A personal account of a whole day of Wigan-Arsenal.
We all know that Arsenal have a fantastic support at away games. It does not matter how far away the game is and whatever bad weather has to be endured, Arsenal are always supported by a large number of supporters on their ‘tours’.
Nothing feels better than being surrounded by many thousands of fellow Gooners and singing our songs together with full passion and harmony, whilst watching our beloved Arsenal. And it was fantastic to be part of it all this Saturday in the company of fellow blog owner Wigan Gooner (WG).
It was a long journey up from Norwich to Wigan, and the constant rain – and its antidote the windscreen wipers – never seized to accompany me. Saturday was the second shortest day in terms of the sun being up, and it seemed the day just did not want to start. When it did eventually became lighter – I was already well north of Birmingham – the surrounding constant blackness turned into a permanent grey, but what did not change at all were the constant streams of red and white light on the motorway: a sea of red moving with me, and a river of white light moving perfectly parallel in the opposite direction.
WG and I met up before the game and it was great to speak about our club, and football in person rather than through keyboards for once. The weather was pretty bad but WG took me on a walk through various parts of Wigan, and it was especially great to see some of the forlorn – and in some cases refurbished into apartments – old mill and factory buildings.
One particular building stood out. It was a former, totally derelict mill/factory building that was bordered up. Although severely dilapidated, the striking redbrick walls and towers were in good condition and gave of a warm glow against the grey, heavy with rain, sky all around us. There was water gushing down drainpipes everywhere and a nearby river was in an incredible hurry.
After that we had to walk diagonally through a very large car park of a stereotypical shopping mall, in order to get to the DW stadium. It was great to see Arsenal bring some colour, and most of all warmth, to the soggy, heavy pitch and seemingly eternal grey skies, by kicking off the game in their familiar red and white (and a bit of navy blue) shirts and shorts.
The Stadium, which holds about 25000 spectators, was only ¾ full, and the away fans were more vocal than the home support from the start. The away fans showed how impressed they were with the home support by singing songs like ‘I want to go home, I want to go home, Wigan is a sh*t hole, I want to go home’, and ‘You only come to see the Arsenal’ to which the home support had no matching answer.
Basically, the Arsenal supporters verbally bullied the Wigan supporters which made them even more quiet throughout the game.
Wigan gained their PL status through their achievements on the pitch over the last eight years, but with large cities like Sheffield, Leeds, Bristol, Cardiff, etc not being represented in the Premier League, and the relatively small DW stadium not sold-out for a visit of the Arsenal, you do wonder whether they really deserve to remain in the top division of football in this country.
Analysis of the game.
Arsenal and Wigan fought for the midfield more or less the entire game. Both teams played a high line which led to a very congested area in midfield. Arsenal desperately tried to control the midfield but Wigan were well drilled and competent in both keeping us from passing the ball around and retaining it themselves once they took it off us. As a result, our defence was made to look very vulnerable more than once in the first half.
Wigan’s 3-5-2 style really seems to suit Martinez’ team and if they had better strikers up-front they would have gotten something out of this game.
Both WG and I felt that Arteta did not have the power and drive during large parts of the game to put his stamp on the game. His limited ability to tackle and to out-fight players in the air was a big miss against the Latics. He never stops trying though, but I feel even stronger now that we need to buy a more orthodox, experienced DM as soon as possible.
Jack Wilshere tried very hard to add physicality to our midfield play and that’s why we all love him, but we never had a good shape during the first half of the game. Quite regularly Arsenal won the ball in a one to one battle only to lose it again straightaway. It was frustrating to see how Arsenal were not able to keep hold of the ball for long, once we had won it in midfield, during large periods of the game.
Wigan, on the other hand, were much better at keeping hold of it and pass their way through our midfield in order to launch one of their ‘wing-backs’, or play a dangerous ball through the middle or over the top. It was very worrying how easy Wigan carved through us once they won the ball in midfield and had their strikers been better, we could have been 2-0 behind at half time.
The second half was much better, as Arsenal were able to press Wigan out of the midfield and closer to their goal: the area were both Arsenal can hurt Wigan and we are not running such a big risk of being carved open with just two moves.
Arsenal were also able to use the Ox far better in the second half as a result of the pressure we put on to Wigan. In the first half, AOC had been able to make good forward runs with the ball on the right wing, but there was little support for him and his attacks were therefore often ineffectual. But with Cazorla playing a lot closer to Ox and the young Englishman being able to make runs into the Wigan box, Arsenal finally had found the formula to hurt Wigan properly.
Until we scored the goal, Arsenal had dominated the second half and Arsene’s half time team talk appeared to be making a big difference.
From where the away supporters were – right behind the Wigan goal – it looked like a clear foul on Theo and it became the pivotal moment of the game. The away support shouted ‘penalty’ in total unison and the referee pointed to the spot. For an away team to be given a penalty resulting from such a foul, you need to be a bit lucky. And I reckon, any doubt the referee might have had, was blown away by the boisterous shout from the almost 5000 strong away support.
Arteta put the penalty away and after that Arsenal kept playing for a while to get the second goal, but Theo missed a good opportunity to do so, and both Theo and Podolski could have done better in attacking a superb cross into the box by the Ox as well.
Bit by bit, Wigan started to push us back again and they were winning the midfield one-to-one battles once again. Arsene decided to shore up the midfield with bringing on Ramsey and Coquelin, for Ox and Pod. A tactic not universally supported by the away supporters, especially as we were still not able to keep hold of the ball and keep Wigan from finding openings through our midfield.
Somehow, we got there and were able to leave Wigan with three points, but let there be no doubt that we were lucky to do so, and we need to improve significantly in terms of the shape of our team and individual performances if we want to beat the Barcodes on Saturday.
On the way back from the Stadium WG and I went through the game in detail, and however much we were disappointed in some of the individual performances of our players and the general shape of our team, and however much we were drenched by the rain once more, the overriding feeling was one of happiness as a result of an ugly win that pushed us up to third in the table.
On the way home, I was once again accompanied by lovely red and white traffic streams, and the fantastic news of a goalless draw at White Heart Lane which kept us in third place at least till Sunday.
Five hundred miles through hazardous conditions were rewarded by a hard fought 1-0 to the Arsenal and fantastic in-depth discussions about anything Arsenal with WG.