Wigan 2–2 Arsenal: Halfway there, livin’ on a prayer?

Gary Caldwell

Instrumental at the back: Gary Caldwell had a big hand in Wigan's second goal

Before yesterday evening, Latics’ record stood at nineteen points from eighteen games. I’d speculate that given the strength of the lower half of the league, a point a game wouldn’t be enough to see us through to 2011–12, but a little bit more than that may well be. A similar run of results in the second half of the season will see us finish up on 40 points, which should be enough, I’d say.

But certain critics have already written us off, perhaps most notably El Tel, who reckons we’ll finish rock bottom due in part to Martinez’s inexperience at this level but also some of the right turkeys (somewhat apt considering the current time of year) he’s signed. Which you have to admit to, but this year’s campaign is far from over, and I wouldn’t exactly say we’re ‘doomed’ only half way through the season. We may be struggling in and around the relegation places right now, but I’d challenge you to find anyone with any sort of intelligence who realistically thought we wouldn’t.

Well, maybe that’s a bit unfair. Had Di Santo and Boselli been half the goalscoring demons they were played up to be, we would sit mid-table right now. Not exactly comfortable, but in a slightly better position than we are at the moment. A win over Blackpool on the opening day of the season plus an extra win somewhere else along the line and we’d be talking about Europe, even.

If the season were played out on home form alone, we wouldn’t be doing that great in comparison to every other team in the league. That said, the familiarity of our home patch seems to instil a certain amount of confidence, something pleasingly evident in the opening stages last night.

From the word go, Latics seemed up for the challenge, Charles N’Zogbia immediately whizzing one across the face of the 6-yard area. Nobody was there to meet it, however, something of a familiar sight this season. Just a minute later, Tom Cleverley put in a fantastic ball which Rodallega missed by mere inches; had he made contact with head rather than shoulder I’m sure it would have been 1–0.

It wasn’t long, though, before the home side actually were a goal to the good thanks to the boot of Ben Watson, who expertly finished from the penalty spot. Wish he could have taken the one at West Ham. Though there was a touch of controversy about the awarding of a penalty rather than a free kick, in real time it seemed as though Koscielny’s contact on N’Zogbia was made inside the box. Replays don’t fully back this up, but we aren’t about to turn down such a Christmas gift any time soon. I’m going to put it down to a good piece of gamesmanship by Charles – a lesser man wouldn’t have even been able to get a free kick in such a situation.

Shock of shocks, Wigan were ahead and looking the better side at this stage. As the half progressed, however, the balance of power slowly began to switch in Arsenal’s favour as they managed to string together some decent passes instead of giving it away every two minutes. Latics had nothing to feed on as it seemed every rebound was falling to the feet of a waiting Gunners man.

Indeed it was in this manner that the visitors grabbed the equaliser. A fantastic save from Al Habsi –his second of the evening– fell to Arshavin who finished excellently from the edge of the area. The visitors were on the up, a fact confirmed by their second goal less than five minutes later. After a bit of bouncing around in the area, the ball fell to Nicklaus Bendtner’s feet just yards from goal, and he didn’t miss. Well, he couldn’t, really.

Latics had their first real attack for ages on the stroke of half time, which Arsenal deservedly went into a goal to the good. The question was, could Wigan hold out and somehow scrape an equaliser? In the event, Wigan needed not worry for the visitors weren’t quite as good in the second half. Or should that be, Latics were equal to everything the Gunners could throw at them? A bit of both, in truth – some fantastic bits of individual defending from Caldwell, Alcaraz and Al Habsi all kept Bendtner and Arshavin at bay for much of the game.

Ben Watson

Set piece king: Ben Watson

Martinez’s side were once again looking to do what they’ve done in pretty much every game since mid-2009, and that’s hit their opponents on the break. It almost worked on occasion, most notably when Charles N’Zogbia sprinted into the Arsenal penalty area and brushed aside two defenders with relative ease. You wouldn’t have been surprised to see his shot hit the back of the South Stand net, but Fabianski managed to claw the ball from just above his nose.

With Wigan gradually working their way back into things and the game intriguingly poised, things boiled over –from pretty much nowhere– on 78 minutes as Charles N’Zogbia saw red for an almost unprovoked headbutt on Jack Wilshere. It was entirely needless and seemed to be sparked by something as little as Wilshere shouting in the Frenchman’s general direction… maybe he was singing Insomnia by Feeder or something.

It may prove to be his last game for the club, what with the transfer window imminent and looming large like a great big looming thing. It’d be a shame for his last action to be such a petulant, negative one considering everything he’s done for us in his time at Wigan, though to be honest if more of last night’s antics is on the menu then I’d take that 8million from Villa right now.

Just as we were cursing Zog’s stupidity, Latics made the perfect response. A fantastic Ben Watson corner found Rodallega at the back post, who headed across goal for Gary Caldwell to muscle the ball over the line. Though the record books will credit Squillaci with an own goal, and indeed the Frenchman undoubtedly had the last touch, it really should have been Caldwell’s simply for his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. I’m gonna award him the goal even if the FA won’t.

Just like in April, Arsenal’s patient build up play wasn’t exactly conducive to the quick goal, and with less than ten minutes remaining there was no time for them to do so and Latics saw out the draw for what could be a crucial point.

However, and this is a big one, Wigan managed to escape conceding a last-minute penalty in what could have been a huge moment in a hard-fought game.  Somehow the officials missed a blatant handball by James McArthur who deflected Samir Nasri’s free kick away for a corner… off the palm of his hand! It was almost as bad as Birmingham’s equaliser against Manchester United on Monday night, but I’m going to avoid that argument for the time being.

In fact, all these controversial escapades have tired me out so I’m going to leave it at that for the time being. With still more vital fixtures still to be played out this New Year period, we are only just getting warmed up. All the better reason to conserve your energy for a big push against Newcastle on Sunday afternoon, so go and have a mince pie and some meat and tater and I’ll see you back here on Bank Holiday Monday.

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