From the moment the lineup for Arsenal’s midweek Carling Cup match against league leaders Manchester City was announced, things looked grim for Wigan in this fixture. Wenger rested just about all of his key players against the billionaire sky blues only to unleash them fresh against second-from-bottom Wigan. It was a statement of intent from Wenger, whose focus is clearly on the Premier League this season. DW Stadium has after all, proven a tricky place for the Gunners. Latics twice came from behind in spectacular fashion to deny Arsenal in the previous two fixtures, drawing 2-2 last year and winning thrillingly 3-2 the year before. Further back, Latics fans will fondly remember Paul Scharner giving the team their first win over a “big four” team in the Carling Cup.
Despite all this, Latics started very, very well, moving the ball quickly, pressuring high, with a spring in their step after a couple of back-to-back non-defeats. It all could have been so different if Jordi Gomez had found the net when, after excellent buildup play, a David Jones cross was tipped into his path. But it wasn’t to be, and moments later a completely unmarked Mikel Arteta swerved a shot past Ali Al-Habsi, only for Thomas Vermaelen to make it two within a minute, heading from a corner. And that was basically it.
Gervinho and Van Persie would pad the score but, save for an excellent effort from outside the box by Mo Diame that might’ve changed things, the game was over when the second goal went in. Latics fell apart in all senses of the word, and despite a couple rare attacks and a decent penalty shout, it was always more likely Arsenal would score a fifth than Latics mounting any sort of comeback.
The first 20-25 minutes. Passing the ball crisply and confidently, relatively organized at the back, they weren’t just playing well “for Wigan” they looked a better team than Arsenal.
Ronnie Stam. The new system has allowed Ronnie to play his natural position as a wing-back. It’s like having a new signing. He was again involved with most of Latics good attacking play, and showed energy and desire throughout the match.
This writer had high hopes that the new tactical system with three centre halves would get the best out of Gary Caldwell. He did well against Sunderland. But his lack of pace is cruelly exposed every time we play a team in the top half of the table. He was really poor. You expect him to be beaten for pace by players like Gervinho and Walcott, but he was outjumped by Vermaelen for the crucial second goal as well. If you are going to have a slow centre half you would at least hope for aerial dominance. Steve Gohouri, wobbly all season, was also poor and lucky to stay on the pitch after clearly hauling Gervinho down in the box. Alcaraz’s welcome could not come sooner, ditto Emmerson Boyce.
Less bad, but increasingly worrying is the form of Ali Al-Habsi. His mistake last week against Sunderland was forgiven after he kept Latics in the game with a string of sensational reflex saves. Conditions at the DW were extremely windy on Saturday, but he will have been disappointed with his positioning on Arteta’s opening goal. He only made one mistake that led to a goal last season (Man City, away). He’s already made three this term (QPR, Sunderland, Arsenal).
A Neutral Would Say
Wigan started brightly but were comprehensively beaten by an Arsenal team clicking on all levels.
Al Al-Habsi: 6 — Arteta’s goal was the result — in equal measures — of poor marking, windy conditions, and Ali’s positioning.
Steve Gohouri: 5 — Poor. Gave away a clear penalty (clear to all but the referee) and might have been sent off for it. Generally shaky.
Gary Caldwell: 4 — Struggles against the top players. No acceleration. Hasn’t been the same since the hip operation.
Maynor Figueroa: 6 — The best of the defenders.
Ronnie Stam: 7.5 — Involved in the best of the Latics attacking play, showed desire.
David Jones: 6 — Isn’t a natural wing-back but is doing alright there. His cross in the first half should have resulted in a goal. Either Sammon, or Jordi Gomez from the resulting rebound, could have scored.
Mo Diame: 7 — The only midfielder who is consistently comfortable against top quality opposition. He can tackle, dribble and pass the ball. Had a good strike in the second half that went just wide.
James McCarthy: 5.5 — Worked hard as always but didn’t contribute much from an attacking perspective. It was Mikel Arteta’s midfield on Saturday.
Jordi Gomez: 6 — Might have scored when the game was in the balance. Don’t remember much else of his contribution.
Victor Moses: 6 — Bright in Latics opening 20 minutes, but was kept fairly quiet.
Conor Sammon: 6 — Also useful in first 20 minutes, then chased shadows for the rest of the afternoon.
Franco Di Santo: 6 — Did Ok.
Albert Crusat: 7 — Lively.
James McArthur: 6 — Game was over by the time he came on.