“…but any win will suffice if a big one doesn’t work out.”
Three points are better than one which is better than none at all. That’s pretty straightforward and I doubt there’s much debate on that.
The quality of football is a different matter. After the big win against Reading I’d advised caution. Sure, Arsenal looked like a free-flowing team in that one. Many moves had delightful combination play that involved different players. But it’s always tricky to judge how much of such a performance is down to the attacking team’s qualities and what proportion of causality can be ascribed to the defensive team’s weaknesses.
This time Wenger went with the same starting eleven but it looked like a completely different team out there. Such evidence shows majority of Arsenal’s impressive attacking play against Reading was a function of the home side’s frailties. Arsenal have the attacking talent but it has only come out when the opponents have allowed them the opportunities to dictate the play. All through the season we’ve seen the attack struggle when they Gunners have been challenged in the central third of the pitch.
Wigan did that fairly effectively. As expected, Martinez played more of a 3-5-2 rather than a 3-4-3 with clever adjustments when his side didn’t have the ball. I particularly liked the way their midfield moved across the width of the pitch when defending. The positioning and decision making of their wingbacks was also appreciable. Even when Arsenal did have spells of possession, Martinez often left Di Santo and Kone higher up the pitch. It’s not often that Arsenal have lesser possession than the opposition, make fewer passes, have a lower passing accuracy, and create fewer chances all in one game. As Roberto Martinez said after the game,
When you play against Arsenal and they’re running the clock down in the second half and making substitutions to try to cope with the threat we had, it’s a real compliment.
The Latics deserve credit for their tactical flexibility, hard work, and discipline. Unfortunately, these can’t always be a substitute for genuine quality in the final third. Both sides were weak in that regard but the Gunners had a slight edge. It wasn’t a game where either Keeper was very busy or forced into many great saves.
Arsenal did have their moments, particularly when they got in behind on the right side. Oxlade-Chamberlain got into promising positions on a number of occasions. His final ball, too, was much better than it has been in the past.
Unfortunately, Walcott wasn’t able to beat the goalkeeper on one occasion and curiously attempted a dummy when a shot on goal was the obvious choice on another. You could see his thinking as Wilshere was getting into a good position behind him but the defender was always going to clear the ball if Theo left it. These are the times when you realize scoring tap-ins from such positions is not as simple as it looks.
Wigan too had their moments, Kone had the best chance of the game in the 24th minute when he simply sped past Mertesacker, but his shot was tame and off-target. Other than that, Wigan were guilty of wasting promising positions with poor quality passes or wrong choices. Often their attacking players popped into spaces between the lines and played intricate one-touch football. This led to balls being played out to advancing wingbacks in space. Then nothing. Either the cross was horribly misdirected, or it went straight to an Arsenal player, or the run-pass coordination was missing and a player was caught off-side, and so on.
Arsenal’s defending wasn’t great but the defenders held a good line and the players seemed to be on the same page with their decision making. They also made some useful blocks and clearances. This proved enough.
The winner came from a penalty. Roberto Martinez called it soft and said Theo “bought the decision”. I can see his point of view, sometimes such calls aren’t given. But to me it was a clumsy foul and there appeared to be a shove in the back, so I think it was the right call.
Wigan had a couple of late shouts for penalties. I haven’t seen the replays but neither looked a penalty to me in real time. That said, I’ve seen those kind of decisions given. Given the distance the ball travelled, it really boils down to the refs general mood, which is a regrettable aspect of the game.
Wenger’s team have climbed to 3rd in the table but any euphoria around that is about as meaningless as the hullabaloo over the 10th spot they were in a short while ago. Too many teams are bundled up in a tight space in terms of points. There are four tied at 30 points and below them Chelsea have two games in hand with 29 points on the board. In a couple of weeks it can all be upside down again. Consistency matters.
Szczesny: Despite Wigan’s competitiveness in the middle of the park, it was a relatively comfortable outing for the Pole. Made a good save from Kone and a couple of other routine ones. Wasn’t tested aerially.
Sagna: Had a very busy game on the right. Most of it was about hard work and keeping things simple. Contested many aerial duels, which were often a battle for territorial gain. There were times when he didn’t get enough cover, particularly when Beausejour broke forward.
Mertesacker: Was caught out for pace once and it could have been fatal. Made a number of useful clearances in the defensive third. On the whole he did a decent job of protecting the central area in front of goal.
Vermaelen: Another one who made useful clearances and protected the central area. Decent game, nothing noteworthy in a positive or negative way.
Gibbs: Saw less of the ball than Sagna but I thought he played higher up the pitch at times. Very similar to his usual style, nothing new to observe over what has been said in previous games.
The defenders had a respectable game. There were spaces in the wide areas but I thought the decision to concede those was tactical and the fullbacks were instructed to tuck in narrow. The back four minimized clear-cut opportunities and used the offside trap effectively.
Arteta: Calmly taken penalty, although, I must say, it wasn’t placed in the corner. Did Arteta see which way Al-Habsi was going or was this just luck? Typically hard working game in front of the defence and reliable passing. Also created a good chance for Oxlade-Chamberlain early in the game.
Cazorla: Was involved in the build-up of many of Arsenal’s chances. Played Oxlade-Chamberlain into excellent positions on the right, created a good chance for Walcott in the box, and so on. Lost the ball on a number of occasions though, could probably have done better there. Defensive work also has room for improvement.
Wilshere: Had a very average game. Pushed up the pitch quite often but didn’t have any sort of an end product in the advanced areas. Sometimes made the wrong choices like running into a crowd or picking the wrong pass. Can’t question the effort but he’s had better days.
This was a tough game for the midfield. Wigan were able to push up the pitch and pressed with intensity. The Gunners saw enough of the ball but their creative threat was limited to a few opportunities from the wider areas. Defensive work rate of the midfield was good and they provided useful cover to the defence, particularly late in the game.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: Put in a number of dangerous balls into the box after being played in behind on the right. With better finishing he could have had an assist. But overall contribution was quite limited. Could have done better with a good chance early in the game when he went for the near post. Didn’t see as much of the ball as he could have with clever movement and he lost the ball quite often, particularly when seen as a ratio of touches. Often left Beausejour free.
Walcott: Won the penalty. Also tried getting into meaningful positions in the box but his poaching skills clearly need a lot of work. When the midfield is struggling under pressure, a lot more is needed from the striker but Theo couldn’t offer an outlet. Late in the game his presence was almost nonexistent. Don’t see this experiment lasting too long in the near future.
Podolski: Didn’t find as much time and space as he did in the previous game and he was a tad hasty with his pass/shot when he did find some room. Greater composure and impact is expected from the experienced players.
The attack had its moments but those were not enough to seriously trouble the Wigan goalkeeper. Even the moments they had were more of an individual nature. There were some gaps at the back that could have been exploited with better choices and understanding.
Subs: Ramsey almost played as an auxiliary right-back late in the game, Coquelin was enthusiastic with his tackles, Koscielny didn’t spend much time on the pitch.
Wenger: The search for balance continues. Looks like he’s decided to push his team higher up the pitch. I like the way Arsenal were trying to defend on the halfway line for most of the game. There are no easy or obvious answers for Le Boss this season.Follow @goonerdesi