Arsenal 1 – 2 Wigan: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

Sir Alex Ferguson predicted Wigan could beat Arsenal.

They’ve got to get a goal, of course, but if they do they’ll beat Arsenal. They are playing really well. They should easily be in the middle of the table, rather than down at the bottom, but at times they can’t get a goal. If we had been playing any other team but Wigan the other night, we would have been all right because it is unusual for a team to keep possession against us the way they did. They’ve got some good players there with great energy. Victor Moses is more than dangerous…

A lot of people showed their displeasure towards these comments in a variety of ways that were largely uncomplimentary towards the United manager. However, what these fans didn’t realize was that such denigrating statements take nothing away from SAF but do betray a misplaced arrogance or inability to appreciate the finer details of the game on the part of those who make such comments.

With few words Fergie showed the kind of insight that differentiates the truly knowledgeable from us mere enthusiasts. The key points he made were regarding Wigan’s ability to hold the ball and their inability to score goals.

The latter point was sorted out for the visitors by Arsenal’s willingness to gift chances/goals to the opposition. Perhaps the Gunners were not tight enough because they didn’t expect much of an attacking threat from Wigan? In any case the defensive efforts were once again not up to scratch with a number of players making avoidable mistakes.

The first goal was the classic routine of corner for the Gunners, goal for the opponents. You could argue Arsenal don’t concede that many goals on the break these days but they still concede plenty of chances in every game. These chances don’t always result in shots or goals but that doesn’t mean the defending is good. For instance, in this case the pass from Gomez might have been weaker or could have hit Santos’ foot. The deflection off Szczesny could have gone away from goal. Any such small detail could have prevented Wigan from taking the lead. Indeed, something similar happens in every game. But that is exactly the problem. When it happens in every game you are going to concede a few. The rub of the green won’t go Arsenal’s way every time. That’s the reason we see so many freakish-looking goals being conceded by the Gunners and hardly any other team in the League.

If you look at it individually there are a number of probable mistakes. Sagna’s header was weak, Theo didn’t attack the ball while the Wigan player showed more desire to win it, Benayoun was asleep on the edge of the box and didn’t read the danger, Arteta pulled up at the wrong time, Santos didn’t have to go wide so soon, and Szczesny should have stayed upright and made himself big instead of going at an angle and with his feet. None of these is a major blunder in itself. When you put them all together though, you get comical or horrific defending depending on the colour of your glasses.

To make matters worse the second came soon after. Walcott lost the ball around the halfway line. Without Arteta on the pitch Arsenal didn’t have sufficient cover in the middle even though Benayoun did try to drop in there. Wigan played the ball around nicely before Moses worked an opening through a quick turn and a burst of acceleration. Sagna was caught out but it’s hard to blame him as he was in a 1-v-2 for a moment, which created some space for the Wigan winger.

It’s hard to explain how Djourou and Vermaelen both managed to miss a simple square ball. Both should have done better. Szczesny tried to pounce on the loose ball but Gomez got to it first. Again it’s worth noting that Benayoun was caught ball watching in the box while Gomez snuck in from behind him in classic poacher fashion. This was another case of a number of small errors combining to form a catastrophe.

On a positive note, the Gunners responded brilliantly to the two goals and for the next 15-20 minutes the Wigan goal was under serious pressure. The number of chances were still limited but you could sense a goal coming. With the visitors crowding the centre the opportunities were all coming from the wide areas and there was no surprise when the goal came from one such cross. Rosicky’s ball was whipped in at pace and at a good height. Vermaelen did what he does best in the opposition box.

Sadly, Arsenal could not sustain this pressure. An injury to Moses held the game up and the Gunners lost their momentum. There were suggestions the injury was a clever ruse to slow the game down. If so, it worked. Subsequently the visitors used every trick in the book to slow the tempo and eat up time but one can’t really blame them for that. The ref too was very lenient with time-wasting and a lot of physical challenges but again that can’t really be an excuse.

The worrying fact was that Arsenal produced very little in the second half. According to Wenger the side ran out of petrol, which is disappointing to say the least. In my opinion, more than running out of petrol, Arsenal ran out of ideas. Tactically, the gunners didn’t know how to control the game. Arsenal had to find a balance between patience and aggression, incision and control. They failed. Wigan created more chances on the break and could easily have added to their two goals whereas Al-Habsi was hardly tested. There were five minutes added at the end but you couldn’t see Arsenal scoring even if it had been ten.

I thought there were a number of small tactical details that affected Arsenal’s game.

In the first half Benayoun came inside quite often and got on the end of some crosses. In the second period he stayed closer to the touchline on the left. This seemed like an instruction from Arsene, as if he wanted to greater width. The introduction of Gervinho for Benayoun added further credence to this theory. To an extent this was understandable as Arsenal were having a tough time against the crowded centre and there were vast open spaces on the left in the first half. But by moving Benayoun away Arsene took out the only other body that was supporting RvP. Rosicky rarely got into advanced positions in the box and Walcott was completely ineffective in those areas. This made it easier for Wigan to defend.

The substitution of Benayoun ahead of Theo, who probably had his worst game of the season, was baffling, Arsene’s lack of trust in his reserve strikers glaring. The team could have used a player like Chamakh with his physical and aerial presence but the boss clearly doesn’t trust him enough. Of course, there is no point introducing a player who has been out of form and favour for a while. But that does lead to other questions about squad depth that I don’t want to dwell upon at this moment.

The Gunners did try to play the crossing game against a deep-lying and narrow defence. In some ways it was their plan B. But the execution left a lot to be desired. For instance, hardly any ball was played in the channel between the defenders and the goalkeeper. Rarely was a player attacking the back post. Fluidity is one of Arsenal’s big attacking strengths but they need a balance between certain predetermined plays and on-pitch spur of the moment creativity. For now it seems the players have to figure it all out on the pitch. They need to know area to cross the ball into, there have to be corresponding runs, and others have to form a shape around the box so that the pressure can be sustained. Still, as there are signs of work being done, there are some positives to take from this effort.

The lack of composure and control was hard to take. Arteta was clearly missed. Some might suggest even Mertesacker’s presence would have helped. But the players on the pitch need to know better. After the Milan game Arsene had said the players rushed things a bit.

I felt that we rushed our game a little in the final [third] and were not patient enough in our build-up. We wanted to give the decisive ball too early and you have to be guided by the way you want to play until the last minute in these games, be calm and composed.

The bungled one-two between RvP and Rosicky that finished with Little Mozart ballooning the ball over the goal comes to mind. It wasn’t the only instance but does serve as a perfect example of a lack of composure at a vital moment.

Finally, the inability of the players to link well in advanced areas was troubling. They all seemed to be trying but on different wavelengths. There were too many individual moments rather than quality combinations. All season there has been a lack of consistent combination play in the attacking areas that involves four or five players but in the second half of this game it was completely invisible.

To be fair, Wigan must also be complimented for their performance, time-wasting and other tricks notwithstanding. The way they retained possession, particularly in the second half, must have been extremely frustrating for the Gunners and probably induced some of their incoherent, rushed attacks which resulted in a relatively easy time for Wigan at the back. Again, it was a small but crucial point that Fergie had mentioned before the game.

At the end I must say the result wasn’t that surprising. The current run has been commendable but not completely convincing. The final four games will all be a stern test. There are a lot of questions that the Gunners have to answer on the pitch.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: Should probably have done better for both goals, especially the first. If he’d stayed big Di Santo, who had not scored for a long while, might have panicked and missed or the deflection might have gone in a different direction. But I am not a fan of blaming the goalkeeper for such goals. There were other bigger culprits. Did make a couple of good saves.

Sagna: Found Moses to be a handful.  But work rate on the flank was again excellent. Crossing wasn’t extraordinary but did hit some useful areas.

Djourou: Stats show he won all his tackles (3/3) and duels (5/5), and had the highest pass accuracy (95%) but his role in the second goal is at least questionable. He was at the near post and should have dealt with the cross better. Interestingly, Di Santo was marking Djourou for the Arsenal corner that resulted in the first goal. The striker got forward to score but the defender didn’t get back in time. Nevertheless, I don’t blame him for that completely as he would rightly expect the others players to provide better cover when he’s gone up for a corner.

Vermaelen: Wigan’s system meant that he had a lot of time and space. Did push forward often and almost played as an extra midfielder. Also got into the box frequently and took his goal well. No fault for the first goal but what was he doing on the second? Went with the attacker but just added to the confusion.

Santos: Had the most touches and, surprisingly, the most shots only one of which was on target. Missed two good chances, one he created himself while the other was probably meant for Vermaelen. Defensively he wasn’t convincing. The ball went through him for the assist to the first goal. Also had other shaky moments at the back like the time he botched a clearance which allowed Moses to get in behind.

The defenders didn’t have that much to do but their performances, especially those of the full-backs, weren’t very enjoyable. To be fair they did have to cover vast spaces and the structural problems, combined with poor awareness and decision making, often left them exposed.

Song: Very poor. Interestingly, stats say he won all four tackles but was only 5/21 on ground duels. Moses and others went past him with ease. His passing wasn’t that great but most disappointing was his decision making. Should have shown greater composure in front of the defence and held his ground more often but he tried to do too much. It’s a tough balance to achieve and one can only hope this was a result of being in the learning phase of his dual role.

Arteta: Wasn’t there on the pitch long enough but does deserve some blame for the first goal. He was on the edge of the box when the corner came in. Put his hand up and called for a sub just as it was cleared out. He should have assessed his situation earlier as he was a vital part of the defence just outside the Wigan box. More is expected from such an experienced player. If he’d gone out before the corner Arsenal might have put someone else there who’d have tracked Gomez and might have prevented the pass in the first place.

Rosicky: Probably the best Arsenal player on the pitch, especially in the first half. Deserved his assist and more. But lost influence in the second half. Also that missed opportunity in the 26th minute showed his lack of composure at a key moment. More is needed from a player in that position but for this game he doesn’t deserve criticism.

Ramsey: Extraordinary work rate. Played nine minutes less than the others but still had the second highest touches and by far the highest number of attempted and completed passes. Was playing deeper than usual to compensate for the loss of Arteta and did a decent job as he didn’t lose the ball as often as he does in attacking areas. But he wasn’t able to link the players as well as Arteta does and defensively he just didn’t get into good enough positions on a number of occasions, especially when Song pushed forward.

The midfield had a lot of time and space and considering that it must be said their overall output wasn’t at the required level. Once the momentum was lost late in the first half they should have controlled the game better and guided the attacks with guile and nous rather than rushing forward at every little opportunity.

Walcott: Forgettable. Should have come off at half time or the hour mark at the latest. He wasn’t getting into the game at all. The chaotic midfield exposed his limitations rather than getting the best out of him.

RvP: Tried hard. Can’t really blame him. Deserves applause despite the result.

Benayoun: Won a couple of headers and hit the target. Was also getting involved with the play in and around the box in the first half. Couldn’t do much out wide in the second. Before the opening goal, he went to sleep on the edge of the box and noticed the danger really late. Should have done much better, more so considering his experience level.

Subs: Oxlade-Chamberlain made a few forward bursts but just lost possession at the end of most of those. Gervinho was ineffective and inefficient.

Wenger: A lot of the problems are long standing and keep resurfacing time and again. But we can also see some effort being put in. Substitutions were strange to say the least. Wasn’t able to guide or inspire the players in the second half.

22 Responses to Arsenal 1 – 2 Wigan: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

  1. Andrew says:

    Great post. I think it’s up to everyone to wonder why Walcott wasn’t taken out. Why Wenger didn’t start or put in the Ox earlier is beyond me- at least he showed an effort to get into the game. Poor performance overall, hope that this serves as a wake up call and we finish strong- especially with Chelsea looking a lot more dangerous than they have all season. Up gooners

    • santori says:

      As can be discerned, many have been slating Ramsey but Ox is equally ineffective ( through lack of experience mainly) so why the double standards?

      Gervinho, Ox and Walcott are very direct wingers (to some extent Benny)

      What we are missing (aside from a striker to supplement RVP) is another LWide player but someone with added nuance and craft.

      Say what you like about Nasri but I do believe we could do with someone with that sort fo capability at the moment, properly motivated of course.

      • Andrew says:

        I agree that Walcott, Gervinho, and Ox are similar type players, but the difference is that the Ox doesn’t periodically go missing like Walcott does. While Ramsey has been way below expectations this entire season, yesterday he wasn’t too bad, and not who I was targeting. My point was simply that while Walcott has his moments of brilliance, Ox, when called on has been more consistent and more reliable in a game, not only contributing offensively, but helping defensively. I wish Wenger substituted Walcott instead of Benny as Ox doesn’t completely rely on his speed to get past defenders, but also shows a bit of dribbling ability, which probably would have produced more over the course of 90 minutes what with that retreated back line of Wigan.

      • David says:

        The Ox hasn’t been given as much playing time to be ineffective as Theo or Ramsey have; he’s pretty much been forced to come into losing or already-won situations to have a run-about; if you watched the Wolves game, you’d see that if he was allowed to come in earlier he could’ve gotten a good chunk of his early season confidence and he was able to attack the LB extremely well in the short amount of time he was on the pitch for. For some reason, Arsene has proven through the past couple of seasons to be irrationally weird in the way he’s treated players in this respect: he’s acted to prove points to either the fans, critics or himself, we need the Ox playing now as he’s the only recognized attacking threat we have (since Gervinho has been on holiday since the Nation’s Cup), we need Theo put back on his heels in some games as if he’d been removed after showing up for the 1st 10 or so minutes in the Wolves game, he’d realize that he has to be in it for 90mins like a true professional.
        Fergie did this to Rooney in the Wigan game and even though he lost, I’ll bet you that Rooney actually felt embarrassed and it’ll help them in the title run-in; sad to say but Wenger takes his player respect to absurd unexplainable levels.

      • santori says:

        YOu are making excuses for Chamberlain and setting your self up for a dissapointment,.

        Chamberlain is a massive talent but he is still learning his craft and sometimes naive. He has lost possession quite frequently out right in between spurts of semi-brilliance.

        Ramsey is frustrating and below his own standards but he is slightly more ahead of the curve in terms of the defensive side of the game.

  2. santori says:

    We don’t half make life easy for ourselves.

    We have demonstrated ability to confound the critics and beat tough top end opposition only to continuously come unstuck against lower end ones this season.

    What does that say about us? Complacency.

    Rather than shield the players, Wenger should be telling them that this is just not good enough. NO need to manufacture ready excuses for them pointing to other teams having had similar difficulties in recent weeks with Wigan.

    We simply weren’t switched on … again.

    Yes there is (has been) a lack of a plan B.

    Wigan grabbed two goals in quick succession and (rightly) retreated into a defensive shell.

    Granted we lost Arteta but being that we had (were enjoying) over 60% possession, would it not have been better to had gone 4-4-2 with Song playing a more conservative/defensive bias role and as Desi suggests, had the extra body in teh box to help shift around the bus a little (Chamakh or Park would have been a reasonable punt)

    Substitution was strange. Walcott was ineffectual and should have come off before Benny.

    Long standing problems, another wake up call (how many do we need?) and every indication that we still have some ways to go before we can fully compete for the title next season let alone attack on 3 fronts.

    No petrol left in the tank? Then it’s high time Wenger bought some more. granted petrol prices are up but if you need some, you need some.

    Get us some petrol this summer Wenger. 2 and Premium quality please.

  3. santori says:

    Arteta – We have a slight problem here.

    Not much to back up in the team at the moment.

    Not sure if Diaby will play 4 remaining games or go the way of Wilshere this season. If he does, it may be a timely welcome (if he lasts 5 minutes)

    Otherwise, we could face huge issues keeping tight in the middle with the likes of Chelsea and Stoke (or indeed as this game has proven any of the teams)

    Song needs to strictly focus now on keeping tight just in front of the back 4.

  4. boyo says:

    The Loss of Arteta means the loss of the top 4 sadly. Ramsey will play hard and do little and the 10man Arsenal just can’t carry him forever. Let us hope for a Diaby return(Not likely)

  5. Aussie Jack says:

    Wenger is a strange man. With a background in economics you would think he would be more logical but he often defys science and many of his decisions are hard to fathom. Also, he`s losing his cool too much of late and this will not help his players.

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  7. Adkdukes says:

    I think Walcott has something that is lacking in our other players. He is very direct and produces something out of nothing but very unpredictable which is his greatest undoing. He can be very ineffective yet produces what is needed in the game. The consistency of how he does that remains his biggest problem. Wenger always leave him on the pitch expecting that other side of his game to show up which has been disappointing at times. We can not rule out his contract issue as a reason for his regular run of games. He is still young and Wenger still expect more to come from him and will want to keep him. He is assured games despite his performance which may not be tolerated elsewhere. It happened with Flamini who later jumped ship at the detriment of our more experienced Gilberto who started the season well also. Let’s hope that this is one of those losses before a big game in which we’ve come victorious and hopefully our last blip of the season. U can follow me on twitter @adkdukes

    • Foolishgooner says:

      Accurate analysis indeed! Desi Team was over confident (exposing Sanga 1v 2 number of times) and him been further up the pitch to recover. Right backs shouldn’t defend 1v1 against wingers (see fegaroura spelling). Theo is useless (when no space behind the defense) can’t beat one defender dribbling to safe his life. Arsene substitutions were surprising and expected (wrong).. Wigan and Roberto Martinez deserved the points. Referee was bad but no excuses… Rest of the team worked hard, made mistakes and couldn’t come through. Three points lost, Chelsea in North London. Will it be desaster! You tell me.. Cheers

      • santori says:


        Could be a case of too much ballet.
        Sgana, Szcezny, Song, all seem rather fatigue or not too sharp after their Citreon stint.;)

  8. don says:

    accurate annalysis n comments,that proves AW is tactically inept,tolerant for re occurances of blunders never corrected n suprisingly somthing he’s failed to change that cost as about 15-20pts every season that is poor substitutions,late substitutions that if done earlier tip the game in arsenal’s favour,favouritism-rosicky being a regular from mid feb while ramsey been inconsistent from the begining of the season n started every other game despite his poor performances in a position that even arshavin could have done wonders,lack of competition for positions that explains why most of the starters r complacent and we struggle when we have injuries,the team isen’t that thin,just compare it with the united team going to win the league despite ferguson sayin its his weakest team ever,that proves competition n discipline milk the best out of players.AW also needs a strict assistant n disciplinarian like Adams or else despite purchasing,we’ll always maintain top 4 without winning trophies,coz the players to some extent lack winning mentality

  9. Bradster says:

    Nice analysis Desi. The defence was shocking, perhaps Djourou and TV relied on each other to clear and in the end neither did anything.
    We can’t cross for shit and when a decent one comes in, there’s no one in the box.
    Song needs to move into Arteta’s role as he fails to play the DM role. Perhaps Coquelin can be back for Chelsea and play next to Song.
    I do feel Rosicky’s ballooning shot was a result of him been ahead of the ball when the ball was put through and not so much lack of composure.
    I worry about Saturday, our Nemesis is in favour with the coach and playing well, I hope Kos and TV are strong against him.

    • JJ Pittman says:

      Nemesis played whole match yesterday and doubtful he can do it again Saturday. After their narrow escape, Chel$ki may believe they can win CL and focus on Tuesday’s match at Camp Nou. Barca have to put the ball in the net, and that is never certain, but they figure to win by more than 2, even without refereeing help they always get at home.
      All that said, we have to play our best and put it in the net. We lose Arteta but get Kosc back. Looking for a big home win Saturday morning.

  10. terry says:

    things are not as bad as they seem…
    we can do a ac milan against chelsea…
    gerviniho RVP walcott
    rosicky Aoc song
    santos vermy djouru sagna.
    the onli player in the chelshit line up that worries me is drogba..
    if he is out injured then we will win with ease … if he plays he will destroy our defence… espically djouru.

  11. David says:

    I think you’re giving Ramsey more credit than he deserves, he’s become too ponderous in games and I feel his ‘workrate’ sometimes usually ends up being the ineffective bustle of a busybody. I actually would’ve preferred either him or Theo to be replaced instead of Benayoun.
    My criticism of Ramsey isn’t like what a bunch of fans have been doing recently cos I would take 1 Ramsey over a million Denilsons in a heartbeat but I feel his youth and a seeming lack of one-on-one coaching has meant that he never understood the flow of the season and has felt the need to take on a Cesc-Wilshere role all year so he’s been confused in the recent months when he’s in the side sparingly, unfortunately, his improvement during the 2nd half of the Wolves game didn’t carry over and what I see is someone who always feels the need to take that extra touch or dress the ball a bit more instead of passing on and moving himself to a position where he can actually pick out a creative pass.
    On Theo, it looks like Wenger has to accept sometimes that it’s better to act and not hope that his pace is going to sneak some quality out of his mediocre games; I really don’t want to go into anything but Theo will be Theo and sadly, that means an inconsistent limited runner who finds it hard to read the game.
    Therein lies the problem and the fear now that our main ‘game-reader’ in midfield is out for the run-in. Arteta will be sorely missed for his ability to read and react and I’m hoping Arsene starts Ox in a couple of the upcoming games to give us some attacking unpredictability that could open stuff up through the middle. I’m also praying Diaby is able to make a slight contribution cos regardless of his numerous flaws, his ability to actually control the pace (albeit a slow pace) might be needed so Ramsey doesn’t have to overthink.

  12. kenyanyut says:

    Take a look at this and take part in the big discussion ) Just for Arsenal fans

  13. koye says:

    i find the criticisms of Ramsey tiring. true, he is not setting the whole stage on fire but he is not as bad as people make him out. i for one has accepted his obvious limitations for now and all I’m keen about is how we can make it work for the team in the next four games he may have to play given Arteta’s injury and the uncertainty regarding diaby.
    first things first, song should be made to sit primarily in front of the back 4. we can no longer afford to put up with his and wenger’s experimentation now that mikel is out. if he does just that, then i believe ramsey’s useful work-rate and positive attitude will bring positives against a possibly cautious chelsea side who will no doubt have the return leg against barca on their mind.
    another thing is that the losses against qpr and wigan prove something. that while the current squad at full strength would always have no problems qualifying for the champions ‘ league, its not quite up to scratch when it comes to winning the title or making any useful challenge on the European front. quality additions need to be made and i do not believe that should be restricted to just one or two. I’m not asking strictly for big money signings, I’m more keen on quality and if arsene can pull it off without spending big like he has done i n the past, then fine. what is imperative is that we need to progress as team. i think the team needs a minimum of 4 additions.

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