Friday, March 1, 2024

Wigan 3-2 Arsenal: Spineless bottlers get what they deserve

Eboue sad

First things first, I’ve been quick to praise this team throughout the season when they’ve kept battling and shown character. A struggle to beat 10 man Wolves, for example, can be viewed as a positive when you just don’t give up and grab the late winner. Conversely, when we capitulate as we did yesterday, there’s got to be a measure of criticism.

Secondly, while doubts I have about the manager grow as another season ends without a trophy I’m not joining in the chorus of those who want him to go. We’ve been challenging for the title almost to the very end and while I understand completely why yesterday’s defeat would provoke a great deal of negative reaction you can’t go from one extreme to the other that quickly.

That’s not to say the manager doesn’t have questions to answer, clearly he does. After the game yesterday he said:

I believe that we were not focussed and were not disciplined and we got caught. In football you have to keep focussed for 90 minutes. After we went 2-0 up our game lacked cohesion and discipline and I always felt that we could be punished.

The first half was pretty turgid. It was real end of season fare. Arsenal looked like a team that thought they had nothing to play for, Wigan tried but didn’t really threaten. Our performance was summed up when Theo Walcott was sent through by Diaby, but instead of shooting he chose to cut back. Nobody out there really wanted to take responsibility. Alan Smith on Sky said Theo didn’t shoot because of a lack of confidence. I don’t understand that one bit. How much confidence do you need to smack a shot on target from less than 10 yards out?

We took the lead when Nicklas Bendtner dropped deep, played a nice ball into the path of Theo and his quick feet were too much for the defenders and the keeper and he made it 1-0. Not long afterwards he went on a decent solo run and fired a shot just high and wide and it was better from Arsenal.

The second half began well. Bendnter again set up a great chance for Diaby but the Frenchman’s attempted finish was lethargic, at best, and Kirkland saved. From the resulting corner Sylvester scored with a decent header which the Arsenal players thought was hilarious. So at 2-0 you’re looking for the team to be professional, to look at it as an outside chance of getting a few goals back in the goal difference stakes, and to go on, be ruthless and kill the game off. Arsenal should have made sure.

Instead they thought it was won, coasted half-heartedly through the rest of the game and got taught the same lesson by Wigan as we had been taught by Sp*rs and Barcelona – desire and will to win a game goes a long, long way. As it became clear Arsenal weren’t particularly interested in doing anything more than hanging on to the two goal lead, as evidenced by the manager’s reluctance to bring on Robin van Persie, Wigan kept at us knowing one goal could very well put the shits up us. And how right they were.

If you watch replays of Wigan’s first goal you can see Abou Diaby running alongside goalscorer Ben Watson. The ball goes wide, Watson keeps going into the area, Diaby trundles along watching the ball and when it’s fizzed back into our box Watson is alone, with all the time in the world to sidefoot past Lukasz Fabianski. This is the kind of goal that I’ve been talking about all season. An individual mistake that is nothing to do with lack of skill or ability, it’s entirely down to laziness. Diaby must have known Watson was his man, that he had defensive responsibility, yet still he shirked it. This goal would not have been difficult to prevent, it just required a little concentration and defensive discipline, but once again we’ve been found wanting in that area. I can point out specific examples of this happening before this season but lessons don’t ever seem to be learned.

With the goal giving them a huge boost Wigan just went for it. There’s no other way to describe it. They knew this was an Arsenal team capable of conceding at any time and with Premier League survival to play for (clearly more important than any outside chance of an actual trophy, like) they went at us. Nasri cleared off the line from one of a succession of corners but the goal was coming, you just knew it. And when you play Lukasz Fabianski in goal, the longer the game goes without him dropping a massive clanger, the more nervous you get.

Wigan took a corner from our left hand side, Fabianski came, got two hands on it and promptly fumbled it onto the head of Titus fucking Bramble who headed it over the line. Clichy’s vain attempt to hack it clear was too late. 2-2. I know we’re supposed to believe Almunia had a wrist injury but I suspect he could have played yesterday and I expect him to play against City. Maybe the manager thought Wigan away would be a nice easy way for Fabianski to redeem himself for his outrageously bad season so far but to me it’s clear the Pole has no business playing at this level right now.

He might well be a very nice young man, he might well have the reflexes of a cat and pull off wonder saves in training day after day, the bottom line is he makes mistakes in every single game he plays and most of those mistakes cost Arsenal goals. He has the mental strength of Joey Deacon. I’ve had to reassess the way I judge players after Alex Song proved me wronger than wrong but I don’t think I’m wrong this time when I say Fabianski is not good enough. He’s had plenty of chances, he’s pretty much fucked them all up. It’s not nice to see, he was clearly upset, but his own personal torment is really not an issue. He’s got to be judged by what he does when he plays for Arsenal and on that basis I can only say he’s as poor a keeper as I’ve ever seen in an Arsenal shirt.

A draw would have been bad enough but when Charles N’Zogbia took the ball across the penalty area and cracked in a left footed shot off the post the humiliation was complete. 2-0 up with ten minutes to go and you end up losing 3-2. There’s something seriously wrong there. Before I go on, let me give credit to Wigan. They didn’t give up, they kept fighting and trying and hoping, and they got their reward. It’s as famous a victory as they’ll ever have, the circumstances of it were incredible, and they’ll live to fight another year at the top. Good luck to them.

Arsenal too got exactly what they deserved from that game. Nothing. I don’t want to hear one thing about injuries and players missing. The manager refused to use that as an excuse after the game and nor should any fan. The players we had out there were capable of going 2-0 up, there’s no reason why they couldn’t have won that game.

It’s after such a performance that you have to question the intelligence of some of our players. You’ve watched the best team in the world work like Trojans as they beat you in the Champions League. You’ve seen your local rivals do exactly the same during a painful midweek defeat. So why do some of these players think it’s ok for them to coast through a game like this? It’s because they look at Wigan as a game they just have to turn up to win. It’s because they’re too cosseted, too comfortable and too cocksure. They think they’re far better than they actually are.

I normally try not to single out players but Abou Diaby drove me mental yesterday. Not too long ago he was putting in the kind of dynamic displays that made us all think we’d got a seriously good player on our hands. In recent weeks he’s been found wanting and his sloppy, lazy play encapsulated Arsenal’s performance. I felt sorry for young Craig Eastmond who tried his hardest but is barely ready for this level. He needed the senior midfield partners to help him out and to show him the way. Eastmond ran his socks off, harried, tackled, got stuck in, Diaby ambled his way through the game. Like Fabiasnki, he has had many chances and has shown that he’s got plenty of talent – yesterday showed that he doesn’t have the attitude or the balls to be a top player. He was abject.

Ultimately though questions have to be asked of Arsene. Why did he not give Robin van Persie twenty minutes? He needs the match sharpness ahead of the City game and would have provided a real attacking threat. Throwing him on with just injury time left was almost embarrassing. What made Arsene think Fran Merida, a player who is leaving the club in the summer by all accounts, would have been a better option than van Persie? Where is his motivation to win a game for Arsenal? I’ve nothing against the lad, he’s decided his career will be better furthered elsewhere and that’s entirely down to him, but it was an odd change for me.

Wenger spoke afterwards about us having problems keeping the ball, but that wasn’t anything to do with the pitch or the way Wigan tackled us, it was entirely about our own attitude. It was clear we were coasting through that game and despite what he says I believe Arsene thought it was won as well. He didn’t see Wigan as any kind of threat and so there was no real urgency on his part to put things right. That the changes he was making came in the 81st minute tells you exactly that.

He was happy to settle for the mediocre win and deflect any post-match criticism of our performance by talking about lacking a bit ‘the sharpness’, the midweek games, the injuries, and pointing to the fact we got three points. He got it spectacularly wrong. Those players needed a rocket up their arses yesterday. They needed to be reminded they were playing for the Arsenal, wearing our shirt, representing those fans who made the long journey north early yesterday morning, and the way we got turned over by Wigan was nothing short of a disgrace. The players and the manager let the club down yesterday.

This morning we should be sitting comfortably in third, just two points behind United, three behind Chelsea, and with three games to go hoping against hope that something miraculous might happen. Instead we’re now looking nervously over our shoulders at Man City and Sp*rs and wondering if we can hang on to third place.

Watching yesterday you would never have known this Arsenal team still had an outside chance of winning the league title. They lacked motivation, they lacked discipline, they lacked balls and most of all they lacked heart. And that is about the worst thing I can accuse any Arsenal team of. Lack of talent and ability I can live with all day long once we try our best. If, for some players, that’s their idea of their best then we’ve got to be ruthless and let them ply their trade elsewhere. And if the manager can’t motivate his players properly for a game like this then he’s got to take long, hard look at himself too.

Sorry to start your Monday like this but this result has really annoyed me. Barcelona I lived with, even Sp*rs I could cope with, but yesterday’s craven surrender of a game we should have won is just not something I can defend in any shape or form.

After the game the Mugsmasher called over to my house and we played a bit of FIFA.

“That result has added truth to the table”, he said. “You’re the third best team in the league”.

With three games to go, one of them against a team who could nick that position, we’ve got to go out and prove it. We’ve got to react. Over to you, Arsenal.

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