We knew it would not be easy, and boy did we make it hard for ourselves yesterday. A game of great contrast: Wigan had nothing to fear, with an FA cup in the cupboard and Man City eliminated already this season; but we had almost everything to lose. And it showed.
The recent demoralising – some might say devastating – defeats against title and CL-place contenders Chelsea and Everton, as well as the loss against Stoke and the late equaliser against Swansea, have clearly had an incredible, and under Wenger unprecedented, impact on our players.
I really cannot recall an Arsenal game like this against a ‘minor’ team under Wenger. We were nervous, restless and had very little flow to our football. There appears to be little belief by our players in their qualities and our game plan, as well as any form within the team. But what we cannot say about our players is that they did not give everything yesterday to turn things round and try to win at all costs.
And despite the lack of flow and quality by our boys, they were the better team yesterday and deserved to come out as winners. Wenger had limited options for his starting eleven but I was pleased to see Sanogo start ahead of the knackered and unfocussed Giroud. Sanogo is clearly a work in progress: a raw diamond that needs a lot of sharpening up in the workshop. But what he gives us is energy and unpredictability and I liked what I saw from him yesterday for the entire 120 minutes. He is not ready to be our nr2 striker for the foreseeable future though, before anybody starts jumping on my back! 😉
For me, the real problem was that the two most experienced and successful in front of goal players – Podolski and Carzola – just were not able to influence the game enough: to add that bit of control and quality on which the whole team can build. And for what they earn and the responsibility they have been given by Wenger, this is not good enough. Both players need to play in a free role and depend heavily on the hard work of others in the team, and it was once more obvious that they cannot make our play.
We knew this about Podolski but some believed Cazorla’s best position is in the hole…. I think we know now for sure that he is not suitable for this: too slow, too ponderous and not demanding enough. I like Santi and there is a future for him in the team, but he disappointed me again yesterday. The same goes for Podolski who has ‘moments’ in every game but just does not influence the game anywhere near enough to justify a start. A super-sub for me, but I reckon he will be gone next season.
It was really good to see Ramsey back and he tried hard to motor on our team. Clearly, he is not fit enough to make a significant difference yet, but that will come. Arteta evidently struggled at times but he never gave up and fought through his self-doubts with a steely determination, which I really like about him. And his penalty, the all important first one for the team, was class.
Ox worked his socks off and was desperate to make a difference in this game. It is still clear he is also a work in progress with plenty of weaknesses to improve on, but as an attacking driver for the team he has made massive progress. He was our most dangerous man both in terms of creating and taking chances and let’s hope he will stay fit for the remainder of the season, to add the much needed thrust to our football.
I loved Mertesacker’s goal after an uncharacteristic, nervous mistake (against a player in front of him for once!) that led to Wigan’s goal from the penalty spot. There is something very pure about the BFG: he gives his all and knows about his weaknesses, yet he will give his all to get the very best out of himself – and that goal epitomised him. What you see is what you get and the man fights for our shirt with all he has got. For that we’ve got to love him.
Sagna, Mr Reliable, was once again fantastic: what a club player he is for us. Gibbs did well taking over from Monreal, but the man of the match was undoubtedly Fabianski.
He had little to do during the game, but as we were just not able to control our nerves and apply some much needed composure up-front in 120 minutes of football – except for BFG’s desperate goal and Ox’s fierce goal attempts – it was our other Polish keeper who became the unexpected hero.
There are two sorts of goalkeepers: the uber-confident, extrovert ones and the calm, calculated, introvert ones. Szczesny (and the Wigan goalie) belongs to the former and Fabianski (and Seaman) to the latter. I loved the way he stayed calm and on one spot for each penalty: focussing on the opponent and figuring them out, rather than behaving like an ape and trying to put the opponent off, like his opposite number did. Fab also has a very fine diving technique and he guessed right almost every time.
He made the real difference yesterday and is the reason we are in the FA Cup final. I hope we are still able to sign him up, and if not, that he will find a fine club where he can be the nr.1 goalkeeper for the rest of his career. This he deserves.
So, Hull in the final and still a great chance to win the FA cup. But the Hammers are up next and they will smell blood and tired bodies. More character will be required from our players and we, the fans, need to stay fully behind them.