Wigan Athletic 0 – 1 Arsenal
0 – 1 Arteta (60 pen)
For years Arsenal have been accused of not being able to win ugly, criticised for it. Having won by a single goal in a game that in all fairness they should not have, it is churlish to criticise them for winning ugly. It will happen, of course. The win lifted the club into third place before the 3pm kick-offs, putting pressure on those around them. Tottenham took psychological damage with their draw at home to Stoke; even an Arsenal in an apparent state of disarray, with work to do on the squad, can overtake them to finish the day in third. The inferiority complex manifests itself once more.
That is a pleasant side-effect of the result. Appalling conditions did not faze Wigan, who but for woeful finishing and errant passing might have been two goals ahead at the interval. They were not and found that Lady Luck is a cruel mistress with Theo Walcott brought down for a soft penalty as the hour mark approached, Mikel Arteta’s spot kick firmly driven into the back of the net to continue his good goalscoring record at the DW Stadium.
Arsène chose to give Theo Walcott another run in the central striking position, fielding an unchanged team from the victory at Reading on Monday night. It was a mixed afternoon for the England international, good movement at times, at others his learning curve was shown. Hindsight suggests that this was a match where the conditions might have favoured the inclusion of Olivier Giroud, his aerial ability and strength at holding the ball cleared from defence would perhaps have given the side respite as well as offering attacking opportunity. At times, it felt – rightly or wrongly – that the ball was cleared, too easily ceding possession. Walcott was not at fault for that, it is not part of his natural game. As it was, he did find good openings but was all too often blocked when shooting.
The manager was positive about the performance, perhaps killing him with kindness ahead of bullying the player into signing a new contract,
I wouldn’t like to judge him on one game. For me he has the ingredients to play there. I wouldn’t like to judge him on one game. He did not have much service today, he was a bit isolated. He can always be decisive, even if he does not have the greatest service. Today he made the decision because he got the penalty.
It’s right that Walcott isn’t judged on one game and nothing has gone wrong. The reaction inside and out of the club will be interesting if Walcott is playing when a single goal defeat. I think more acceptance of the role for Walcott will come when he scores the only goal of a game, perhaps like yesterday’s, where Arsenal are out of sorts. Can he lift the side out of a hole as you would expect a centre-forward to?
It matters little for this match, the points returning to north London. Arsenal had the first opportunity of note with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot turned to safety by Al Habsi. The youngster put in a strong performance, thriving in a run of games on the right. Wigan had a lot of the ball but were unable to find a decent final pass, thankfully. That changed and Kone’s finishing was found wanting after he outsprinted Mertesacker, Szczesny’s relief visible as he saw the ball slide wide of the far post.
Neither side was able to string together moves of note for long periods of the game, the conditions not conducive to the passing game normally associated with the clubs. Arsenal at times, were particularly woeful in that department but the win renders that irrelevant unless it is repeated in the Newcastle match. And that is what it boils down to now, the results count more than performances. Confidence is brittle and the squad need a sustained winning run to prove to themselves that they are actually a decent group of players. Perhaps a good cup run or two will erase the defeat at Bradford from the consciousness, or at least not make it so readily recalled.
The second half began with Arsenal more business-like, Walcott had a brief sight of goal but Al Habsi saved once more. The penalty came about because of the England international’s pace, his willingness to chase apparent lost causes. Gibbs woeful cross was retrieved on the right and a quick interchange of passes found Walcott in front of the defender and the merest contact led to the inevitable penalty. Roberto Martinez was right in pointing out it was a cheap decision to give, he’s right but they frequently are awarded when the forward gets goalside. Arteta made no mistake from the resultant spot kick.
Wigan responded and Szczesny made a great save from Figueroa. Chances for the hosts went high and wide, sometimes at the same time as they pursued a share of the spoils. It never arrived, aggrieved feelings exacerbated with two weak penalty claims for handball as the final whistle beckoned. Arsenal held on, the points taken.