In anticipation of the impending apocalypse, I gave away all my worldly possessions –yes, my clothes, my boots and my motorcycle– and went to sit on a large hill to watch the fireball barbecue us all. The Daily Mail, who published the above picture obtained from robots from the future, promised it would be more spectacular than the northern lights, so this was something I just could not miss.
For those still too afraid to open the curtains, I can tell you the much-hyped end of the world was something of a disappointment, to say the least. Not so much as an errant spark lit up the midnight sky, and I almost died of exposure thanks to the lack of an effective central heating system atop Winter Hill.
But never mind the disappointment that we are to go on living for the time being, because I did have the wherewithal to keep my Wigan Athletic season ticket. I shall not tell you where, seeing as I have no pockets to store it in (well, at least not in items of clothing…), but I did somehow gain entry to the DW Stadium wearing nothing but a cardboard Beko freezer storage box. It was an ‘early Boxing Day fancy dress costume’, I said to the man on the turnstiles. Thankfully, he never looked up from his copy of Heat Magazine as I warily shuffled past. Result!
News quickly filtered through that Wigan would have only two recognised defenders in the starting XI – a recipe for disaster, one would think. Jean Beausejour and Ronnie Stam could perhaps do a job as emergency backup defenders, but with Caldwell on the bench, surely it would have been tempting to simply bring him back?
Latics took to the field with an unusual defensive line-up – Figueroa, Boyce and just about anybody hanging around the back third. And you know what? It kind of worked. The expected nervy moments came and went, of course, but without an Arsenal goal to show for them. Quite how it was made to work, I’m not entirely sure, but that initial period of Arsenal pressure was successfully negotiated without too much alarm.
Then came Wigan’s opportunity to seize the game. Shaun Maloney played a sublime ball through to Kone, who outpaced Mertesacker and sprinted into a shooting position. But perhaps that goal drought loomed large in the Ivorian’s mind as he scuffed his strike right wide of Szczesny’s left hand post. It would prove to be the best opportunity of the whole game for either side, and signalled a shift in control towards the hosts.
The first half finished with Wigan in the ascendancy. In fact, as Jon Ross blew for the half time break, one actually sensed a missed opportunity. Many a time Latics would charge at the Arsenal goalmouth with purpose, only to completely fail with woeful, nay, abysmal delivery into the box. Ronnie Stam – I am looking squarely in your direction.
On the plus side, I would certainly have taken 0-0 at half time. But surely the hosts’ patchwork backline would be tested sooner or later? As those Sky commentators were no doubt repeating at regular intervals, one Arsenal goal would most likely trigger a landslide and spell the end of Wigan’s hopes. Probably with the odd ‘Christmas present’ analogy thrown in there for good measure.
Arsenal’s busy start to the second half was a worry, but by the hour mark, the game remained scoreless.
Wigan’s poor crossing seemed to be rubbing off on certain members of the Gunners team, as another attack looked to fizzle out thanks to a bad delivery. But the ball was recovered on the far touchline. Theo Walcott was closely watched by Beausejour as he tentatively made his way into the Wigan area – as it happens, too close. A seemingly innocuous tangle of legs led to a certain penalty for the visitors, which Arteta slotted away with no problem. Such a soft way to undo all the great work.
The hosts had defended quite well up until the penalty award, and it is a bit harsh to blame Beausejour for actually trying to tackle somebody. He is, after all, not a natural defender. The question was now if Wigan would respond in the affirmative. Goodness knows, they had exhibited enough endeavour to actually work those goalscoring positions and looked impressive enough going forward – would going a goal down prove just the incentive Wigan needed?
Though Beausejour found his delivery around the 70 minute mark, it was probably a bit too late. Arsenal were now happy to take their time and allow Wigan to meticulously search for the perfect goalscoring opportunity, which they never really did with any success.
Arsenal were able to grind out the remaining fifteen minutes as Wigan struggled to find a way through. James McArthur had a late chance to deflect the ball into Szczesny’s South Stand net, but his deft touch could not find the target. That was all Latics created, and not even substitute Callum McManaman could do much to unsettle the Arsenal backline.
Since the defence cannot be faulted on this occasion, blame must shift to the other end of the field. There were also some sterling performances in the centre of the park – most notably from Jones and McCarthy, who played dual roles as both attacking and defensive midfielders.
So as has already been mooted, that delivery was unfortunately lacking this afternoon. Ronnie Stam is either a terrible crosser of the ball or in abject form in that department, while Arouna Kone is now struggling to even find the target.
Why am I so disappointed with a narrow 1-0 defeat, especially as I predicted much worse? Well, Wigan’s surprisingly good defensive performance served to highlight the problems we now have up front. The usual home goals were sadly not forthcoming as the confidence and firepower seemed to desert us, just when we needed it most.
And it’s weird, because overall we really played rather well. I dunno, maybe it’s the fact points are now becoming a concern. Or maybe it’s because I have to try and re-acquire my house and car. Now, where did I leave that receipt? *Fumbles around in invisible pockets* Uh oh…
Art courtesy NASA (PD)