Wigan Athletic 0 – 1 Arsenal
0 – 1 Adebayour (88)
Someone needs to pour me a large Brandy – two away games, four points from six and more to the point, two performances where the team battled to get their just rewards. As I mentioned in the preview yesterday, the points dropped at Bolton and Fulham were costly and totally unnecessary. Despite the fact that this game will be lost in the midsts of time, it could prove to be a turning point in the season. The opposition tonight were well drilled, maintained their formation (aside from one occasion and they paid a heavy price for it) and were up for the fight. They were matched by a midfield that refused to be bullied. Up front Camara and Heskey linked well and the Wigan midfield got the ball forward to them quickly, mixing long and short passes. In short, slightly better than average opponents, the sort who have caused us a tremendous amount of problems over the past two seasons.
The first half was completely forgettable. Neither side managed a goal attempt on target in the entire forty seven minutes from the first shrill blast from Rob Styles Acme Thunderer to the last. Which is absolutely pathetic considering the sums of money that the twenty two players on the pitch earn. Fortunately the second half was a considerable improvement; the collective rockets inserted forcefully into the players backsides during the interval did the trick. Heskey and Camara went close for Wigan whilst Baptista and Adebayour returned the compliment. However, it was the introduction of Fabregas and van Persie late in the second half that provided the spark which had been missing; van Persie slotted into a more advanced position that Baptista had held and Cesc provided the passing impetus that had been absent whilst he rested his weary legs. The deciding moment came following a solid challenge by Fabregas won the ball in midfield and then on receiving the return pass, sent a wonderful through ball for Adebayour to latch onto and slip under Kirkland, 1 – 0, job done.
The team played well within themselves tonight, the first half littered with sloppy passing and poor concentration. Frankly, the only difference between that forty five minutes and the corresponding ones at Bolton were that we had not conceded any goals by half time. The team looked disjointed in midfield. There was little or no cohesion in movement and passing but they got away with it. It is difficult to give an overall assessment of the performances with a first half that bad. However, there could be little argument with Toure’s winning the Man Of The Match award, from the Arsenal perspective at least. Djourou could have made a strong case for challenging, coping with Heskey and Camara well whilst Clichy did not harm his case for being Cole’s long term replacement at the club. The usual area of concern with Eboue’s lapses in concentration reared its head again tonight but he got away with it.
In midfield, Gilberto went about his work quietly and reasonably efficiently whilst Flamini huffed and puffed and shot wildly over the bar when within range. Ljungberg was in and out of the game although he did support Clichy well when it came to defensive duties. But going forward we were truly average. Walcott showed flashes of his potential but was, I thought, well marshalled by Baines, the Wigan left back. Adebayour deserved his goal for his second half endeavours. The Beast was finally unleashed on the Premiership and for the first half was more a ‘puddy tat’ than anything else. He raised his game in the second but was probably played too deep for the impact that we as supporters are expecting of him. However, if he can cope with a cold night in Wigan then it bodes well for the future.
Perhaps the biggest area of concern is the lack of goals from midfield. I am not sure of the exact figures of the five who started the match but I would amazed if they have reached double figures in total for the season so far. Alexsandr Hleb highlighted the problem earlier in the week and whilst he can be somewhat of a culprit, it seems to be a wider issue because the chances to score for these players are few and far between. Take tonight for instance; the closest anyone came was Baptista whose shot was well saved by Kirkland. After that I may be wrong but I believe Flamini was next closest and his effort was about twenty feet over the bar in the first half. The approach play is on the whole fine (although tonight proved that we are reliant on Fabregas at the moment to give us the creative spark) but the support in the area is not. Sure, players get into the box but they do not attack the ball with sufficient “relish” to make a threat. It seems that more often than not they are content with making a nuisance of themselves to defenders. Perhaps that is a bit harsh given that it was not the first choice midfield tonight but it is something that may require some attention in the January sales.
At the end of the day though, three points gained, third place means mission accomplished and Portsmouth visit The Emirates on Saturday presenting us with the perfect opportunity to start putting daylight between third place and the pack.