Considering some of the cracking football played by our hosts of late, it won’t come as a surprise that I was expecting a major damage limitation exercise this afternoon, a prediction that would (inevitably?) prove a reality.
In the first half, a relatively out-of-form Latics really struggled against the quality of Fabregas, van Persie et al, to the point they had eleven fewer shots on target than their hosts in the first period. In fact, that number amounted to the grand total of one, and it was something of a miracle that Latics went into the break only a goal down. We have Al Habsi and the Caldwell brothers –playing together in a league game for Wigan for the first time– to thank for that, plus an odd decision or two in front of goal from Walcott, who, when one-on-one with the keeper, decided to pass when it looked easier to score. Not that we were complaining, oooh no.
If it weren’t for the Omani’s six or seven (eight?) saves, this would have been excruciating stuff to watch. As it was, things were still pretty painful, and perhaps most cutting of all was van Persie’s 21st minute goal. The Dutchman finished sublimely after timing his run to perfection, beating both Caldwells and stealing in for a much deserved lead.
Surprisingly, that would be it for goals in the first 45. Fabregas and the aforementioned Walcott both had excellent chances, but somehow bits of British and Omani defiance (now there’s an alliance if ever I saw one) conspired to keep everything out by hook, crook, luck and pluck. Often it was a case of fortune rather than good judgement, but the fact remained we were only 1-0 down. Arsene Wenger didn’t seem pleased anyway.
Latics came out for the second half vastly rejigged. A more flexible 4-4-2 style formation, quite like the one we reverted to in the second half against Fulham, saw James McArthur and Franco Di Santo introduced to the piece, and boy did it have an effect on our attacking play. Well, it wasn’t out of this world or even good enough to score, but it sure was an improvement on what we’d seen previously.
Di Santo, who accounted for the majority of our chances today, hasn’t quite found his shooting boots (or heading helmet) so far, but at least he’s showing a bit more promise than certain other attackers and it’s nice to have more than one forward fit again. In fact, we might soon be spoilt for choice with Victor Moses set for a return in the next couple of weeks. Oh, what an embarrassment of riches!
The Gunners continued on their merry way, and whilst they didn’t create as many clear cut chances as they did in the first half, still dominated to the extent the visitors would only have 42% of the game’s overall possession. And that’s taking into account the fact Arsenal sat back and relaxed once the second goal went in. Again, it came via the boot of van Persie, who was once again absolutely on fire with his finishing, slotting past the Wigan keeper first time on the volley with his left foot. You can’t account for that sort of stuff, it’s far too good for even Ali Al Habsi. In fact, with Persie snaffling a third on 85 minutes, he was certainly the man that made the difference this afternoon, where the scoresheet was concerned anyway.
The Arsenal vice captain could have even had four, but only managed to sky a penalty way over the bar thanks to what was surely a slip in his run up – at least I bet that’s what he claimed. Perhaps significantly, Gary Caldwell was red carded for his challenge on Cesc Fabregas between the penalty spot and the edge of the area in conceding the pen. It was somewhat surprising that, considering it was the first proper decision he had to make, ref Kevin Friend awarded the Scot a straight red, seeing how reluctant he was to get his cards out the rest of the game. Hmm, might be worth an appeal, methinks.
Both sides seemed to settle for 2-0, and even though van Persie would complete a fantastic hat trick, squeezing the ball off Al Habsi’s right hand into a very narrow blind side area of the net, things were rather uneventful in those last ten minutes or so. Thank goodness for that, eh?
Damage limitation exercise successfully completed? I’m not sure, but console yourself in the fact that at 5pm there was still a chance that we could finish the weekend outside the relegation zone if Aston Villa lost by four or more goals in their evening game. As I type, this match is yet to kick off but if Man City were to complete a very comfortable win it’d be an unexpected bonus for us to actually move up the table after losing 3-0.
Speaking of Villa, we have them at the Dee Dubya for a rescheduled game in a few days time. Looks like Emmerson Boyce will be reintroduced in the absence of Gary Caldwell, and Martinez recognised that today by giving the Barbadian 13 minutes at the end of the game. He must also start with Di Santo, in my opinion, and ditch the tactics which have served us so poorly in the first halves of our last two games. Whether he will or not is a different story, but you’d think it’s pretty obvious it isn’t getting us very far right now.