Moses missed as Latics run out of ideas

The Wigan Athletic revival party was put on hold by an exceptionally well organized and opportunistic West Brom side on Saturday. While Roberto Martinez’s choice of “frustrating” was more than apt, the biggest takeaway appears to be that with Shaun Maloney’s impact reduced by a niggling ankle injury (that has forced him out of the Scotland squad this week), Latics sorely missed a player with the ability to unlock a defence — something Victor Moses used to do with some regularity last season.

In fact, the only memorable moment of dribbling skill resulted in Latics’ best chance of an equaliser, when Franco Di Santo skinned his man down the left hand side before Maloney blazed over. Neither Jean Beausejour nor Ronnie Stam, whose return was pleasing, possess the pace to beat their man for speed. West Brom’s centre halves had a field day clearing hopeful crosses from the box. Ben Watson’s long range strikes were the only other real threat Wigan could muster.

The Good: 

Before West Brom scored, Latics had looked dominant and fluid, if not incisive. Ben Watson was playing some beautiful stuff and was unlucky with his long range strikes. The goal was a good response. Ali Al-Habsi was fantastic. Ronnie Stam was an immediate improvement in the attacking third when he came on, although his crosses were not sharp.

The Bad: 

A lack of imagination on this display. West Brom defended in numbers and Latics could not find a way through. It would have been nice to see Di Santo on the ball more frequently, but he didn’t seem to drop deep enough to get on it. With the amount of possession around the box and Shaun Maloney struggling, Jordi Gomez might have been an option earlier in the game. It also appeared to be an ideal opportunity to give Mauro Boselli a runout, as the attacks appeared to be based on hopeful crosses into the box. He came on very late. Also a shame Ryo Miyaichi and his pace were unavailable through injury.

Conclusions: 

No cause for panic, but this match was crying out for a player willing to run at the WBA defence and force errors. It will go down as a missed opportunity. Players like Jean Beausejour and Shaun Maloney, usually excellent, have failed to convert scoring opportunities in recent matches. Ronnie Stam’s introduction suggested Emmerson Boyce’s attacking play has been acknowledged as sub-standard in recent outings.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 9 — Despite hurting his shoulder in the warm-up, he was at his very best. One save from Romelu Lukaku in the second half stands out. Top class.

Ivan Ramis: 6 — No errors, but a bit of a wobbly performance after several excellent ones.

Gary Caldwell: 5 — Unlucky with his own goal, but was run ragged by Shane Long and eventually substituted.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 – Almost gave away a goal in the first half with some casual defending. Otherwise, not a bad match.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 — Offered little in attack. Better when dropped to the back three.

Jean Beausejour: 6 — Nice ball for Koné’s goal. Had a good first half, but his worst second half since joining the club with misplaced passes and a spurned opportunity.

James McCarthy: 7 — Strong in midfield, wish he had been able to get forward more often.

Ben Watson: 8 — Probably the best outfield performance, he was the most positive attempting through balls and shots. Gave the ball away frustratingly a few times, but if anyone deserved a goal it was him.

Shaun Maloney: 6 — Quietest performance in a while. West Brom identified him as the main man and marked him heavily, but he was also apparently carrying an injury.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Also quiet. Only really got on the ball to good effect once or twice. No shots or goal attempts.

Arouna Koné: 6.5 — Did well to stay onside for his goal. Held the ball up well but had little space to operate in, and not much service either.

Subs:

Ronnie Stam: Saw a lot of the ball and put several crosses in, all well defended. A welcome return.

Jordi Gomez: Not enough time to make an impact.

Mauro Boselli: Came on for the last 8 or so minutes, by which point Latics had lost the bulk of possession and were restricted to hopeful crosses — none of which reached him.

Blind optimism and Latics’ new season

One of the lads in my class at school was called Brian. He claimed to be an Horwich RMI supporter.  I thought I was remarkable enough at the time, being a Latics fan, in a town dominated by the cherry and white. There were few of us Latic fanatics at school and if we dared to utter words of blind optimism about our club, our classmates were quick to shoot us down.  The message was – how can you support a measly little non-league football club? Don’t even dream of reaching the heights of our wonderful local rugby team or the football giants in neighbouring cities. However, I considered myself an optimist as far as Wigan Athletic were concerned. It was in my blood – and still is. I trust that those classmates are eating their words now.

To be honest, Brian was even more of an optimist than me. Horwich Railway Mechanics  Institute was in fact a much older football club than Wigan Athletic, having been formed in 1896. Their only major  success over those years was in winning the Lancashire Combination championship in 1957-58.  Coming up on Saturday afternoon at Springfield Park was a Lancashire Junior Cup tie between our two teams. It was akin to David and Goliath. Brian saw it differently — an epic tussle between two of Lancashire’s outstanding non-league clubs. He reeled off the names of RMI’s starting eleven, declaring each player a “good-un”, although it was clear from the intonations of his voice that some were more good than others. He had faith – I thought foolishly so – that RMI would get a good result.

Brian was right that day, the match ended in a draw. My Dad was so furious he said he wouldn’t go and watch the replay in the coming week. Their ground was a freezing, a God-forsaken place on the top if a big hill where the wind ruled the roost, he said. Their pitch was going to be rutted and would make good football impossible.

Fortunately, he relented and we took the short bus ride, and walked up to RMI’s ground at Grundy Hill.  Latics won 5-0, and Brian avoided me at school the next week, although I did quietly admire the genuine faith and optimism he seemed to have in his little club. Later, I became disillusioned to find out that he went to see Bolton more than Horwich.  But then again —  why would he announce himself a  fan of Horwich RMI rather than First Division Bolton? Strange how it turned out that Bolton now play home games  in Horwich, whereas the latest incarnation of RMI plays in Leigh.

So what would an optimist make of Wigan Athletic’s chances this season? That Bob and Dave are still here and therefore the club is continuing to move forward.  The appointment of the admirable Matt Jackson to spearhead the much needed youth system upgrade is to be commended. Boselli  is back and so far has averaged a goal a game in pre-season, having only played a half in each. He remains our potentially most clinical finisher, if not the silky skilled player that Di Santo has become. Both Fyvie and Ramis look like excellent signings. Roberto has also brought in two 19 year olds from elite Spanish clubs, each with good credentials. Assuming no major injuries or loss of form, a place in the top half of the table is a distinct possibility.

So what of Victor Moses? Why are Chelsea putting in such derisory bids for him? The odds are that he will go. He is far from the finished article, mainly with his decision-making in goal-scoring opportunities. He wasted a lot of chances last season. However,  there is a need for  a flair player like Moses, or N’Zogbia before him, to do the unpredictable and unsettle defences. Providing he can avoid injuries I expect Albert Crusat will make more of an impact this year. He is pacy, intelligent and David Silva has shown that slightly built players can flourish in the physical Premier League. It would be a mistake, however, to view Crusat as the replacement for Moses  — they are different types of player – and Dicko and McManaman will also compete for that spot.

Latics’ superb end of season performances, however, were built from the back. The three central defenders — Alcaraz, Caldwell and Figueroa – were outstanding, but one lived in fear of any injury to any of them. There was always the possibility of slotting Boyce into the centre but he was playing possibly the best football of his career at wing back. The signing of the experienced and highly capable Ivan Ramis is therefore welcomed. In fact, Figueroa might miss the first part of the season after being on Olympic duty for Honduras. Expect Ramis to slot in for him – if not it will be Lopez or Golobart.

In goal we have the outstanding Ali Al Habsi. The promising  young goalkeeper, Lee Nicholls, is clearly one for the future, but needs to get more experience before stepping in for the Omani. The 40 year old stalwart, Mike Pollitt, will be the first choice backup ‘keeper. There is newspaper talk about a promising young Australian coming on trial.

Latics are well served for wing backs. Ronnie Stam was in excellent form last season before being left out for Emmerson Boyce, who did spectacularly well. Jean Beausejour was the piece in the jigsaw puzzle that made a big difference in the latter part of last season. Wing back is not a position most clubs use, but Beausejour played in that position for Chile under Marcelo Bielsa. Both he and Stam are specialist wing backs. Ramis’ arrival allows Figueroa to serve as emergency wing-back in the event of injury to Beausejour.

Despite losing Diame and Thomas the midfield looks strong. The classy Ben Watson will fight to get his place back from James MacArthur, although he will face competition from Fraser Fyvie. The excellent James McCarthy is potentially as good as most midfield players in the Premier League and is likely to be our sought after by the big clubs before the end of the season. It may be that Fyvie is seen as his long-term replacement. He is a complete player and the goals that have been missing over the past season are likely to return. All he lacks is a little self belief.  David Jones remains a useful squad player able to play in a variety of positions. He has a great left foot and is an intelligent footballer. Hopefully he will steer clear of injuries this year.

Shaun Maloney was a revelation in the latter games of the season as the playmaker.  He has that kind of quality that can make a difference. His experience in a Celtic team that dominated the SPL has given him the level of self-confidence that most of his teammates lack. His career has been blighted by injury and one doubts his ability to make it through a full season unscathed. Jordi Gomez, the butt of some fans, remains a good footballer, able to play that role. Jordi has learned that he has to work hard off the ball and now covers a lot of ground. He is not a natural tackler, but does a lot of harassing of opponents to complement his considerable skills on the ball. Both Maloney and Gomez are likely to score goals, be it from open play or the penalty spot.

There has been talk of Conor Sammon going out on loan, although he does not seem to know anything about it. Sammon needs regular first team football if he is going to develop further. He is not likely to get it with Di Santo and Boselli ahead of him in the pecking order for the centre forward position. Speaking of loans, Lee Nicholls is already fixed up for a spell at Northampton.  One wonders how many more of last season’s loanees –  Golobart, Kiernan, Mustoe and Redmond – will be sent off again for more first team experience.

Perhaps I am being a blind optimist like my friend Brian, but with Bob and Dave still at the helm this club is going to be steered towards a bright future.  They are a great double act and deserve to succeed at the club. Whether Wigan Athletic have a good season in 2012-13 depends on the players. Shaun Maloney summed things up at the end of the season by suggesting that the great revival was brought about by hard work. We have a pretty good squad this year and with the full commitment of the players a mid-table position is a distinct possibility. Forget about the friendly loss to Real Mallorca. We are in for  a good season. Believe and keep the faith!!

WIGAN ATHLETIC 3 WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS 2 – CHAMPAGNE FOOTBALL IN A PARTY ATMOSPHERE

What a pleasant way to end a season – champagne football played by Latics, with an appreciative home crowd lapping it up. How strange that after 8 minutes with the home crowd celebrating an upcoming 8th year in the Premier League, Matt Jarvis should dampen the party atmosphere by scoring a peach of a goal. Receiving a ball from Steven Ward he cut in from the left and put a peach of a shot beyond Ali Al Habsi’s reach.

Latics came back in the 12th minute with an opportunist goal from Franco Di Santo, kicking the ball between the legs of a Wolves defender into the left hand corner, after James McCarthy had dispossessed Stephen Hunt in midfield. The Jimmy Macs and Shaun Maloney were running the midfield and it came as no surprise when Emmerson Boyce scored two minutes later with a towering header from a Jean Beausejour corner. Latics dominated the remainder of the first half with their excellent movement and silky skills, but could not further add to their tally.

Wolves came out with more resolve in the second half and the Wigan defence had to be on its toes. Al Habsi produced an excellent save from Kevin Doyle, but Gary Caldwell was ruling the roost at the back. Wigan continued to produce waves of classy football, with Shaun Maloney orchestrating the play, giving the Wolves defence a torrid time. The lively Albert Crusat came on for Victor Moses after 58 minutes and Hugo Rodallega for Franco Di Santo after 79 minutes. Within the first minute of coming on it was Rodallega who headed the ball for Boyce to hit a screamer of a half volley into the net. Jordi Gomez came on for Shaun Maloney after 82 minutes.  In the 84th minute Boyce went through the Wolves defence with the chance of a hat trick. However, he unselfishly tried to square the ball to Rodallaga and the chance was lost. Steven Fletcher got a consolation goal for Wolves on 86 minutes, after Adrian Lopez – in for the injured Antolin Alcaraz – got caught in possession on the edge of his penalty area. In another sweeping move Rodallaga was unlucky to see his shot hit the post in the final minute of added time. The final whistle signaled a pitch invasion by delighted fans.

The Good

The scoreline did not truly reflect the gulf between the two teams. This was champagne football from Latics, with Shaun Maloney being at the core of practically all of our best attacking moves. The Latics fans have been fantastic over the past few months, in sharp contrast to the doom and gloom that pervaded the earlier part of the season. The belief shown by the fans has galvanised a team previously lacking self confidence.

 It is not only the prospect of an 8th season in the Premier League that makes me look forward to the resumption in August. More than that it is the prospect of Latics playing this brand of football and not being afraid of the rich and bloated clubs who dominate the league. We have to shed the image of “Little Wigan” and move up a notch in our own estimation. If Bob and Dave both stay for a few years longer we will not be perennially looking to avoid relegation, but towards being in the top half of the table, seeking a Europa league place.

The Bad

After being outstanding in recent games Antolin Alcaraz suffered a thigh injury in training. Estimated time of recovery is 6 weeks so let’s hope all will be well for him at the start of next season. He was missed in defence.

Player Ratings


Ali Al Habsi: 8 – Did all he could to keep Wolves out.  A top class ‘keeper.

Emmerson Boyce: 9 – This defensively minded player has become a real attacking option in the right wing back position. Has scored three cracking goals in recent matches.

Adrian Lopez: 6 – Tried hard to impose himself physically, but looked nervy. His lack of match fitness and practice probably contributed to him losing the ball for Wolves’ second goal.

Gary Caldwell: 9 – Superb at the back once again.

Maynor Figueroa: 8 – Excellent yet again.

Jean Beausejour: 8 – Played more of an attacking role than usual. Put in some lovely crosses that might have led to more goals.

James McCarthy: 8 – Excellent yet again.

James McArthur: 8 – Probably our most under rated player. Excellent performance.

Shaun Maloney: 9 – A brilliant performance from the Little Magician.

Victor Moses: 6 – Ineffective, taken off after 58 minutes. Maybe unsettled by transfer talk?

Franco Di Santo: 8 – Must be one of the best in the Premier League in his skilful hold-up play. Scored an opportunist goal.

Substitutes

Albert Crusat: 8 – Made a major impact as a substitute, coming close to scoring on at least three occasions. Promises well for the future.

Hugo Rodallega – Has been a great servant for Wigan Athletic. What shame he was unlucky in the last minute, hitting the post as his Latics career was coming to a close.

Jordi Gomez – Worked hard and put through some nice passes. This has been his best season at the club and he has managed to silence many of his critics.

WIGAN ATHLETIC 4 NEWCASTLE UNITED 0 – A VINTAGE DISPLAY FROM LATICS

Wigan Athletic once more played with confidence, style and determination, as they had against Manchester United a little over two weeks ago. This first half display with four spectacular goals completely blew away a 4th placed Newcastle team that had arrived full of confidence after 6 consecutive victories.

From the start the Jimmy Macs – McCarthy and McArthur – ruled the midfield, barely allowing the visitors a touch of the ball. This laid the foundation for the wing backs to play more like wingers and the forward players to slice holes in the Newcastle defence. The little genius, Maloney, was orchestrating it all from midfield and the end result was a fluid attacking style with more than a touch of class. Vintage football indeed!

The first goal arrived in the 13th minute when Moses got the back of his head to wing back Boyce’s cross for the ball to loop past Krul. The second arrived two minutes later when another of those beautiful curling crosses from the other wing back, Beausejour, was making its way towards Di Santo at the far post. The unfortunate Coloccini got in its way but the ball ricocheted to Moses who hit it home with aplomb. The third was a real gem with Di Santo putting Maloney through on the left. The little man raced inside to put the coolest of finishes past Krul with a low drive to the far post. Then as half time beckoned Di Santo showed us his superb technique in lobbing Krul, the ball reeling into the top left hand corner leaving the goalkeeper helpless. A breathtaking first half.

The second half could not live up to the first, with Newcastle coming more into the game. The dangerous Papiss Cisse (11 goals in 11 games for Newcastle, 37 in 65 previously for Freiburg in the Bundesliga) was to draw a fine save from Al Habsi and to hit the woodwork twice during that second half. Latics did have chances. Moses drew a fine save from Krul and Sammon almost scored after a great run, his effort being blocked practically on the line by Coloccini.

Latics had 57% of the possession, having 6 shots on target compared with 2 for the visitors. Wigan committed 15 fouls and Newcastle 12. Two yellow cards for Latics, one for Newcastle.

The Good
The first half performance was probably the most spectacular in Wigan Athletic’s history. This was no fluke, but more the result of a long process of building the foundations for future success. Over the past weeks Roberto Martinez’s vision has been put into practice by the players. Interesting that in a post match interview when asked what has been the basis for the recent successes, Shaun Maloney put it down to work rate. Latics now work really hard to get the ball back when they lose it. Moreover there are players making 30-40 yard runs on a regular basis. It is this increased work rate that means that the centre forward is no longer alone, but supported by team mates coming in from all directions. The change to the defensive trio and wing backs was the catalyst that helped the players change their mind sets and play to their strengths. A central defence that was leaky has now become a rock. Confidence now surges through the Latics’ ranks, in place of the fear that was present for so long this season.

The Bad
Following a performance like that – on the back of wins against Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal – Roberto Martinez has become a target for speculation among the media. Why would a manager who can produce teams that can play that kind of football want to continue to work on a shoestring at Wigan? Let’s hope that this speculation does not upset the momentum that the team has built up. Losses for QPR and Blackburn today make it increasingly likely that Latics will maintain their Premier League status.

Player Ratings

Ali Al Habsi: 8 – Another good display.

Emmerson Boyce: 8 – Tireless in his efforts to support the attack and solid in defence.

Antolin Alcaraz: 9 – In top form again. Looks a quality player.

Gary Caldwell: 9 – Superb yet again.

Maynor Figueroa: 9.5 – In the best form of his Latics’ career. His interceptions and powerful tackles have been so important over recent weeks.

Jean Beausejour: 8 – A complete player. What a January signing!

James McCarthy: 9.5 – Took the initiative from the start. Hugely energetic and technically gifted.

James McArthur: 9.0 – Superb yet again. Runs himself into the ground for his team. Put in lots of neat passes too.

Shaun Maloney: 9.5 – The little magician engineered most of Latics’ best moves. Took his goal superbly.

Victor Moses: 8.5 – Took his goals well and was a constant threat to the Newcastle defence.

Franco Di Santo: 9 – Another superb exhibition of leading the line. Brilliant goal.

Substitutes

Conor Sammon: – Once again gave 100%. Unlucky with a fine run in the final minutes.

Jordi Gomez: – Came on and fitted in seamlessly.

Arsenal 1 Wigan Athletic 2: Giant-killers

Any concerns about the bubble being burst were laid to rest in emphatic fashion last night as Latics emerged from a traditionally nightmarish fixture with three points of gold and another famous scalp.

The scoreboard beggared belief after eight minutes of football, during which Franco Di Santo capped off a flowing breakaway and Jordi Gomez stabbed home a Victor Moses cross at the second attempt. Given the club’s dreadful record at the Emirates — no goals scored there since 2007, plenty conceded — this was a sight for sore eyes.

There is much to appreciate about Arsene Wenger, his teams, and his team’s form of late, but there was a dangerous air of arrogance evident in those opening passages of play. When asked about Wigan’s attacking threat a day earlier, the Frenchman err-ed and ahh-ed before mentioning Victor Moses, Emmerson Boyce and Maynor Figueroa. While inadvertently picking out three of Wigan’s top performers on the night, his response implied that he had not watched much of Wigan lately. Figueroa, of course, has been playing as a left-sided centre-back, while Boyce, an excellent defender, has not been a key contributor in attack. And Victor Moses — well, they clearly hadn’t watched enough of his recent play, because he ran rings around them all night.

Whether it was lack of homework or not, when James McCarthy nipped in to initiate a counter-attack on six minutes of play, it was clear Arsenal had committed too many men forward. The midfielder fed Victor Moses, who played Jordi Gomez into space. The Spaniard, back in the team after Shaun Maloney picked up a knee injury in training, threaded the ball into Franco Di Santo’s path, who poked at Arsenal keeper Szechzny, watched the ball balloon over him, then volleyed into the back of the net.

Moments later, with Latics’ first real possession of the match, patient build-up saw Victor Moses superbly spin past Bacary Sagna, drive a low cross into the box towards James McArthur. As with the first goal, the Scotsman’s first effort was blocked, but this time his teammate Gomez was ready to pounce, making it 2-0 after eight minutes of football.

Arsenal were shell-shocked, but quickly regained the initiative, with Tomas Rosicky looking particularly lively. Ali Al-Habsi made a superb flying save from a looping Yossi Benayoun header after sustained pressure. In the 20th minute, Rosicky shed his marker to deliver a beautifully balanced cross onto the on-running Vermaelen’s head. Al-Habsi was paralyzed, but there was little he could do such was the power behind the header.

The next stretch of play was crucial to the match as Arsenal piled on the pressure, urged to shoot on sight by their crowd. First, Van Persie struck a venomous shot straight at Al-Habsi from outside the box. Next, Johan Djorou went a fraction wide with a volleyed effort following a penalty box mixup. The key moment, however, came after James McCarthy — only seconds back on the pitch after receiving treatment for a knock — cheaply gifted Arsenal possession. With Rosicky and Van Persie bearing down on Caldwell and Al-Habsi things looked grim. But the Arsenal men fluffed their lines, not realizing it would be their best chance to equalize for the rest of the evening.

Wigan had a half chance on the stroke of half-time, with Jordi Gomez ballooning a shot from outside the box, but looked relieved to make it through the tunnel with their advantage intact.

The second half was a different beast. Arsenal dominated possession but Wigan defended exceptionally well and created three or four excellent goal-scoring opportunities. Victor Moses, who had already outwitted Bacary Sagna for the second goal, this time out-muscled him, barging into the box only to slam his effort straight at Szechzny. Minutes later, the Nigerian was barreling toward goal following a Maynor Figueroa long-throw, only to rush his shot at the Polish keeper. James McArthur, whose supply of energy and industry is bottomless, broke from his own box to release Moses down the left wing. The winger picked his head up this time, lofting a delightful far-post cross for Jordi Gomez, who mishit with his right boot.

Conor Sammon came on to replace the heroic Franco Di Santo, while Mo Diame relieved Jordi Gomez with about 10 minutes to go. Both subs made excellent contributions, injecting freshness of mind and body, providing relief for their tiring teammates. The big Senegalese midfielder might have added his name to the scoresheet in injury time after skillful dribbling opened up some space at the top of the box, but his left-footed strike failed to trouble Szechzny.

The final whistle predictably started a round of boos at the Emirates, but this was another terrific achievement for the Latics.

The Good:

We have gone from a team that needs 20 chances against weak opposition to score a goal, to a team that only needs one or two against a big team. It’s all down to confidence and a bit of luck. No one knows better than us — having spent most of the season in the relegation zone — that those two go hand-in-hand. It’s a been a pleasure and privilege to watch them come together against the biggest, most talented and most expensively assembled clubs in the land in recent weeks. The commentator assigned to the Manchester United match pointed out that Wigan’s entire starting XI costthe club  less than United’s Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea.

It’s now four wins out of five, including Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United. The 2-1 loss against Chelsea famously involved two offside goals. This is quite simply the best run of results and performances Wigan Athletic has seen at this level.

The defending had been absolutely terrific. Maynor Figueroa played the perfect match yesterday. Caldwell and Alcaraz were outstanding. Boyce and Beausejour plugged the wings. McCarthy and McArthur put in their usual shift. Di Santo works as hard for the team as any striker in the league.

No injuries or suspensions. Arsenal fouled us more than we fouled them.

The Bad:

Ironically — save for the goals — the first half was one of our weaker performances for a while. Understandable, playing away against an in-form Arsenal side. But the passing was at times sloppy, and we rode our luck in the period after Vermaelen’s goal.

Conclusions:

If you’d told me we’d get 6 points from 9 against Chelsea (away), Man United (home) and Arsenal (away) — with each of these clubs under pressure to get results for the title or a Champions League place — I wouldn’t have known how to respond. All the frustration from good performances earlier in the season that went without reward has been channeled into these characters wearing Wigan shirts. Their focus, determination, and talent is a delight to watch. Hard to imagine a prouder moment as a Latics supporter.

That said, we’re not quite there yet. The league table looks rosy, with Wolves pretty much already down and Blackburn six points behind, an inferior goal difference, and Chelsea and Spurs away in two of their last four matches. QPR also have a very difficult run-in against Chelsea, Spurs, Stoke and Man City — but like us, have produced results against the big teams that they have struggled to obtain against weaker opposition. Bolton may escape, with six winnable games to play, though they will have to improve dramatically. We face in-form sides Fulham and Newcastle, before a big one away at Blackburn, and Wolves on the final day of the season. Based of our rivals’ fixtures, three more points should do it. But there are surely a few more twists and turns to come. Lets hope Roberto’s men can maintain their superb form for another unforgettable end-of-season flourish.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 9 — Made one amazing save from a Benayoun header, and several more important blocks throughout the game. Missed a punch for one scary moment in the second half, but the man is in inspirational form. He gives his the defense and team confidence from the back.

Antolin Alcaraz: 9 — Classy, strong defender in the best form of his Wigan career.

Gary Caldwell: 9 — Did what no one else in the league has been able to do this season — kept Van Persie quiet. The Dutch striker, in jaw-dropping form of late, was limited to a couple shots from outside the box.

Maynor Figueroa: 9.5 — Hard to single out a man of the match in such a team performance, but if there is one it was him. Five or six breathtaking sliding challenges, all perfectly timed, to deny Arsenal goal-scoring opportunities. Excellent in possession, and cool as you like bringing the ball out of defense. Even managed to contribute what might have been an assist for a third goal from a long throw-in. We’re docking 0.5 points for the dangerous challenge on Theo Walcott in the second half that might have led to a red card, if a foul had been given.

Emmerson Boyce: 9 — Fantastic defensive performance. In truth, the wing-backs ended up playing more as traditional full-backs in this match. Boycey’s tackling and work-rate was great.

Jean Beausejour: 9 — Looked less comfortable in possession than usual, but did some amazing defending, keeping Theo Walcott under control most of the match. Showed he can defend.

James McArthur: 8.5 — A bulldog in midfield. Was everywhere.

James McCarthy: 8.5 — Started the attack that led to the first goal. Made one mistake that could have proven costly, but put his usual hard-working but shift in, with a touch of class in his passing here or there.

Jordi Gomez: 9 — Many were concerned when Shaun Maloney’s absence was confirmed, but the Spaniard responded by setting up Di Santo for the first goal, and scoring the second himself. Squandered a real chance in the second half, but made a crucial contribution.

Victor Moses: 9 — Ran rings around Arsenal, as he had done to Manchester United and Chelsea before that. Finishing still needs a bit of work, although his cross for the second goal was great, as was the lofted ball he played Jordi in the second half.

Franco Di Santo: 9 — Very pleased for the Argentine, who finally got the goal his effort and skill deserved. Brilliant target man play, rarely loses the ball. Rodallega is going to have a hard time breaking back into this lineup.

Roberto Martinez: 10 — When things were looking very grim indeed, towards the end of 2011, our manager decided to temporarily scrap his beloved 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 for a wing-back system that can look like a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3 depending on the players on the pitch. It immediately produced improved performances, most of which ended frustratingly in draws. But he stuck to it, brought in a player who truly specializes in that wing-back position, and has enjoyed the amazing improvement since. Roberto said we would beat Manchester United this season, that we would shed that “mental block” against the big teams. He was right.

Subs:

Conor Sammon: 8 — Great sub appearance, running around like a madman but also looking a useful outlet up front.

Mo Diame: 9 — Really enjoyed his 10 minutes on the pitch, skipping and dancing past Arsenal players as though they were training cones. Might have done better with an injury time effort — or might have walked it to the corner flag to ease our nerves! — but he is one hell of a useful substitute to bring on.