Sunday, 4 December 2011

Arsenal's New Found Backbone Ends Woe at Wigan

FOR a brief moment you ­wondered if Arsenal could ­self-implode for a third time.

At 2-0 and seemingly in control you wondered if the doubts could creep in.

The evidence in front of your eyes ­ said not, but the history of this ­fixture ­suggested it was possible.

Twice in the past two seasons Arsene Wenger’s men have held similar ­advantages and twice they’ve blown it.

Two years ago, Gunners keeper Lukasz Fabianski’s gaffe saw Wigan complete a remarkable win that forced Wenger to concede the title.

Last term the collapse was less ­emphatic but ending the game with a 2-2 draw was enough for the Arsenal boss to take a passing dislike to a water bottle and boot it down the touchline.

Not this time. After home keeper Ali Al-Habsi had gifted Mikel Arteta the opener and Thomas Vermaelen had ­added a second, the Gunners stood firm.

Goals from Gervinho and, inevitably, Robin van Persie ensured another Wigan fightback was never on the cards.

Wenger said: “Wigan started well and created some dangerous situations but after ten or 15 minutes we took ­control of the game and never lost it. It was a good team performance defensively and ­offensively.

“The confidence was there and you could feel that in the way we played.

“I did have what happened in the past in my memory when it was 2-0 and they started strongly in the second half.

“But we had too much for Wigan and looked solid. We didn’t lose any battles so we were not under lots of pressure.”

There was an early scare to survive ­before they took control though.

Midfielder Dave Jones took time out from shadowing Theo Walcott to power down the left and fire in a cross.

Under pressure from Conor Sammon, Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny made a hash of punching clear.

The ball dropped to Jordi Gomez, ­ 15 yards out with the goal at his mercy.

And the Spaniard was dreaming of headlines until Andre Santos threw ­himself into a brave block to deny him. You could sense the deflation in a Wigan side not scoring enough goals to pass up easy opportunities.

In fact, their total of 12 coming into this game is less than Van Persie has scored all season.

Arsenal knew if they kept ­pushing, their opponents would crack. It’s a bad habit Wigan have developed.

What Arteta could not have expected was that the ­normally reliable ­Al-Habsi would cave in first.

He reached the edge of the area before firing a tame shot at goal which ­shockingly flew right through the ­keeper’s hands as he dived to his right.

Al-Habsi was still trying to regain his composure a minute later when ­Arsenal grabbed a second, again down to poor defending.

Van Persie’s corner reached the far post, where Vermaelen climbed above his ­marker to head in.

Arsenal needed a third goal to kill off the ­demonic thoughts no doubt fogging up their minds.

But the longer the game progressed, the less likely Wigan looked capable of ­pulling off another thrilling comeback.

Instead they were forced to resort to ­desperate defending – but the third goal finally came on the hour mark.

Taking a ­return pass from Alex Song, Van Persie made space and got off a shot that Al-Habsi could only parry.

Gervinho was in poaching mode and causally netted with a shot which bounced past the keeper.

But Van Persie was not ­going to miss out and when Walcott used his pace to get past Gary Caldwell, the Gunners skipper stroked home the pass.

Latics boss Roberto Martinez said: “We all know Arsenal, they’ve got a quality squad and real experience but ­giving them that two-goal cushion helped them to use that experience and control the tempo of the game.

“Give credit to Arsenal, we gave them the chance to take the lead and they took control from then.

“We need to learn how to react if we concede goals in this manner because there are ways to lose and I thought ­today we lost a little bit too easily in the second pa
rt of the game.”

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