When we lost 2-1 against QPR a couple of weeks ago it was easy to throw around the C-word. No, not the one that so wonderfully describes John Terry, but complacency. After last night’s 2-1 defeat to Wigan it’s C-word time again: this time, Consistency.
Our tenuous connection with this word is summed up beautifully by Theo Walcott who this week spoke about how he seeks consistency but has only managed it ‘in patches’. Seriously. It is something we’ve struggled with for quite some time, good results followed by poor ones, and last night we weren’t helped by the loss of one of our most consistent players, Mikel Arteta.
The Spaniard hobbled off just after Wigan scored their first goal, and while I’m not suggesting his replacement is to blame, you’re always going to miss one of your best, most experienced performers. And it was a couple of mad minutes which cost Arsenal the game. After a bright start which saw Vermaelen crack one not far wide from distance and Al Habsi save from a Benayoun header, the visitors went ahead.
From an Arsenal corner Bacary Sagna unusually gave the ball away, Wigan tore up the other end of the field and despite Szczesny almost keeping it out, di Santo poked it home. Classic counter-attacking stuff from Wigan and very effective too. It seemed to knock us sideways for a couple of minutes and they took advantage. Victor Moses left Sagna with a wonderful piece of skill before firing in a low cross which rebounded for Szczesny to claim. As he got hands on it, Jordi Gomez arrived, poked it underneath him then poked home the ball when it squirmed out the other side. 2-0 Wigan and we looked a bit all at sea.
Yet 2-0 down at home is not unfamiliar territory for us this season. We came back to win against Villa in the FA Cup and Sp*rs in the league, and with 80+ minutes left there was more than enough time to do something about it. Thomas Vermaelen pulled one back in the 21st minute after a fine Rosicky cross, and we made plenty of chances in the first half.
Al Habsi saved again from a Benayoun header, as well as from a van Persie shot from distance, Djourou fizzed one just wide from the edge of the box, Rosicky and van Persie combined but the skipper’s final pass was a little behind the Czech whose shot went over, Santos showed great skill to make space in the box but his final shot with his right foot was high, and Song had a brilliant chance to play in Walcott but over-hit his pass.
Even in the early stages of the second half we had opportunities to level. Twice Santos shots were blocked, the second time the rebound fell just behind van Persie who was free at the back post for a tap in. And when van Persie crossed from the left and found Santos on the six yard line his stabbed effort went wide when it looked easier to score.
Wigan still posed a threat when they got forward, Moses was impressive all night I have to say but when he went clean through it was a case of ‘Thou shalt not score’ as he took his shot too early. Gervinho was thrown on for Benayoun and did little of note, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on in midfield but showed he’s still got much to learn despite the obvious raw talent he possesses.
Some will talk about Wigan’s time-wasting but I’ve got no issue with that at all. Who would blame them in the slightest? If the ref was serious about dealing with it he might have added more injury time or booked Al Habsi earlier to ensure he didn’t delay his kick-outs, but a team scrapping for their lives and 2-1 up are hardly going to rush about just to suit us. It’s a convenient distraction from an Arsenal performance that was, by recent standards, below par, and which showed our finger is never too far away from the defensive self-destruct button.
Credit to Wigan though, they played with real desire and intelligence and it’d be nice to see a real footballing team survive the drop. Consecutive wins over Arsenal and Man United don’t happen by accident so fair play to them.
Afterwards, Arsene said:
We made it difficult for ourselves because we had quite a good start but we defended horrendously for the first and second goals. I felt in the first half we had enough chances to come back to 2-2, but the second half we dropped our level, lost our team play, our cohesion and tried too much individually.
The final point is a good one because it was very noticeable how, in the second half, certain players were guilty of overplaying, of trying to force things when there were better options available. I felt Song and Oxlade-Chamberlain were especially guilty of this, which meant we kept turning possession over which prevented us from building the pressure on a Wigan side we should have been forcing further and further backwards as the game reached its conclusion.
Instead we kept having to regroup and win the ball back which meant we were dulled as an attacking threat and never built any momentum. Add to that the fact that too many players were below par, that we played against a side that performed really well and worked incredibly hard all night long, and it added up to another frustrating night and points dropped when we should have been making things more or less safe.
The nature of this Arsenal team is such that we could quite easily follow up last night with a scintillating performance against Chelsea on Saturday and, while I’m well used to us having to do things the hard way at this stage, it’d be nice if we could take advantage of the hard work we’ve put in to get where we are and not hand back some of the impetus to those chasing us.
The defeat is compounded by the fact that Mikel Arteta will definitely miss the Chelsea and, having left the ground on crutches and in a protective boot, more than likely the rest of the season. On the same day that Jack Wilshere’s hopes of a comeback this season are officially over, it’s a big blow and puts a large dollop of responsibility on those who will have to fill in.
The loss at QPR was immediately followed by a fantastic win over Man City. All we can do is look for that same kind of response against a team who will be motivated by the fact we’ve left the door open for them in the race for third place. Not one of our finest nights, by any standards, but it’s still in our hands. For now.