Football can often dictate the mood I carry with me for the rest of the day in my more normal life. AC Milan saw me buzzing for the whole weekend leading up to Wigan, and life’s cruel balance just had to see that come crashing down, didn’t it?
Truth be told, I had quite an excellent day, in spite of a very frustrating stalemate between Wigan Athletic and Arsenal. With Manchester United and Chelsea fluffing their lines very badly in the FA Cup, this was a chance to pull four points clear at the top of the table.
Instead, we’ve only managed two points. The opening exchanges did not suggest this would be so, when, in the opening minute, Adebayor was sent sprinting clear after a lovely through-ball from Fabregas. Adebayor had only the keeper to beat, but shot straight at Kirkland, with the onrushing Bendtner unable to get to the rebound.
Watching the replays of the effort, Adeebayor was made to run at full tilt to keep at paces with the pass, and it was more than likely that any attempt to play past the keeper first would have either been overhit or predicted. The game-theories would have all played through the striker’s mind, so one cannot fault the decision to shoot first.
Wigan captain Mario Melchiot was having the kind of match that made him so great for Chelsea in the heyday, blocking a goal-bound shot from Adebayor when the striker found himself in the clear once more. Some lovely interplay between Hleb and Fabregas eventually saw Nicklas Bendtner free down the right channel, only for the ball to bobble over a lump in the pitch to mess up the striker’s attempted cross back towards the goal mouth.
If truth be told, this was the only real incident where the pitch affected the players, but throughout the game the pace of passing was slower than the pinging-between-the-players we are usually accustomed to, and this allowed Wigan to keep up with Arsenal throughout. Fabregas was able to send a header towards the far post, but Kirkland did well to palm it away for a corner.
The second half did not see much change to the match’s momentum. Clichy sent in an aerial pass (nullifying the awful excuse for a pitch) which was floated too far for Adebayor, but Scharner incorrectly decided to head it out of goal straight to Adebayor, whose first-time volley had a sense of panic to it, and was well saved by a stranded Kirkland. Given that the one-on-one at the start of the match did not give Adebayor that many choices, perhaps his scuffed volley can be considered the chance that went begging.
That mistake from the defender aside, Scharner showed what a player he is for Wigan, today. He and Melchiot proved too much as a unit for Arsenal on the day, and his adaptability in midfield is something to be admired in past weeks.
Robin van Persie and Kolo Toure made their returns from injury for Arsenal; the former had a glow of expectation around him that comes from spending too many months on the injury table. The big Dutchman tried his luck from distance in his first exchange, but boomed it over the crossbar.
A love exchange occured involving Toure, Hleb, Adebayor and finally Fabregas – a typically flowing Arsenal move of clever angles and one-touch movement, but Kirkland smothered Fabregas’ shot at goal from close range.
The dying minutes were all-Wigan, extinguishing any hope of a last minute goal, and all in all it was pretty frustrating stuff out there. Breaking up Flamini and Fabregas’ central partnership might have been necessary, but you cant help think that Gilberto on the right wing (he did play there once upon a time) instead of in central midfield may have been worth a try instead.
Instead, Gilberto had an average game where he put in a few dangerous and probing passes but then got swallowed up by the bog of a pitch on other times. Aliaksandr Hleb was the other player to not enjoy himself out there, putting so many passes straight at defenders instead of onto players looking for a run – his first ‘stinker’ of a game in a long while, certainly.
The other dissapointment was an isolated one with Gallas – the defence played quite well today, again, but in the closing minutes of injury time, with Wigan dominant, Gallas had advanced up the field hoping for a ball that did not come. When the play broke to the Arsenal-goal-bound Wigan, Gallas failed to return to the backline to help out his defence; Wigan having two attempts at goal in that time with Fabregas eventually forced to clip the ball over his own crossbar for a corner.
In the end: two points dropped. Wenger said of his team’s effort in a post-match conference:
“It was a difficult game and we were focussed. We prepared ourselves mentally to face a difficult pitch and we still had the chances to win the game. Overall we did what we could and gave everything.“
And in my opinion, that’s exactly right. Reviewing the chances this team had, there was not much more they could have done. Wigan deserved their draw after playing to Arsenal’s strengths and weaknesses, nothing much went our way on the day, and Arsenal were lucky to escape a handball appeal on Fabregas in the dying seconds.
Arsenal’s destiny reamins very much in the players own hands, however. Potentially Manchester United could go a point ahead should they win their next match against Bolton (away), but having still to travel to Chelsea and United, the league is not over yet.
It will be difficult. Winning the championship always is. But I want players like Flamini to acknowledge that kind of challenge, which he has done duly so:
“…you cannot moan. You just have to score goals and we didn’t so now we have to work harder in training and be ready for Middlesbrough. It’s always difficult especially after big games like Milan, you need to be 200 per cent concentrated. But we had five days to recover.
We missed a little bit in the final part. But it’s like that sometimes. We have the quality and we are strong so we just have to keep going.“
The tenacious midfielder’s graft will have to prove infectious in the coming months – I still believe that both trophies the club find itself chasing are doable.
It just requires us fans to keep the faith, end this ‘slump’ (involving no defeats, mind you) against Middlesbrough, and take it from there.
This team can still improve, and it still is going places. More tomorrow – so who’s feeling a little sick?