I'll start this blog with some honesty. I don't like Wigan. I went there in 2010 and saw Arsenal lose 3-2 as another hopeful title bid spectacularly crumbled and for obvious reasons didn't enjoy my trip to the DW as much as I'd hoped. I don't really like that Wigan can't get more than 200 fans to come to an away game. I sometimes feel that there are clubs that would bring more to the circus of the Premier League than Wigan Athletic.
However I have nothing but the upmost respect for Roberto Martinez, and Dave Whelan as their chairman. Whereas other chairmen might have sacked a manager that was in charge of a team that seemed in free-fall, Whelan stuck by Martinez and it's paying off at this stage of the season as they are now looking like a good bet to avoid relegation. Loyalty can go a long way in football. Martinez hasn't just got Wigan playing boring, functional football either. They play with ambition and he has developed a different formation that is hard for anyone to play against. Martinez is getting the best out of a limited squad at the most important part of the season.
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However the best thing about the way Wigan Athletic are playing at the moment, and thing Arsenal really should learn from, is to pressure the ball high up the pitch, to play with freedom and without fear. A classic Wenger-ism to say that we have the handbrake on; Wigan's was non-existent at the Emirates whilst ours was firmly on. With so few games left this season, that shouldn't have been the case.
The match was a reminder that, as much as Arsenal have been playing well recently and have been on a good run of form, we're still a long way off winning the league. We're still not consistent enough when playing against lower teams. This season, we've lost to Blackburn, Wigan, QPR, Swansea, Fulham, and dropped points against Bolton. That tells its own story as to why we haven't wrapped up a place in the top four with four games to go.
The Wigan match in particular was frustrating because the early signs were that we could win the match comfortably if we didn't allow the visitors to settle. Vermaelen had a shot go wide, Benayoun had a header saved and Arteta hit a free-kick into the wall. We were on the front foot and should have stayed there. We were undone by our own naivety and a good counter attack from Wigan.
Mikel Arteta was clearly struggling with his ankle injury when Wigan broke away for the first goal, but no-one covered for the Spaniard by busting a gut to get back and help those few who had chased back. To be so open from our own corner against a team that have someone like Victor Moses to lead the breakaway was strange. When the ball reached Franco di Santo in the middle, I think Wojciech Szczesny could have done better by not committing himself so early by going to ground.
Having gone behind, we still had Mikel Arteta off the pitch, and should have been more careful with possession straight after conceding. Wigan showed more fight and more desire to hound us down, win the ball back and attack again. It would have been easy for them to immediately drop back and have a flat back five sitting on the edge of their own penalty area, but given their need for points, they didn't do that, and we weren't ready for it. Victor Moses did well on the left, and put the ball into a good position in the box, but both of our centre backs shouldn't have been going for the same ball at the near post. Szczesny again wasn't decisive enough, and we conceded another needless, scrappy goal.
Arteta went off, and even though we had more possession, we looked unbalanced in midfield and lacked drive in the middle of the pitch. Rosicky worked hard, but Alex Song looked like a different player without Arteta next to him, and Aaron Ramsey seemed to be trying too hard and often delayed passes when we needed to inject pace into the game. When Arteta went off at 2-0 down, there is an argument that we could have brought Oxlade-Chamberlain on, however with over 80 minutes left, we shouldn't have needed to make a significant tactical change in midfield. Those on the pitch should have been good enough to drag us back into the match.
Whilst Wigan were really organised, passed the ball well when they had it and weren't afraid to attack, Arsenal looked short of ideas on how to break down a team with three centre backs. Gary Caldwell was able to follow Robin van Persie's every move, whilst having two other centre backs there to sweep up other players breaking forward. Theo Walcott didn't continue his good form on the right when we needed to stretch the Wigan defence, and Yossi Benayoun cut inside too much.
We could have utilised our full backs more to create chances and stretch the defence. Bacary Sagna was covered by Jean Beausejour for much of the game, and it was difficult for him to push too far forward because of the danger of Victor Moses on the break. On the other side, Andre Santos drifted inside far too much, both when attacking and defending. He is capable of whipping in some great crosses, yet he didn't stay near the touchline to be dangerous. Thomas Vermaelen didn't seem to be in the defence for most of the game, and as he showed with his goal, his presence going forward did cause problems. Numerous times however, he swept the ball out wide, continued running towards the box but the move slowed down so momentum was lost.
It's hard to know whether the team were complacent, but they didn't seem ready for Wigan to show ambition, actually play good football and attack us at the Emirates. Even when we were chasing the game in the second half, there was a lack of imagination and shape to side. Without Arteta anchoring everything, the team always looked suspect on the counter attack and we didn't have anyone make themselves available to receive passes to make space like the Spaniard has done for us this season.
We now go into Saturday's Chelsea game with a lot of pressure riding on it. Since the 8-2 at the start of the season, we've not performed badly against the bigger teams, and there should be no danger of complacency now. I'm concerned by who'll replace Mikel Arteta with him likely to miss out with injury. Aaron Ramsey is being made a scapegoat by some fans, and he is out of form, but he had an excellent game away at Stamford Bridge when we won 5-3. Abou Diaby might be available but won't be fit enough to start the game, so I'd like to see Oxlade-Chamberlain in the middle. He played there when Arteta was unavailable against Milan at the Emirates in the Champions League, and he absolutely bossed the midfield. Chelsea could be tired after facing Barcelona, so having the pace of Oxlade-Chamberlain could stretch them.
Regardless of who plays, we'll have to show the same desire and willingness to close the opposition down, as Wigan did against us on Monday. I'm not suggesting we play three centre backs (we'd never have enough fit to do that anyway!), but we need to be more flexible when faced with something different. As with the QPR defeat, we shouldn't have needed the kick up the backside to improve, and it's these lapses that have meant we haven't won major trophies. Take Wigan's attitude against us when we play Chelsea, and we can get a grip on third again.
It remains to be seen if we'll be without Mikel Arteta for the rest of the season, but we definitely won't see Jack Wilshere in this campaign. He is a player that can make a difference in tight games, so it'll be beneficial for us that he won't go to the European Championships and be part of England's inevitable inglorious exit and risk another potential injury setback if rushed back into action.
Finally, if you want to see an Arsenal team that have won a lot of trophies in recent seasons, I recommend heading to the Emirates on Thursday 26th April as the Arsenal Ladies are playing Chelsea in the Women's Super League. The domestic season has just started, and Arsenal are in the semi-final of the Champions League. The WSL also have digital ambassadors to increase followers of the league, and Arsenal's is Steph Houghton, so follow her on Twitter @StephHoughton2 to keep up with the Arsenal Ladies.