3, 2, 1…You’re back in the gloom.

Sebastien Squillaci of Arsenal

Alas, the joy has come to an end. Afterall, it did all seem too good to be true. Trouncing Chelsea, obliterating the proverbial monkey off our backs and gallivanting optimistically, and yet cautiously to Wigan was never going to have the happy ending Theo Walcott called for post-Chelsea. Once again Arsenal exercised their enduring belief that doing things the easy way is just no fun at all. And so, rather than being joint top this morning, third place will have to do, and dropped points may continue to be the mantra for our season.

The team-sheet for last night’s match was revealed 50 minutes before kick-off, and it may have taken the entirety of that period to have momentarily ceased to be a cause for dispute. 8 changes were made to the team that beat Chelsea so impressively on Monday night, but understandably due to the torrent of fixtures over the Christmas period. Many of the players who worked tirelessly on Monday were rested, with Song and Van Persie permitted the luxury of resting in the capital and Cesc unavailable due to suspension. On paper, and in the mind of the manager, those deputising should have been entirely capable of returning south with all three points, and the necessity to use the whole squad must not be a cause for pessimism. Instead the layout of the side was concerning, in particular Nicklas Bendtner’s role as one of the wide players in a front three.

Thus it was unsurprising that the team started slowly, unable to replicate the electrifying intensity of Monday night, and similarly lacking the hunger displayed by Walcott when talking of the importance of this match. Worrying, and suggestive of a lack of communication against the squad even behind the scenes. The tempo was slow, lethargic even as Diaby, making a first start in over 2 months, displayed a characteristic languor at the Centre of a midfield trio sparse in the dynamism and bite of Wilshere, Cesc and Song. One of the most culpable players of an inconsistent season, Sebastian Squillaci was also recalled into the side, presumably allowing Djourou the time to rest as he is still rehabilitating from a lengthy injury period. Typically it was the combination of the former, and his hapless centre-half companion Laurent Koscielny, which provided Wigan with the best chance of the night early on. Tom Cleverley pounced on a mix-up between the pair and with Koscielny dazed after a collision with Rodallega, whipped in a sumptuous cross only for the striker to mistime his leap and connect with his hand rather than forehead. It was an early let off for Arsenal, and drew an immediate response as Rosicky found Arshavin in space, only for the enigmatic Russian to fire over.

Mid-way through the first Wigan capitalised on continuously ineffective offensive play from the Gunners by taking the lead, albeit in controversial fashion. As Charles N’Zogbia cut in from the right, his darting run took him past Koscielny and, on observing the defender’s flailing leg, took it upon himself to collapse after minimal contact. Seeing as this occurred on the edge of the box, rather than inside it, Lee Probert was far too rash in awarding Wigan a penalty and set the tone for an unconvincing refereeing performance. Ben Watson confidently hammered home to break the deadlock.

Moments later Diaby was substituted for Wilshere with a fresh injury woe, and it was far from an oddity that this was to act as a blessing in disguise. It’s somewhat vexing that, amongst a team of seasoned internationals, an 18 year old is needed to provide some cohesion, drive and most of all, passion. However the young man is a treasure, and continued to establish himself on the main stage with an impressive performance. Despite a continued defensive fallibility, epitomised by the ease with which Wigan’s frontline instilled panic with routine offensive moves, Arsenal began to re-establish themselves in the game and then bang, and bang bang, the deficit was overhauled. The first was provided by a lovely looped pass from Chamakh and a well-saved effort from Bendtner, yet was all about Arshavin’s divine finish. Connecting with the air-born rebound, the Russian twisted his body to execute a perfect scissor kick. Those who had been complaining of his previous ineffectiveness were silenced, and somehow seem to miss the point. In order to gain the most from this player, patience is a must, and will be rewarded. After scoring himself, the Russian impressed further by supplying Bendtner who, after bundling his way through two challenges, finished comfortably. A tidy goal, yet one which fails to vindicate his role on the wing or make up for a constant clumsiness. I suspect Arsene will not hurriedly turn to the combination of Bendtner and Chamakh again, as the pair failed to combine nor penetrate Wigan’s defence.

Typically, and continuously worryingly, Arsenal refused to attempt to score a 3rd or 4th goal in the second half which would not only have secured the 3 points, but make up some ground on United’s goal difference. Inevitably this was punished in the final moments, even despite Wigan losing a man. Mike Dean, the fourth official on this occasion, was the one who seemed to spot N’Zogbia’s reckless headbutt on Wilshere, and the Frenchman deserved to be sent off. It was an act of foolishness and should have been capitalised on, yet instead it was a Wigan corner which caused the final twist. Majestically kept in play by Rodallega, Squillaci was unable to avoid heading it into his own night as he fought to outmuscle Stephen Caldwell. It was unfortunate, yet an indictment of his season and the continuing curse of the Arsenal number 18 shirt; Pascal Cygan; Mikael Silvestre; Sebastian Squillaci. All Centre-Backs, all French, all clueless.

Even with this final moment of stereotypically poor set-piece defending, the 3 points may have been obtained had Lee Probert noticed James McArthur’s blatant handball as he jumped to block Nasri’s last minute free-kick. Nasri, who incidentally should have been introduced far earlier than the 82nd minute as ball retention progressively became harder, was adamant that McArthur handled, as was the home-bound Cesc Fabregas. The captain, penalised for an almost identical incident against Spurs, bemoaned the inconsistency of referees on his Twitter page. Inconsistency, then, as the constant scourge to our season.


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