, referee Lee Probert had no choice but to show the Frenchman the red card. Strangely enough, going down to 10 men gave the home side more impetus to search for the equaliser. There were no leader on the Arsenal camp that should have perhaps guided the team to stay calm and keep ball.
The equaliser came barely 4 minutes after the sending off. That it was from a corner came as no surprise. This was where Fabianski was found out last season and the same happened here. The ball was swung deep towards the back post which the Pole should never had followed. Had he stayed on the line, it would have been an easy catch on the cut back from Hugo Rodallega. Caught in no man’s land and with Squillaci behind his man, our central defender’s desperate attempt to get on the ball saw him scoring an own goal.
One final chance came when Samir Nasri, who came on in place of Wilshere, fired in a freekick from just outside of Wigan’s box. It hit the hand of a Wigan player in a very similar fashion to what happened with Cesc Fabregas in the Spuds game. Yet, the referee failed to see it or worse failed to give it. To which Fabregas questioned the consistency of refereeing standards.
Wenger summed the equaliser up by blaming on the communication and leadership when defending set-pieces, or rather the lack of it. It is not as if its the first time we ever conceded from such situations. It is a know problem with Arsenal and to see it not being rectified is embarrassing. If a team has no leader, why not make one. Every game, just choose a player to instruct the player during such situations. Hardly the stuff of nuclear science.
Compared to last season, this was an improvement by a single point. Yet, in the context of Monday night’s win over Chelsea, to straight away drop 2 points is disappointing. If we are to continue to have a say in the league, we have to better Manchester United’s results. That starts on Saturday where we can pick up 3 points to the 1 which United took.