Without doing a terrible amount wrong, Wigan Athletic has found itself sinking into the all-too-familiar lower depths of the Premier League. We might be telling a very different tale if Arouna Koné’s headed equaliser had not been incorrectly disallowed for offside, but in the end those small margins told and it was another tight loss. There have been several of them in recent weeks against beatable teams — Fulham, Sunderland, and now Swansea — in which the side showed positives but failed to get the result. The good news is that fellow basement dwellers Southampton, Reading, Aston Villa, Norwich City and QPR look a weaker set of competition than last year’s pack.
Of the aforementioned strugglers, Norwich were the only team to secure three points this weekend with a shock 1-0 victory over Arsenal. Chris Hughton’s side deserve full credit for an excellent performance, but it is no coincidence they got the result following an international break. Like Swansea, Norwich looked fresh and full of zip — both squads have few internationals and benefitted from two weeks of focused training. Like Arsenal, a majority of Wigan’s starting XI had played two matches in the previous week, spread across the far corners of the world. Between Al-Habsi, Figueroa, Beausejour, Caldwell, McArthur, McCarthy and Koné (who admittedly did not play but had an eventful week nonetheless) — Latics players covered four continents and hundreds of thousands of miles before this fixture. Thank goodness Barbados wasn’t playing. Maynor Figueroa, whose Honduran national team secured qualification after thumping Canada 8-1, certainly looked like he was in a different time zone.
A detailed analysis of post-international results will follow next time there is an international break. But in the meantime, it seems fair to raise the question why Roberto is not leaning a little more heavily on his squad for these fixtures based on recent post-international break results?
Despite a sharp-looking home performance from Swansea, Latics kept them out in the first half, and looked the more incisive team on the counter. James McArthur showed some touches of real class and vision. Arouna Koné was very good, despite seeing relatively little of the ball. After Latics conceded and bodies were pushed forward, Shaun Maloney was excellent, getting on the ball, making things happen.
Figueroa had a bad day. The marking for the second goal was non-existent — they appeared to stand still as Michu ran in to score. The team didn’t show real urgency or ambition until it was 2-0. All of which was a shame against a team that demonstrated their attacking threat but were defensively wobbly throughout. Opportunity lost.
Ali Al-Habsi: 7 — Caught flat-footed on the first goal, but there was not much he could do about either. Made one or two decent saves before then.
Ivan Ramis: 6 — Solid until he lost sight of Michu for the second goal.
Gary Caldwell: 6 — Solid until Hernandez got the better of him for the first goal.
Maynor Figueroa: 5 — Not solid. Looked out of sorts, substituted to accomodate an attacking tactical change.
Emmerson Boyce: 6.5 — Brilliant improvised goal, but didn’t have an easy afternoon with Routledge in fine form.
Jean Beausejour: 7 — Cracking cross for Koné, which would have been the equaliser but for an errant offside call. Also played a delightful ball in for Koné, which the Ivorian couldn’t make the best of. Need him to get forward more often.
James McArthur: 7.5 — Some real quality from the Scot, who always puts the miles in defensively but rarely gets a chance to show his skill.
James McCarthy: 6 — Not his strongest performance.
Shaun Maloney: 7 — Always trying to make things happen. But his finishing should have been better with both a first half opportunity and a disappointing second half free-kick.
Franco Di Santo: 6 — Only got one chance and telegraphed it.
Arouna Koné: 7 — Strong performance that deserved a goal. His strength and pace are impressive, but he showed he can dribble and head the ball as well. The complete striker — just needs a bit more service and luck now. Took a heavy touch on a lovely Beausejour cross, mind.
Ben Watson: N/A — His introduction saw a formation change, which resulted in more bodies forward and sustained pressure on the Swansea rearguard. It also left Latics’ defense a bit exposed.
Jordi Gomez: N/A — Went backwards too many times, to the support’s frustration. Played so well in the corresponding fixture last year, maybe he should have been brought on sooner — before goals were needed urgently. Urgency is not his strong suit.
Mauro Boselli: N/A — No service, barely touched the ball.