“Al Habsi saves” – “Robin scores”
Repeat the former seven times and the latter three times, and you have covered what transpired at the Emirates yesterday. While it does not quite tell the whole story, it accurately captures Arsenal’s dominance on the day…
We could have had six in the first half alone – Robin, Cesc, and Samir all had excellent chances to score, but Al Habsi kept us out with a string of fine saves. We finally made the breakthrough on 21 minutes, when Song fed Robin, who swept home to open our account. Cesc, Theo, and Samir all had opportunities to add to the lead, but were unable to convert. We went into the break only 1-0 up, but considering that Wigan did not have a single first half shot (they finished with three total, none of which forced Szczesny to do anything), there was also a sense that a single goal might be all we need…
Martinez made a couple of attacking changes at the interval, bringing on McArthur (for Diame), and Di Santo (for Stam – no, not Jaap), in the hopes of generating some offensive momentum. The one-way traffic towards the Wigan goal quickly resumed, Theo bursting into the area and shooting not far wide. We did not have to wait that long for the second (thirteen minutes after the restart), as Cesc sent a pretty chip over the Wigan back line, and Robin got the ball first, finishing smartly past Al Habsi. Jack then shot wide from our next attack, before Caldwell was shown a straight red for pulling Cesc back in the Wigan penalty area. Robin stepped up for the spot kick – and hat trick – but got too much on the ball, sending it over the crossbar. Six minutes later, he hit the post with a low shot.
Our first sub came on 75 minutes, with Arshavin replacing Samir. Martinez made his final roll of the dice when Boyce replaced the ineffective N’zogbia three minutes later. Robin finally got his hat trick five minutes from time after Theo set him up in the area. Once the third goal went in, Arsene immediately made his final two changes, bringing Chamakh and Denilson on for Robin and Cesc, respectively.
The heavy lifting was done, so the final few minutes amounted to little more than a run-out; nevertheless, as both Chamakh and Denilson will likely appear often during the next few months, giving them a few more minutes to maintain sharpness and match fitness is a good idea. I imagine Arsene may have wanted to bring both players on earlier, but not until we attained a three-goal cushion – I would have played it the same. Arshavin got roughly 18 minutes to try and work himself out of his current rut, and while he didn’t score (I hoped he would), perhaps he was able to work on a few other things, and hopefully felt a little better about things following the final whistle…
Nobody can say we weren’t incisive enough – from 24 shots on goal, ten either forced Al Habsi to save or forced him to pick the ball out of his net. Many of the shots we took were good ones, as well. Robin could have had double his tally, and Cesc and Samir both could have had at least a brace themselves. We have had our share of games where we didn’t score enough, our finishing was wayward, and we didn’t give the keeper enough to do – this was not one of them. Al Habsi was inspired form this afternoon and had an excellent game for his side.
With that said, Wigan were poor…There really isn’t any other way to put it – they offered no attacking threat, and we pulled them apart again and again. Much of it is due to how well our entire team played midfield in particular. I honestly think they came here to play football, as they often do, but we did not give them any chances to build anything, and kept their defence under constant pressure. Wigan are where they are – second from bottom in the table – because they have generally played poorly. As I understand, they really struggle away from DW; but they did win at White Hart Lane a few weeks into the season, so they are not an automatic three points. Today, I think they showed a lack of confidence against us, but I think our team deserves a lot of credit for jumping on them immediately, and keeping our proverbial “boot on their throat” for the entire 90-plus minutes.
Should Wigan depart the Premiership at the end of this season, I must be honest and say I shan’t miss them. That is entirely because they have become a rather significant thorn in our side; nothing against them personally, but some of worst recent moments have come against them. That is a credit to them. We are both still in the FA Cup, but they have a much more difficult 4th round tie (away at the Reebok) than we do – on paper. Even if we both progress, there is a better than even chance our paths will not cross. So, more likely than not, we are quits with Wigan for this season. Good luck to Roberto Martinez and his side on staying in the Prem.
A couple of very encouraging things I noticed as our team plastered the Latics all over the Ems pitch. Firstly, we did not appear to get frustrated as Al Habsi shut the door time and time again. I am sure some of our players – Robin and Cesc in particular – were thinking “You gotta be kidding me!” as Wigan’s keeper kept us out. But that frustration did not manifest itself in any petulance, any “enough of this – I’ll go at it alone”, or any detrimental-to-the-team antics. We kept with the task at hand, understanding that we needed at least three goals, and seemingly believing they would inevitably come, which they did.
The other encouraging thing I saw was ninety plus minutes of concentration and application. When the other team cannot get anything going offensively – when all the play is in their half – it is very easy for sides to switch off. And – as we know all too well – it only takes a momentary lapse in concentration for bad things to happen. There was none of that today – everyone worked hard, stayed alert, and allowed Wigan absolutely nothing. When Arsene says this side is maturing, he can point to these things to underline his words.
But, a maturing and improving side is not necessarily the finished article. We will not dominate every match like this, and we will be hit with adversity in the future. How we respond to those moments will determine what we accomplish. For a start, we can expect no favors from Paul Jewell and Ipswich Town in the League Cup semi-final second leg. We only have a single goal to overturn, so things can be a lot worse – but I doubt that Ipswich will be in the mood to tamely surrender the initiative.
The best thing we can do is start and play similar to this, while not expecting an easy ride, and expecting to have to be patient to make the breakthrough. If we do that, we can make our own luck and should be able to progress to our first Cup final since our inaugural season here at the Ems. We and Arsene, have unfinished business in this cup, and we should view it as a good springboard toward more prestigious trophies in the very near future.
So no giddines, no drooling over this performance, no shouting from the rooftops about how wonderful we are at our best. Talk is cheap – and some of our players are very good at talking themselves up. Now is the time to deliver…
Written by Oliver