Arsenal’s consistent inability to follow up a fantastic victory continues to be a concern, but at least we were able to come out of today’s clash with a much-needed three points.
We always knew that today’s clash with Wigan Athletic would be a difficult contest, and this was the type of persevering victory that Arsenal needed to establish some semblance of consistency. The wet, heavy pitch could have been a determining factor in our poor play since we rely heavily on passing and ball control.
Wigan started off the game with high pressure defensively, taking away Arsenal’s coveted time and space. In possession, Wigan were very settled and knocked the ball around well. They pushed forward successfully down the flanks to no avail, as both Beausejour and Stam wasted many crosses in the final third. Wigan lived up to McManaman’s criticism of giving away the ball on numerous occasions, and this eventually allowed Arsenal to ease into the game.
However, it was very tough to break down Wigan in the first half as they successfully congested the middle of the pitch.
Throughout most of the contest, Arsenal found it very difficult to replicate the form of our last game, and the players seemed very tense and overly cautious in attack. As the game continued, Wigan afforded Arsenal more space and the Ox eventually gave us the spark needed to break out offensively. This eventually led to a few quality scoring chances but teammates were not able to get on the end of his crosses, and Theo missed a fantastic chance to convert one of his low crosses.
Fortunately, Arsenal were able to break through in the second half with a nice pass from Santi to Walcott in the box that subsequently led to a penalty, which Arteta finished clinically from the spot.
Defensively there were mental lapses once again, but we were able to grind out the victory and we were not punished for our mistakes. Worth noting was that Vermaelen and Mertesacker were poor defensively for a good portion of the game which allowed Kone to get in behind them in the first half, but luckily he wasted the chance wide.
Now onto the player ratings from today’s game:
Szczesny (9.0) – I thought he was our best player today and has really provided the squad with stability. Szczes kept us in the game with big saves and made some intelligent, aggressive decisions to challenge the Wigan forwards. Well-deserved clean sheet and performances like these will be needed from him, if we’re to win games when we are not at our best.
Gibbs (8.0) – Not as influential offensively as last game, but the blame should be placed more on Podolski’s lack of support opposed to a knock on Gibbs. Defensively, Gibbs was solid and made some key tackles to break up the Wigan offense throughout the game. Still, I was hoping to see more from him and the blossoming left flank partnership from last game let me down.
Vermaelen (6.5) – I was appalled at his questionable missed challenge on Kone in the first half that led to a good Wigan scoring opportunity. This was only compounded by further poor concentration in coverage that later led to Kone getting behind himself and Mertesacker for a clear chance on goal. He eventually settled down and more importantly, the defense did not concede any goals. However, a much better effort is needed from our captain and those defensive lapses need to be addressed going forward.
Mertesacker (6.5) – I thought the weakness in our defense lay with the two center backs today: together with Vermaelen, Mertesacker’s lack of pace and concentration, almost led to Kone scoring for Wigan. He played his routine safe game by just clearing the ball, but gave Wigan some unnecessary second chance opportunities from corner kicks when not even under pressure. Just as I said with Vermaelen; we didn’t concede any goals against Wigan so perhaps I’m being harsh, but some players need to answer for poor performances and Mertesacker is one of them. He did however break up a crucial play on a 2 v 1 by clearing Stam’s cross pass to Kone in the second half.
Sagna (8.0) – Both fullbacks played solid games defensively and kept Wigan’s offence in check. Much like last game, I want to see Sagna more involved offensively, but I’m glad he honored his defensive duties first. Nothing spectacular here, but I’m happy if he can consistently perform like he did today.
Arteta (8.5) – Continues to be our most consistent performer this season and always shows composure and intelligent ball distribution (aside from the Fulham game which was a disaster for him and he wasn’t great vs. the Spuds either). Won the ball back cleanly on a few occasions and has done everything one could ask for from a holding midfielder. Had a nice involvement offensively on a run forward in the first half and played a nice final ball, that almost led to an Oxlade-Chamberlain goal. Arteta scored the lone goal on a well taken, confident penalty kick.
Wilshere (7.0) – This was not one of Jack’s best performances and the team’s overall performance seemed to be directly correlated with his. He misplaced more passes than usual today, but did not commit any serious mistakes and was unfairly penalized with a yellow card on a perfectly clean tackle. Still, he was not as influential as usual, and I’d like to see him running up field with the ball more frequently. Wilshere did play well defensively, breaking up the play with sliding challenges a few times.
Cazorla (7.0) – He definitely came out flat today and Wigan was smart to take away his space and close down on him early after his performance against Reading. Santi uncharacteristically turned the ball over several times on some poor first touches, over dribbling and careless passing. His slick pass to Walcott that eventually led to Arsenal’s only goal, was the only outstanding bit of work from him. He wasn’t horrible but you definitely come to expect more from our main offensive distributor.
Podolski (5.5) – He pulled his typical Houdini act today and was pretty much absent for most of the game. Of all the players who started against Wigan, I was the most disappointed with Podolski after his inspiring run out against Reading. He created nothing offensively, was not involved defensively, did not link up with Gibbs and seemed to hardly move on the pitch. I thought he should have been the first player substituted off, and his poor performance allowed Wigan to congest the middle of the pitch.
Walcott (6.5) – He looked lost as the central striker today and Martinez and Wigan must have carefully analyzed the Reading game film from Monday. Theo wasn’t able to stretch the defense at all and wasted a good opportunity created by Ox, by shooting it right at Al Habsi in the second half. He did show some intelligent movement by getting himself into good positions to score, eventually drawing a crucial penalty, but like Podolski, he was pretty non-existent most of the time. It will be interesting to see if he can rebound vs. Newcastle next weekend.
Oxlade-Chamberlain (9.0) – Except for Szczesny, he was the most outstanding player on the pitch today. Ox displayed great pace, confidence in taking on defenders and provided some nice offensive scoring chances with in-swinging crosses into the opponent’s 18-yard box. He finally seems to be finding his form from last season and I absolutely loved this lad’s lively performance on the right flank. However, Ox was guilty of over-dribbling and taking too much on his own, which led to a few unnecessary turnovers in the final third. The best is yet to come from him and I think he’ll make the right wing position his own this season.
Ramsey, Coquelin, Koscielny (Incomplete) – None really had an opportunity to make an impact on the game, though Koscielny had a good clearance with his head late in the game, and Coquelin made a couple of nice sliding challenges to win the ball back. However, Coquelin looked unsure when in possession of the ball and this almost led to a few turnovers in our own half. Ramsey looked poor once again in his cameo appearance and why Wenger insists on playing him baffles me. He constantly gives away the ball, is poor defensively, lacks pace and looks out of his element on the right wing. Perhaps his poor performances are associated with inconsistent playing time, but it appears a loan move to another club may be the best for his development.
It is worrisome that we needed a penalty kick to find the score sheet and this poor performance is something to keep in mind for the coming games. AW’s decision to substitute Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 75th minute was shocking and as a result, we quickly lost any momentum we had gained from Arteta’s goal.
I expect the week off to be beneficial for our squad to get some much-needed rest and to re-group before facing Newcastle on the 29th. All in all, not one of our best performances but top teams still need to pick up three points from these kinds of games, and we did. Pulling out this type of victory is exactly what Arsenal needed and gives our players the confidence to know that we can still win games when not at our best.
Written by: The Gooner.