Carling Cup Quarter Final: Arsenal 2–0 Wigan

Victor Moses

Victor Moses: Out of luck

Ever wondered exactly why the Carling Cup exists? Neither have I, really, but it’s interesting to learn England’s League Cup was created as a midweek competition for teams with floodlit grounds. It may seem a gimmicky premise, but these days there’s a Europa League spot up for grabs so you can’t really label it a Mickey Mouse Cup, as it was known for so many years.

A quick look at Latics’ previous games in this competition revealed a distinct pattern: three home games against teams in lower leagues, three wins. Only the Hartlepool tie could be termed comfortable, however, so luck of the draw was certainly on our side. This changed in a moment when we got Arsenal in the Quarters, but hey, at least we were pretty much guaranteed to be put out by a Premier League team now, sparing us the shame of a giant killing. If such a thing could ever exist in the Carling, for which only the top four divisions are eligible.

So how would Martinez treat this trip to London? With an important Premier League game against Stoke imminent, would he succumb to temptation and rest his star men, or play his full strength team and give it a right good go? Past experience would have suggested the former, and I wasn’t at all surprised Bob decided on exactly that. A loss on Saturday, as I alluded to the other day, would stick us right in the swamp again.

Antolin Alcaraz, returning from a one-game ban, was paired with Steve Caldwell at the back, whilst Watson, McArthur and Thomas were all handed starts. Mauro Boselli, who scored in his last Carling Cup outing against Swansea, was preferred to Franco Di Santo up front, which would seem to suggest the Ten Million Dollar Man is below his fellow countryman in the pecking order, at least for the moment. Victor Moses was also given a chance after a long string of substitute appearances, and not before time I’d say. Al Habsi, Gohouri, Figueroa and Stam completed a vastly rejigged Latics line-up.

Arsenal would have the game’s first opportunity just one minute into the first half through Nicklas Bendtner, who came close with a header just past Al Habsi’s right hand post.

A lively-looking Victor Moses created Latics’ first chance on 8 minutes, and promised to cause Arsenal a few problems around their own penalty area. This was almost immediately followed, however, by a spell of Arsenal pressure with play camped in the Wigan half, the home side winning a series of free kicks in advanced positions and starting to get some shots in on Al Habsi’s goal.

This pressure came to a head on 27 minutes when Carlos Vela, free of the Latics defence, found himself one on one with the opposition keeper. He would only succeed in putting the ball wide, though, and Arsenal’s frustration continued.

Antolin Alcaraz

Antolin Alcaraz inadvertently gave the Gunners a 42nd minute lead

Wigan’s attack were similarly irritated, unable to make any inroads. They weren’t helped by an injury to Victor Moses, who seemed to fall over his own feet and fall on his arm, ending his evening out at the Emirates after 38 minutes. Gordon Bennett.

Arsenal had the ball in Latics’ net –via Antolin Alcaraz– on 42 minutes as Wigan’s fortunes took another turn for the worse. The visitors came close to striking back within a minute or two as Mauro Boselli almost forced the ball over Szczesny’s goal line, but no such luck would be forthcoming.

At half time, 1–0 Arsenal was a fair reflection of the action so far with the Gunners certainly having the better of things, and as more news of Moses’ injury began to filter through, it was all becoming as grim as the London weather. Hopefully it’s not as bad as it seems and Victor’s back sooner rather than later, because he deserves at the very least a Premier League start. After all, Gary Caldwell might be back for this weekend’s clash with the Potters, and they initially thought he’d be out for months.

The next twenty minutes went perfectly for Arsenal. They didn’t manage to score, but never looked like conceding and always threatened. In fact, it wasn’t long before they did double their lead through Bendtner. As is usual in this situation, you felt the game was all but over and it wouldn’t be long before the inevitable Latics collapse, a lingering threat that’s become all too prevalent in recent years.

Although Wigan tried to come back at their hosts, very little would prove the slightest bit effective. The perfect opportunity, then, to give a reserve player or two a run-out in the first team. Indeed, Callum McManaman would replace Ronnie Stam on 79, and in his brief foray into top-level football actually made some impression – or at least as much as many of his fellow Laticsmen.

The last ten minutes became a training ground-style exercise in damage limitation in more ways than one, with the weather becoming increasingly difficult to deal with. A night to forget for sure, but I’m certain we will and very quickly too. Yeah, it’s usually the case with the Carling Cup – unless you actually go on to win the thing outright, in which case there’s a slight chance you might remember something from the campaign.

All in all, it has been a jolly cup run spoiled by the eventual need to compete with the big boys. Boo! We knew it would come at some point, but boo nevertheless! It would have been nice to make some more progress, but we all know the league is what we should be focusing on this season; winning the Carling doesn’t earn you a place in Prem for 2011. Besides, if we keep losing players to injuries at this rate we may well be forced to forfeit our 3rd Round FA Cup tie at the beginning of January.

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