Wigan 0 Arsenal 1: Robbery or something like it

Despite the absence of eight senior players through injury, Wigan Athletic were every bit as good as their illustrious and in-form visitors on Saturday, and their supporters will be entitled to a feeling of injustice after Arsenal ran away with all three points.

Martinez’s men were once again on the wrong end of refereeing decisions that ultimately determined the match’s outcome. First, a soft penalty was awarded after Theo Walcott went down under pressure from Jean Beausejour. Next, Franco Di Santo was refused re-entry to the pitch for a full four minutes after being asked to remove an earring or something of the sort. The incident riled Di Santo up, leading to his substitution minutes later. Referee Jon Moss passed on an opportunity to make things right when Jordi Gomez’s shot clearly struck Kieran Gibbs’ hand before rebounding out.

Refereeing and result aside, this was a very strong performance by Wigan despite a totally makeshift defence. Given the unavailability of his four first choice centre-backs, Martinez alternated between a Maynor Figueroa—Emmerson Boyce partnership, and a trio boosted by the excellent James McCarthy. The Republic of Ireland international was again outstanding, dropping in as a centre-back when the team was on the back-foot, and launching attacks when the team had possession of the ball. It has been a true pleasure to watch his development even if this level of performance will inevitably shorten his stay at the club.

The Good:

Ali-Al Habsi looked back to his best, with some very sharp saves, while Emmerson Boyce and Maynor Figueroa put in excellent defensive shifts. James McCarthy was everywhere, while David Jones had his best match for the club against very high-level opponents and was unlucky not to score the equalizer with a sweetly struck left-foot shot.

The Bad:

Arouna Kone missed badly after skillfully being put through by Di Santo. He later did very well to carve out a second opportunity but shot at the Arsenal keeper’s feet. He needs to start scoring goals.

The wingbacks’ crossing was poor. Beausejour has a bad game in general, against the impressive Oxlade-Chamberlain who skinned him a number of times and limited his forays forward. Ronnie Stam was poor until suddenly coming alive in the last half hour with purposeful running down the right. The heavy conditions probably didn’t help their crossing, but Martinez needs them to start clicking soon.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 8 – That’s the Ali we know and love.

Emmerson Boyce: 8 – Disciplined and focused in his central role.

Maynor Figueroa: 8 – His best in some time. Wasn’t helped by Beausejour’s bad day, but he covered more than adequately.

James McCarthy: 8 – Excellent work-rate, and often the player to drag the team forward. Becoming a real leader.

Ronnie Stam: 6 – Poor crossing but dramatically improved in the last half hour.

Jean Beausejour: 5 – One to forget.

James McArthur: 7 – Neat, efficient.

David Jones: 8 – Excellent in midfield, didn’t put a foot wrong and almost scored.

Shaun Maloney: 7.5 – Inventive and lively.

Franco Di Santo: 7 – Had no chances, but some nice passing, including a through-ball that should have led to a goal.

Arouna Kone: 5 – Appears to have lost his confidence. Needs a goal.

Subs:

Callum McManaman: Given a big chance but looked unsure of his role and over eager, as he has done in the past. Needs a start when the team is in a more comfortable league situation, to give him time to adapt to the pace and level of play.

Jordi Gomez: Immediately involved despite the late substitution. Had two shots, one of which could easily have been given as a penalty.

Chelsea 2 Wigan Athletic 1: False result as Latics once again fall victim to unfair refereeing decisions

Twice this season, a match official has made a footballing decision so horribly incorrect that they were suspended from duty in the ensuing fixture. The first was Andre Marriner, the referee who allowed Morten Gamst Pedersen to simply run the ball in from the corner flag, producing a goal that denied Wigan Athletic a crucial three points against Blackburn Rovers. The second was linesman Dave Bryan, who on Saturday gifted Chelsea three points by allowing two offside goals to stand. Again, the victim was Wigan Athletic, who would have escaped the relegation zone with one point from this match, let alone the three they deserved.

Back in December, Wigan Athletic suffered from another blatantly incorrect decision when Conor Sammon was sent off against Manchester United for very minimal contact with Michael Carrick. When the club appealed the suspension, the FA acknowledged its mistake and rescinded the suspension, something they do not make a habit of doing. A token gesture, I suppose, but once again, Wigan emerged with no points.

Two of these incidents were so bad the Premier League decided to suspend the officials. It’s no surprise they both happened to Wigan. We are, after all, the only team in the history of hte league to have to face 1) the newly promoted teams in back-to-back fixtures on the first three gameweeks, when they are typically at their strongest 2) the traditional top four in a five match stretch.

If these refereeing “blunders” had happened — not that they would — to a wealthier, more influential team, there would surely be talk of re-playing the matches. While there was plenty of media coverage about the Pedersen incident and Chelsea’s victory on the weekend, nothing has been done about either situation to recompense Wigan the lost points they so desperately need.

While any conspiracy about the Premier League wanting rid of little Wigan and its relatively small crowds and TV market is hard to prove, the evidence available certainly points in that direction.

But lets face it — there’s probably more to it than that. First of all, there’s human error. Bigger clubs have bigger stadiums, officials are human and react to noise, abuse and threats. It’s also certainly not outside the realm of possibility that Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich — so keen on winning the Champions League — played some part in linesman Bryan’s decision-making on Saturday as his team desperately needed those three points to remain in the race for fourth place. After all, Chelsea also got a very soft penalty against Fulham last night, although it wasn’t enough to get them three points.

The tragedy is that Wigan is playing the best football it has ever played, and at the highest level. The team was outstanding against Chelsea from back to front, full of culture and quality, solidity and belief. The performance, as have many of the last 7-8, merited three points or at the very least a valuable away point against a Champions League semi-finalist.

Next up, Manchester United. If any good comes of Saturday’s disgrace, it’ll be a fair match on Wednesday. We may have conceded three illegal goals in our last two visits to Stamford Bridge, but it’s even worse against United. In addition to Conor Sammon’s bizarre sending off this season, Wayne Rooney was allowed to continue on the pitch after elbowing James McCarthy in the face last year, and Antolin Alcaraz and Hugo Rodallega were harshly sent off in the fixture before that.

It will be interesting to see how Roberto Martinez — by some distance the most eloquent and well-mannered professional in the division — is treated in the wake of his post-match comments. The Spaniard rightly vented his frustration after the match but such an approach has backfired in the past, to Paul Jewell in particular in that second season up. Given the fact that Manchester United have recently benefited from a blatantly incorrect penalty and red card decision, and Wigan have been robbed of points for two of them, one would hope whoever is given the task on Wednesday will be instructed to give — if anyone — Wigan Athletic the rub of the green.

At the end of the day, the fact is if we had the points we deserved from the Blackburn game or the Chelsea game, in which the FA deemed the official’s decisions so bad as to be punishable, we’d be closer to Aston Villa than to Bolton in the league table.

Match Report:

By now, you know what happened. But I’ll refer you to This Northern Soul’s report for a refresher.

The Good:

Everything but the result. It has been so enjoyable to watch the Latics recently and a source of real pride. The team performance was outstanding. Defensive solidity with outstanding goalkeeping. Good midfield passing which only improved when Ben Watson and Mo Diame came on, also highlighting a depth our squads have never had. These players are giving it their all, and playing with some style. Our direct rivals all lost — Bolton twice — so we didn’t lose any further ground in the table. No injuries or suspensions, minus Hugo Rodallega’s ongoing complaint.

The Bad:

The players must be gutted. Lets hope Roberto can use the sense of injustice from this most recent match as a motivator for the even bigger Manchester United fixture.  Only six games left, two of them against top teams.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 9 — Made four or five absolutely sensational saves in this match.

Maynor Figueroa: 8 — Very good defensive performance despite giving away a couple dangerous free-kicks.

Gary Caldwell: 8.5 — Once again a titan at the back. Almost won it for the Latics again in the last minute only to find himself sprinting the length of the pitch to try and prevent the goal at the other end. Which shouldn’t have stood anyway.

Antolin Alcaraz: 9 — His best performance of the season, he frustrated Drogba and stood strong in one-on-one defending. His distribution out of the back has also been very strong of late.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Unable to get forward but had his hands full and defended solidly.

Jean Beausejour: 7.5 — Showed some nice touches but was also limited in his forays forward, save one or two nice deliveries.

James McArthur: 8 — Put in the shift we have come to expect of him. Also played a delicious defense-splitting pass in the first half.

James McCarthy: 8 — Burst dangerously from midfield in the first half, something we’d love to see more of. His physical power and energy was very important.

Shaun Maloney: 7.5 — Involved in most of Latics best attacking play, he has continued to breathe fresh air and imagination into our attacking work.

Victor Moses: 9 — Chelsea had to foul him every time he got the ball. His running and dribbling was outstanding, though he was frequently isolated.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — Played his target man role well and had one golden chance to equalise after Chelsea’s first goal. What a shame it didn’t go in.

Subs:

Ben Watson: 8 — Came on as a part of a tactical switch back to the 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 line-up and showed his quality, passing the ball well and helping Wigan regain possession of the ball.

Mo Diame: 8 — Injected energy, dribbling and pace into the midfield, and scored an excellent left-footed goal to level the score.

Conor Sammon: 6 — Ran and worked hard but doesn’t have the skill on the ball Di Santo has.