Arsenal have three well-publicized match breakers in the squad: Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Aliaksandr Hleb. The former was suspected at the beginning of the season, later confirmed explosively; the second needs no introduction; the latter defying negative media expectations and doubtful Gooners to display exemplary skill and finesse with the ball.
Arsenal now have a fourth, and whether you like it or not, it’s Captain William Gallas.
A stellar block off of Steven Gerrard at Anfield, the unforgettable equaliser against Manchester United, and now, so uncharacteristic of a centre-half but so habitual for the Captain, popping up to finally break a solid defensive effort from Wigan in the 83rd minute.
He’s not like a Solskjaer-esque winner, where you know once he’s ‘sent on’, or at a certain set piece he will pop up to do something special. But the enigmatic defender is just someone who can be relied to ‘do something’ for the side, either defensively or in the attack.
His opener last night was textbook. Dribbling forward, the captain fed it to the young Dane prospect, Nicklas Bendtner. Bendtner had a touch, and put a wide throughball for the onrushing Bacary Sagna, who centered the ball well. William Gallas had kept on with his forward run, jostling between defenders to lift himself for the ball, and header perfectly across goal, past the keeper for Arsenal’s opener. His celebration emphatic, as Wenger cut a relieved, but stern figure on the sideline: That’s what I expect of you, William – nothing less.
Some still remained unconvinced of the former Chelsea defender’s captaincy. I have but this to say: The man is a gladiator – a bit short, maybe, but a warrior in defence; a team player, a passionate player. You could see it in his celebration – lap it up from the crowd; he knows what he’s just done.
Two minutes later, Rosicky was fed in by Bendtner, down the right again. Cool as you like, Rosicky smacks a bobbling daisy-cutter in off the post for 2-0. The spill-over was complete: Gallas got the Emirates rocking after a long spell of doubt, Rosicky capitalized on the short zap of momentum the team now had.
This all in the space of 150 seconds. The whole of the match prior to the fireworks was a different story altogether.
Wigan had one thing in mind, and it was defensive solidity first and foremost. It’s difficult to write without a tinge of bias against defensive teams – it only ever seems admirable when the team ‘finally succumbs to so much pressure’ and concedes late on after a defensive work out – but such is the way of our writing. For the record, Arsenal’s ‘successful’ defensive game plan in the 2005 FA Cup Final was shocking to watch, and the only reason they deserved to win it was because of a perfect penalty shootout that should never have happened.
So, with attitudes now official with regards to defensive tactics, let’s start again. Wigan came out to defend in numbers, with soon-to-be-appointed manager Steve Bruce watching on from the stands. The team Arsenal sent out was largely as predicted, with Walcott starting up front in favour of Eduardo, who began on the bench.
The Arsenal goalkeeper Almunia had no saves to make (despite a few scares) as Arsenal held a monopoly of chances in the first half. Lassana Diarra had the first half-chance after 14 minutes, when he hit a long drive over the bar after Adebayor’s knock down. Chances followed in the half, with Adebayor linking well with Walcott to have a shot saved; Rosicky shooting wide and Walcott shooting over.
The second half saw Arsenal only starting their engines on the hour mark, with Adebayor dispossessed in the box by the advancing Wigan defence. The Emirates had an air of despair to it, with the buildup play not amounting to much on several occassions. Arsenal eventually got their break, and the crowd’s reaction made the rest history.
No comprehensive ratings today, just some players of note. Firstly, Lassana Diarra was always going to be under the looking glass with Fabregas, Flamini and Gilberto unavailable. The midfielder was bustling and in the thick of many moves Arsenal pulled off. His work was hugely complimented by the pace and lingering danger of Theo Walcott, who’s quick darting runs into the box and flanks made hard work for the Wigan defence.
It is good to see Rosicky on the scoresheet again, but let’s hope to hell that he avoids an injury recurrence, which usually follows a Rosicky goal. One concern from the match was an injury Theo Walcott picked up after a tackle from Emile Heskey – though Wenger says that the young English forward should be fine. Like we needed more injuries at this present moment.
Gallas has been mentioned already, but he deserves every inch of praise coming his way. A special mention, I feel, must be made to Nicklas Bendtner, however. He came on as late as the 80th minute and was involved in both moves that ended in Arsenal goals. His close control was evident in the buildup to Gallas’ goal, and his pace and eye for a pass manifested itself in an assist to Tomas Rosicky for the second. The young, tall Dane has some calibre to be involved in a match to that extent after coming on with only 10 minutes remaining.
After the game, Wenger had nothing but praise for Arsenal’s captain, saying he is a special defender able to sense a scoring opportunity arising in a match.
“I think he is a forgotten centre-forward, because he is always in the right place in the box. It was a great header. He smells where you have to be in the box on set pieces or even in the open game. He has fantastic quality.“
As there was a lot of frustration watching so much Arsenal build-up and approach play nullified by a Wigan defence, it is for this reason alone that William Gallas gets Man of the Match from Third-Gen. Arsene’s insistance that his team remain playing to his system will stand them in good stead in the long run, but every now and then you need someone to pop up and be counted for the good of the team. The Captain was that man today, as he has been before. Fully deserved.
In other news, Brian Barwick is personally consulting Arsene Wenger about who should take on the reigns for the English manager’s job, and Alex Ferguson really does have an amazing side. Really, really the best you’ve ever had, Alex.
On that note, let’s take a quick look at the rest of the Big4™. Liverpool demolished Newcastle 3-0 at St James’ Park, which will teach the pathetic Barcode fans a lesson or two. Should Liverpool win their game in hand, they will equal Manchester United for points, and remain undefeated. Chelsea beat Derby 2-0 at Pride Park, but will miss Essien for a number of matches after he was red-carded for elbowing an opponent. Manchester United succumbed to the mighty Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok, with former Arsenal prodigy Anelka hitting the solitary goal. Ferguson is now rabbiting on about how Manchester United need ‘more protection’ against Bolton – the same man who once remarked Wenger and co. need to ‘grow up’ if theyre going to play the hard knocks English game.
About as much sympathy for Ferguson there as a certain former-Australian Prime Minister, then. Hope you’re all happy and dry. Off to fix a buggered computer – the thrills of human existance.