If you want to understand why many fans think Arsene Wenger makes major tactical mistakes watch this game again.
Eight changes to the starting line-up from the win against Chelsea showed incredible squad depth but it also showed Wenger’s tactical weakness. There were just too many players who had either been out for a long time, or were out of form, or haven’t really gotten games this season despite being fit thus showing their place in the pecking order. It was a message to Wigan that they had a chance and the Latics took it.
Of course, there is a strong argument that despite all the changes Arsenal should have won this game. The team made a poor start but got the rhythm flowing as the half progressed, converting a goal deficit into a lead by scoring two wonderful goals in the process. Chamakh and Arshavin had good chances in the second half to make it three, Arsenal were denied a clear penalty, and Wigan never seriously threatened the Arsenal goal. If someone wants to defend the team selection there is certainly an argument to be made.
The problem was Arsene compounded his initial mistake by his half time talk. I don’t know what Le Boss said but the team came out in the second half as if they wanted to have a training session in defending a lead! The high pressing that worked wonders against Chelsea and in the first half was abandoned as the players retreated into their half and invited pressure.
Wigan when pressed high up just didn’t have enough quality to bring the ball out and create chances. They looked dangerous on a couple of counter attacks but a little tactical adjustment with Eboue staying deeper would have negated the threat posed by N’Zogbia. Instead Arsenal abandoned the only style they’re really good at and allowed Wigan to grow in confidence. Surely if Arsenal had fresher players they should have been sharper and playing with positive intent?
To make matters worse Arsene didn’t make any substitutions. If he wanted his team to drop deep surely introducing Walcott for any one of the front three would have been a sensible choice? Why not have a real attacking threat even if defence was the priority? For large periods in the second half the gunners had no forward looking options and none of the players was able to take charge.
It seemed to me that Le Boss did make a tactical decision of moving Bendtner to the left to provide better support to Eboue. This seems consistent with an overall shift in focus towards defending in the second half. Unfortunately, and not for want of trying really hard, Bendtner couldn’t do much better. Wigan got into some dangerous positions without having the final ball and on one occasion forced a big save from Fabianski.
Once N’Zogbia was sent off for a daft head-butt on Wilshere it seemed to me that Arsenal players started taking it easy. The off the ball movement was poor as no one really knew whether to go forward or to hold back. One might say the need for a leader was evident but I feel the players at this level need to know what is expected from them. To me the uncertainty in the minds of the players shows a lack of tactical clarity in the manager’s approach.
With the likes of Arshavin, Denilson, and Wilshere offering no physical presence or height in the box Arsenal were always going to be vulnerable on set pieces. One good delivery took two points away from Arsenal.
The most frustrating part is that this game was there for the taking. With due respect to Wigan the hosts would have been swept aside if Arsenal had shown more desire and tactical decisiveness.
I thought this game can be distinctly segregated into a few parts.
In the first part, upto the time Diaby was on the pitch, Arsenal were disjointed and failed to get the passing game going. Wigan were able to press Arsenal high up and looked threatening. During this period they were gifted a penalty by the ref.
It came from a good break forward by the Latics when Denilson tried a shot from outside the box that was blocked. The ball fell kindly for a Wigan player and he found N’Zogbia with acres of space as Eboue was caught up-field in the opposition box. There can be an argument that Denilson made a bad decision when he elected to shoot.
The Frenchman was able to run right up to the Arsenal box. Koscielny did a decent job of holding his position and slowing the run. Diaby was able to catch up but his half-hearted attempt at tackling was beaten by some quick feet from the Wigan winger. Koscielny tried to nick the ball and then tried to pull his foot back when he realized he’d missed the ball. N’Zogbia got a faint touch that appeared to be outside the box. The utterly incompetent Probert pointed to the spot. Ben Watson scored with a fantastic strike that Fabianski couldn’t stop despite guessing correctly.
In the second part Arsenal completely dominated the game. Roughly speaking, this period was the time from the introduction of Wilshere till the end of the first half. In this period Arsenal scored two fantastic goals. The first one was a moment of magic from Arshavin after Al-Habsi had done well to keep Bendtner’s shot out. The second one came when the Russian set up Bendtner who got a bit lucky but finished with confidence. At this stage it seemed that Arsenal could go on and score more.
Then came the halftime break and a switch was flicked by someone somewhere. In the third part Arsenal had no real attacking intent and didn’t have the right players on the pitch for defending a lead. During this period Arsenal had a couple of good chances but nothing more.
The equalizer came from a corner in the 81st minute. It was a brilliant set-piece whipped in with pace and height towards the back post. Sagna couldn’t keep up with Rodallega who rose high to knock it back towards the middle. Fabianski was covering the near post and the centre of the goal was completely free. Squillaci had been tracking the run of Caldwell and grappling with the Wigan defender. The Frenchman couldn’t get a good jump in as he was off balance and only managed to knock it into his own net. But given his position and the manner in which he reached that there wasn’t much he could have done. When the ball is allowed to drop so close to the goal the defender doesn’t have much of a chance.
I thought Fabianski’s position wasn’t very good. He wasn’t anywhere close to the initial cross and he wasn’t able to block the ball back. The bigger problem I thought was with the positioning of Chamakh who was idle in the middle of the box. Once he realized that the ball was going to the back post he should have dropped back to the line knowing that it will be headed across and that Fabianski won’t be in the centre. Since he wasn’t marking anyone his position doesn’t make any sense. I’d not really blame the Moroccan because I’m not convinced Arsenal do this even in practice. It’s one of the reasons I feel a different defence coach is needed.
In the final part Arsenal introduced Nasri and Walcott. The Frenchman should have won a penalty when his free-kick was blocked by the hands of the defender a la Cesc against the Spuds. There were some other half chances but it wasn’t enough.
Overall it was an extremely disappointing performance in a game that should have been won.
Fabianski: One good save, decent sweeping behind the back four, decent distribution, could he have done better for the goal? I’ll have to see how other keepers defend a corner to the back post. Can’t recall off the top of my mind.
Sagna: Without the support of Song he struggled on the right especially when Wigan moved forward with purpose. Good work rate, couple of decent crosses, could he have marked Rodallega better on the corner?
Squillaci: Will probably get a lot of flak for the goal but most of it will be unjustified. Didn’t make too many other mistakes but struggled a bit on the physical side of the game.
Koscielny: Conceded the penalty even if it was dodgy. Made some other important interceptions and tackles.
Eboue: struggled against N’Zogbia but didn’t have much support initially. Decent job in an unfamiliar role but it was a poor choice to play him there with Arshavin in front of him.
The back five were not convincing in this game and struggled a bit, initially due to a poor midfield in front of them, and later due to unnecessary pressure resulting from lack of intent and movement up front.
Denilson: To be fair he worked hard and gave his all. Tried to be physical and put in some tackles. Didn’t offer enough going forward and looked vulnerable at times when put under pressure.
Diaby: Didn’t last half an hour, didn’t offer much even when he was on the pitch. Made one decent run with the ball but his off the ball movement was poor and didn’t help in bringing the ball out of defence.
Wilshere: Brought energy and intelligence to the pitch along with the ability to get into the right spaces to receive a pass. Created the chance for Arshavin in the second half with a good run and pass, gave the ball away on occasion.
Rosicky: dropped deep quite often to bring the ball out of defence, didn’t have many options up front as the movement was limited, can’t fault him for effort.
I thought the starting midfield was a very poor choice and didn’t have the right understanding or balance. The arrival of Wilshere made it better but Song was missed in this game.
Bendtner: Big improvement in terms of effort as he ran a lot, even worked hard on the left in the second half. Good strike that set up the first goal, took his goal well, had a few good turns and touches.
Chamakh: high work rate as usual, didn’t have a good understanding with Bendtner or Arshavin. Should have done much better in the box for the second goal but that might not be his fault.
Arshavin: had a few good moments, exceptional goal, good assist, didn’t offer much in the second half, should have been taken off.
Subs: Wilshere I’ve already covered, Nasri had some good moments and should have won a penalty, Walcott never got the chance to get in the game.
Arsene took a gamble in this one and it didn’t work out. They can still salvage something if they win at Birmingham. Normally, I’d have thought this game can be won while that one might be a draw as Birmingham are really hard to beat at St. Andrews. Now Wenger and his players must show that resting so many will at least yield some positive.