Arsenal (0) 2 - 1 (1) Wigan Athletic|
Ashburton Grove, Sunday 11th February 2007
Hoyte (Flamini 67) Toure Djourou (Adebayor 51) Clichy
Walcott (Aliadiere 67) Gilberto Cesc Rosicky
Another amazing comeback at the Grove. Arsenal are really spoiling us
with these thrilling games, but like I said before it's exactly what
the stadium needed to get the atmosphere going. Maybe all these starts
we've been giving have been a strategy?
Wigan did really well, playing in a way that belied they're bottom
4 position. And they got the wrong end of a
couple of bad decisions from the linesmen, of course (I don't see how the
ref could have given either the penalty or offside calls that have caused
so much kerfuffle, but more of that later). Many pundits are letting
the fact that Wigan were ahead for a long time, and that a few decisions
went against them, persuade them that Wigan were in some way the better
team. Utter rot. Leaving those bad decisions aside, Arsenal were massively
better and well deserving of the win. But I think most Arsenal fans
will be wishing Wigan well for their upcoming rearranged game against Watford
(Wednesday 21st). A win
in that 6-pointer and they'll be 8 points clear of the drop zone. They
can beat Watford, no problem. Good luck.
So, to the game.
Arsenal started better. In the first 3 minutes 3 balls into the box nearly created
goals. First Thierry Henry for Julio Baptista, then Tomas Rosicky for Theo Walcott,
then Baptista for (I think) Henry. Then Wigan out a nice break together which
ended with a cross from their left which Justin Hoyte glanced on at the near post,
sending it too far beyond the far one for Heskey to be able to control it.
Cesc Fabregas took an early knock to a knee (it looked like) and struggled for a
while but seemed to run it off ok. Won't be a surprise to see him rested in the FA Cup
replay against Bolton on Wednesday though.
Walcott played a nice one-two with Henry then shimmied past Baines to get into
space. His first cross was poor and blocked on the near side of the box
(Rosicky was the obvious ball, being in space further back). The ball came back
to Walcott and the time he hit the cross far too strong for Henry.
It became apparent that we were preferring the right wing. Perhaps because
Baines was seen as a weak point defensively, or a strong point offensively and hence
one to keep pressed back as much as possible. And perhaps to give Walcott as
much of the play as possible. It was noticeable before the start that
the skipper spent a good while taking to Walcott.
While Theo did as usual play some poor final balls, he also played some
good ones, more than usual I thought. And he's definitely coming in from
the wing more these days which can only be a good thing.
His next cross was low and too far in front of Baptista's run into the box,
but the Beast recovered the ball beyond the box on the left and played it
back to Rosicky whose shot produced an easy save for Kirkland.
On 10 minutes Landzaat hit a snap shot which Jens Lehmann saved low to his right.
Up the other end 3 minutes later Henry slipped a beautiful ball into the box for
Rosicky, threading it through 3 defenders, but Tomas's first-time shot
only found the side-netting.
On 15, Baptista put Walcott clear down the wing again. This time
his cross was perfect for Henry in space on the edge of the 6 yard box
at the far post, but the skipper lifted the ball over the bar when it
looked a certain goal.
Wigan broke well again, up their left with Baines. He checked inside Hoyte
a bit too easily but hit his cross/shot straight into Lehmann's arms at the near post.
Arsenal still had more pressure though. Baptista kept possession on the
edge of the box brilliantly then played it wide for Theo. Another decent
cross from the lad, this time nodded on by Rosicky but beyond the far post.
Toure charged forward and played a one-two with Theo to get into the box,
but was denied by Heskey's good defending - the fact that their striker had to defend against our centreback a
good reflection of how Wigan were approaching the game. They were defending
deep but getting forward well on the rare occasions that they could. As
time went on, those occasions became more frequent.
At the midpoint of the first half there was some nice play from
Gael Clichy up the left wing (at last!). He came infield
and found Baptista who won a free kick. Henry curled it to the left post but
Kirkland saw it and made a comfortable save.
Walcott beat Baines again and put another decent cross over, but
Henry had strayed offside. Then Rosicky swung a diagonal cross into
the box from the left and which Boyce should have cleared easily but
instead air-kicked allowing the ball to come through for Henry. But
Henry was surprised by it and hadn't made the move, the ball going out beyond the
Toure picked up a yellow card for a late tackle on Heskey. It was late, but not malicious and well in the Wigan half. A bizarre booking. Wigan got forward again
and Baines again put a cross over from their left which led to a free kick
presumably for a perceived foul on Lehmann. But Lehmann had just come out and flapped
at the ball, with a peculiar sideways star jump which I guess made the
ref assume he'd been fouled.
Then on 35 minutes they got the opening goal. Against the run of play overall but
after a spell when Wigan had clearly been getting more adventurous. The
winger beat Clichy on the left, the cross was cleared towards the edge of the box
initially by Toure and
then by a stretching poke from :Johan_Djourou. Both were good defensive touches,
but the ball landed at the feet of the Dutchman Landzaat who took one touch to set
it up and then let fly with a stunning 25 yarder which swerved inside Lehmann's right hand
Wigan started their time-wasting immediately. Heskey was given offside and
McCullouch picked the ball up and walked off with it. We got it back off him
and tried to take the free kick quickly, but the ref made us go back
and take it from the right place. Correct of him, I'm sure. But hadn't he
noticed what McCullouch did? Didn't seem to do anything about it, and
his failure to deal with their time-wasting became a significant theme for the rest
of the game, leading in the end to pathetic calls for an apology from Henry (of which more, later).
On 40 minutes McCullouch got his head to a high ball into the box and
it came through to Aghahowa. Stretching for it as the ball came down
at the far post, he only managed to lift the ball high over the bar.
Probably should have done better, could have killed us off.
Then Henry went up the left, skinned his marker and raced along the goal line into
the box. He went down and the ref gave nothing. This was right up the
other end of the pitch so I can't say what happened, but I'm assuming
that this was the incident everyone's calling a dive from Henry and
assuming they're right then of course we can't condone it and am
very glad that we got no penalty and were able instead to go on to win in
an uncontroversial way. Ahem.
Kirkland had to come to the edge of the box to clear with Gilberto bearing down on
the ball. Then in the last second of the first 45 minutes Wigan had another
great chance to go 2 up. Heskey was put clear through on Lehmann, on
their left of our box. He tried to pass it beyond Lehmann inside the far post but
the keeper got a fingertip on the ball, which just did enough to send
it onto that post and the ball bounced out to where Lehmann was able to fall on it.
Lucky with the rebound, but well-deserved by a breathtaking save.
Up the other end in injury time, Clichy hit a hanging cross over from the left
and Henry headed it wide. Another very good chance missed, it looked
from the other end of the pitch like Thierry had jumped too early and
lost a bit of control as a result.
Arsenal came out first for the second half, led by Henry, and you could
just see that they were right up for the fight.
Baptista's shot was deflected towards the left corner and Rosicky
chased a defender after it, but lost out and then got lucky not
to be booked when he hacked the full back down fronm behind in frustration.
Djourou went down clutching his face and was led off the pitch by
Gary_Lewin. It looked like the young Swiss defender was desperate
to get back on the pitch but they quickly decided a sub was needed.
Turns out he has a broken nose.
On came Emmanuel Adebayor, with
Gilberto falling back to cover Djourou's position and Baptista dropping
back to midfield. But before the substitution, while we were down to 10 men,
Heskey nearly scored again. He beat the offside trap of a dozy (and depleted)
defence, getting into the box on their right. But then he was guilty of
dozing a bit himself. Rather than hitting an early shot he gave Lehmann
time to come out to him, and in getting the shot past the keeper Heskey only
managed to lift it over the bar.
Clichy went on a terrific dribble through the middle but lost his footing on
the edge of the box trying to get past the last 3 defenders (he'd already beaten as many).
We had a couple of corners leading to easy takes for Kirkland. We had lots of corners
and, as usual, few of them were any good.
Adebayor was on the left wing a lot. One time it led to a frantic bit
of play around the edge of the box, the ball popping out to Baptista
who dragged his shot badly, way beyond Kirkland's left hand post.
Kirkland had already been taking ages over his goalkicks, and it was only
getting worse. Henry was giving him verbals over it.
33 minutes to go and ood battling from Henry won the ball back. he went right,
to the goalline, and cut it back for Walcott who messed up his shot from the D.
3 minutes later the Australian defender Skoko hit a great shot from just outside the box
after a poor clearance from Hoyte, but it flew just over the bar. Up the
other end Rosicky brought the ball in from the left, looking for space
for a shot from the edge of the box which. He found it eventually but
dragged the shot short of the near post.
Halfway through the half amd Arsene Wenger made a double substiution,
bringing on Matthieu Flamini and Jeremie Aliadiere as direct replacements for
Hoyte and Walcott respectively.
Henry broke forward superbly, Clichy joined him and took it forward some more,
then tried a 2 yard sideways pass for Henry in the D which a defender just managed
to cut out.
18 minutes to go and Adebayor got put through clear on Kirkland, bringing the falling ball
under control with a blissful touch, then
slipping the ball under the keeper and into the net. But the whistle had gone for
offside and replays (apparently) show it to be a very tight decision indeed.
Arsenal were totally ascendant. So much so that our defenders were pretty much all
playing as attackers. We had one break up the left wing that involved
Gilberto and Toure - both our centrebacks!
With 12 minutes to go Heskey was put through and into the box coming in
at the right corner. Flamini was with him and Heskey went down as soon
as there was contact. Fair enough, though, there had been contact. But
the ref gave nothing (he had no sight of it to be fair, but the linesman was in
perfect position to see the foul). A lucky escape from a penalty and
red card for Matty.. a very lucky escape because it was super-sub Flamini who
went on to turn the game in the next few minutes.
First, less than a minute after the penalty claim, it was Matty's foul on
Skoko which led to the defender being taken off for treatment. He was
ok though and very soon Wigan had him on the touchline calling for the
ref to wave him back on. But the ref delayed, and Wigan are right to say that
there was no particular reason not to let the player back.
As this was going on Adebayor, just outside the box, slipped a great pass forward to the
left, between the full back and centreback, seeing the storming run which Matty had
made all the way from defence. Matty got to a couple of yards from the
touchline and blasted the ball low across the face of goal. Henry was
coming in for it but Fitz Hall's lunge got there first and turned the
ball in for a very well-worked own goal for Arsenal. Apparently replays showed that when Adebayor played the ball through, Matty had been marginally but definitely offside. Shame.
Henry picked the ball out of the net and took it to Kirkland as if to say, "here, do you
want to hang onto it for a bit now!!!??". I think it's this
that people are saying he should apologise for. Sad people. This
thing between Henry and Kirkland, which ran almost throughout the game,
was niggly but never really aggressive. It's all part of the entertainment, surely?
No-one was harmed, but Henry picked up a yellow card and I guess it was for this.
Skoko was allowed back on.
2 minutes later Henry almost got the winner. A high ball into the box was flicked
on by Adebayor's head and fell for Henry, but he had to stretch a long way as
he fell, and poked the ball well wide.
Then with 6 minutes to go we did get the winner and a classic goal
it was too. Clichy, awesome again, started it on the left wing. He
played the ball infield a bit for Rosicky who brought it forward towards the
box. He passed it to Adebayor in the D and continued his run into the
box. Adebayor played the same ball as before, splitting the centreback and
left back. Flamini was in the area but so was Baptista and this time it
was the Beast who blasted the cross over, a high one this time which
Rosicky met to head home with a flick from point blank range. His first
Premiership goal and well worthy of celebrating with a kiss of the badge and
a run to the crowd.
He got booked for that, which seemed
harsh as he only ran the crowd for a haoorah and then straight back
As the clock ran down, Lehmann saw the chance for a bit of piss-taking
when he had a goal kick to take.
First he kind of threw the ball away to the crowd and had to go get it back.
Then he did the thing where you place the ball at one end of the 6 yard line and changing his
mind to move it to the other end. Just the kind of thing that Wigan and
Kirkland in particular had been doing for an hour. Very deliberate, and
in my mind pretty funny. He may be a mentalist but I love it when he
does things like this (or like the comical dive in response to Drogba's
dive, when we drew at
Chelsea back in December... another game which the sometimes-maligned
Flamini has a major role in). Who says Germans don't have a sense of humour?
Lehmann got booked for this, and now misses a match for getting 5 yellow cards in
the season. It'll be a cup game, which he wouldn't have been picked for anyway
(assuming no injury to Manuel Almunia), which does raise the possibility that
Lehmann's actions were not only funny, but tactically astute.
Brilliant game. I hope that all the neutrals who are bleating about
how Wigan were 'cheated' out of a point or three are doing so because they
the kind that enjoy moaning. This was a dramatic and exciting game with
3 great goals, loads of character and incident, loads to talk about, with a plucky lesser
side almost pulling off a memorable victory but class telling in the end.
For me, this was what the Premiership's all about.