Arsenal (0) 2 - 1 (0) Wigan Athletic|
(1 - 0 after 90 minutes)
Highbury, Tuesday 24th January 2006
League Cup semi-final, second leg
(1-0 to Wigan after first leg)
Gilbert Campbell Senderos Lauren
Hleb (Pires 69) Gilberto Diaby (Flamini 45) Reyes
Henry (van Persie 79) Bergkamp
Not an unusual story, sadly: Arsenal played better and fully deserved to win
this match, but conceded a late soft goal and had no time to recover. Wigan
deserved the win overall, over the 2 legs, and we wish them luck in the final.
What's disappointing to me is not so much the loss (the fielding of a strong
line-up doesn't persuade me to start caring about the competition) but the fact
that it was such a strong side. On paper, anyway. Johan Djourou, for one,
has played superbly in recent appearances, and surely deserved to continue in this
competition at least. I'm not sure that we wouldn't have been stronger with him
alongside Phillipe_Senderos instead of Sol Campbell. And given that this has
been Robin van Persie's competition this year, surely he should have started or
at least come on earlier than the 79th minute, even if he was only recently
returned from injury?
As it was, Manuel Almunia for Jens Lehmann and new boy Abou Diaby for
Mathieu Flamini were the only concessions to "worthlessness".
Wigan had the better of the early stages, when there were attacks at both ends
but only the visitors were getting shots off.
The first real chance came after 13 minutes when a slip from Senderos let
Jason Roberts through, and his square ball found Mahon just inside the box
but he scuffed his shot straight at Almunia. A minute later Thierry Henry did really
well up the left hand side to hang onto the ball while support arrived. He
played it back to Alex Hleb who brought the ball forward into the box
and fired a shot only to see Henchoz throw himself in the way to block for
Halfway through the first half Henry won a penalty when he had the ball
outside the box on the left and chipped it square only for Henchoz to use a hand
to stop it (well, it his his hand at least). Payback for his save at Cardiff?
Sadly no. Jose Reyes stepped up to take the penalty (curious, I thought Henry
had said he'd go back to taking them all?) and placed it low to the keeper's
left, and the keeper (Mike Pollitt) guessed right and dived to make the save.
Arsenal began to dominate. Dennis Bergkamp's high shot from a couple of yards outside
the D forced a good save from Pollitt, who followed up with a save from Henry
a couple of minutes later.
Henry's teasing of the defence on the left ended with him being hacked down
by Scharner, who'd been booked already and was very very lucky only to get
a talking-to for this one. Henry tried to score from the free kick but
it was a very long way out and an easy save. Moments later Henry found himself
with the ball on the left again, this time he brought it close to goal and
shot from a narrow angle with the outside of his right boot, only for the
advancing Pollitt to make a good save with his feet.
Near the end of the first half Henchoz clearly blocked Reyes' run into
the box but nothing was given. We can't complain too much because they'd
had a couple of decent penalty shouts themselves. Then Almunia spilled a
catch and Teale's effort had to be cleared from the crowded box, and in injury time
Bullard fed Roberts who forced a good one-handed save from Almunia. From
the resulting corner, the final action of the half,
Scharner headed goalwards only to see it cleared off the line.
Abou Diaby was looking very interesting, and you could see where the
comparisons with Patrick Vieira have come from with his lanky style
and some classy bits of possession and passing. He linked up nicely with
Gilberto too. But he was brought off at half time for Flamini.
Early in the second half Pollitt diid just enough to stop a shot from Henry,
then Teale's cross found Roberts who headed narrowly over the bar. Then on
53 Reyes' pass found Henry on the right but Pollitt was equal to him again.
Soon after, Reyes again assisted Henry, but the skipper's goalbound shot was
Then on 65 minutes we got the aggregate equaliser. Henry scored it but, as he
acknoledged in celebrating, it was Kerrea Gilbert's goal. His superb
overlapping run down the right was missed by the defender, and he received the ball
level with the edge of the box and raced to the goal-line before setting up a
perfect cross for Henry, who'd been left unmarked right in front of goal and
scored with a simple header.
Wigan didn't give up though, knowing that one goal would make Arsenal have
to score another two. Johansson, on from the bench, forced a good low save from
Almunia with a header. Then Roberts had a great chance when Teale cut the ball back
from the goal-line, but he was off-balance and could only side-foot it past
With 10 minutes of normal time Henry was taken off for van Persie, with
the former appearing to be limping somewhat as he left.
With 3 minutes to go one of the best chance of the game fell to Campbell,
but the ball was bouncing up as he struck from a few yards inside the box
and he got right under it. He probably had time to take a bit more time
but it was a crowded box in front of him and it made sense to take it
Wigan started extra time better. Campbell had to make a terrific sliding tackle
to deny Roberts after the striker had beaten Senderos. Up the other end Bergkamp
rounded the keeper and looked bound to score, only for Pollitt to recover and
make a superb fingertip save.
Three minutes after the break, Pires won a free kick just outside the box
and van Persie curled an unstoppable shot inside the top right corner.
Wigan came back at us, with Roberts and Chimbonda having half chances,
and Bergkamp nearly made it safe only to see Pollitt save with his legs again.
Then with just a minute to go, Senderos and Campbell got confused by a speculative
ball forward for Roberts, and Roberts jumped on the unexpected chance to
drive the ball home from close range. Memories of the goal we lost
to in the recent Everton
game, I'm afraid. Senderos and Campbell don't look right together, have they
ever? They both look better with Kolo Toure alongside them which, if nothing
else, tells you something about Toure. It'll be interesting to see him alongside
Djourou sometime because presumably, unless we buy in that department, Toure, Djourou
and Senderos will be the main three next season.
So, at least the distraction of this competition is over. We're "free to concentrate
on" the FA Cup this weekend. Although, by the sound of it, for some reason we're
going to take that game less seriously in terms of line-up than we did this one. I'm not one to question Wenger's policies as a rule, but can't help wondering what's happened to our priorities.
So what if the League Cup is the only domestic competition he's not won: surely that's only because he hasn't cared about it in the past? Henry and Campbell should have been on the bench.