12 Reflections on Arsenal's 1-2 Loss to Wigan Athletic at the Emirates

H Andel@Gol Iath @gol_iathAnalyst IIIApril 17, 2012

A shocker at the Emirates sees Wigan Athletic take the entire three points at stake in a Day 34 Premier League encounter with Arsenal.

It was a greater upset than the one Wigan dished out to Manchester United at the DW Stadium midweek last week, when they won by a lone goal, then they had the home advantage.

Here, playing at a place where they have never won in any competition, and where many teams have fallen this season, few would have predicted a Wigan win, but win they did.

Two goals in two minutes, the seventh and eighth, ensured that Wigan would emerge on top in the tactical battle that followed. I reflect on the rest of the match in what follows.


Arsenal's Defense Rocked

The two goals were a result of defensive mistakes.

The first was reminiscent of the Manchester City Carling Cup goal at the Emirates, a goal that developed from a poor corner by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, led to a counterattack that was successful because two players—Gervinho and Francis Coquelin—failed to react properly to the situation.

Here, Robin van Persie, not normally associated with anything poor, took a corner that only reached at far as Wigan's first defender on the near side of the corner who headed away, only for the counter header by Sagna towards Van Persie to be intercepted by James McCarthy, who then fed Victor Moses for the break away.

Moses' diagonal pass found Franco Di Santo who eluded the on-rushing Wojciech Szczęsny and then tapped into the empty net.

What is noteworthy here isn't that Wigan scored, but the fact that a few Arsenal players failed to react to the developing situation from the corner. The distraction seemed to be the injured Arteta, who couldn't be of help in the developing situation. 


The Emirates Shocked

With Arsenal still reeling from the first goal, the real shocker came when Arsenal conceded again a minute later. Victor Moses made a meal of Bacary Sagna and then got his cross in, whereon Arsenal's defense, including Szczęsny, made a complete mess of the situation to gift the alert Jordi Gómez a goal.

It wasn't the start any Gooner would have envisioned, and this was just the eighth minute of the match.

Again what is noteworthy here is that Arteta was off the pitch when this goal was scored. This isn't to say that Arsenal couldn't or shouldn't have prevented the goals, but it's worth noting that the absence of Mikel Arteta for both goals affected Arsenal's shape. 


Wigan Trio Excellent

Victor Moses

Nobody has mentioned Victor Moses in the same breath with Arsenal, but with such a display as the one he mustered here, one couldn't help but covet his presence in the Arsenal squad.

Moses adds to his physical strength skill and intelligence. It was his skill that gave Wigan what turned out to be the winning goal.

His intelligence meant he knew what to do with the ball when on it. This would have been a perfect display but for the glaring one-on-one miss against Szczęsny that should have given Wigan their third, deep in the second half.


Jean Beausejour

Jean Beausejour's performance at left-back was such that he prevented both Theo Walcott and Sagna from making any real headway down the right flank. His success owed of course to Moses' constant presence on Sagna. The combination of these two practically neutralized Arsenal's most portent flank.


Di Santo

Di Santo was the culprit in chief in the midfield where he broke up many of Arsenal attacks and caused many stoppages to the chagrin of both Arsene Wenger and his wards on the pitch.


A Double Loss

On top of the loss of three points at stake, Arsenal also lost Arteta, who limped off the field straight down the tunnel. After his departure, Arsenal midfield was never quite the same. His replacement, Aaron Ramsey isn't the same kind of player.

What is worrying here is that Arsenal's dip in form in December and January came when Arteta was out injured.

How this present injury affects the remaining campaign is left to be seen. With resurgent Chelsea knocking at the door, and with Benayoun not eligible to play in that match, this injury is a worrying development.


3-5-3 to 5-4-1

What killed off the match and frustrated Arsenal was the fact that Wigan scored first, and not just first, but two goals.

It meant they didn't have to play up-field in search of goals. This led to a shift from the original plan to congest the middle of the pitch with five men, one of which would always pivot to become the fourth man in defense, to a 5-4-1 formation that sat deep in its own half.

This meant essentially that Wigan narrowed the spaces around their goal, making it difficult for Arsenal to penetrate them. That Arsenal scored their own goal despite the early shift to this tactics through a double decoy (Thomas Vermaelen and Theo Walcott) must be applauded.

The match could have gone on for another 30 minutes with Arsenal not closer to a goal. Playing teams like this means you have to score first. When you don't, you must pray for a break in luck.


Vermaelen Rises to the Occasion

Thomas Vermaelen's header in the 21st minute to pull one back for Arsenal restored hope for Gunners and Gooners alike. The goal came after excellent work from Tomas Rosciky and after Walcott's distracting run, a run that made space for Vermaelen to head home. 

Excellent goal. One thought Arsenal were on the way to turning things around. 


Andre Marriner, Poor

Andre Marriner is the same referee that found eight ghost minutes at the Emirate last season after the extra five added minutes, the result of which earned Liverpool a valuable draw and helped sink Arsenal's fast collapsing campaign.

Here again he was poor.

Wigan, like AC Milan at the Emirates, sensed that if they fell down the referee would blow, and blow he did.

It meant that the match progressed in fits and starts, with Wigan players taking all the time in the world to measure their free-kicks. The tactics reached a ridiculous level, with Marriner being the only person not noticing the fact.

The blatant foul on Walcott that bundled him off the ball when clean through, but which the referee inexplicably failed to penalize, is a microcosm of Marriner's mediocre performance.

Time wasting was ridiculous and the number of unnecessary free kicks Marriner rewarded Wigan with for their falling down was equally so.

The cynics would say this is an example of blaming the referee when things go south. This isn't blame though, it is fact.

The game could have done with a little more flow, only the cynical would think that the nature of the game's flow didn't benefit Wigan. 

Plus, saying that the game could have flowed more doesn't equal saying that Arsenal might have won the game as a result.



Arsenal Used the V

Arsenal began with a staggered formation, but Arteta's injury meant they had to make adjustments. Alex Song was forced to sit even deeper, although his forays forwards continued.

In the second half Arsenal use the structural V, to which I have made references in the past, to pin Wigan in their own half. It is the same method they used against Manchester City. Note, however, that even in that match the goal never came through the normal route.

Arsenal are yet to figure out how to make undetected runs from this situation. One more thing to note, is that the structural V (some call it a pyramid) is strangely difficult to beat on the breakaway.  


Van Persie Frustrated

Robin van Persie was neutralized by many markers in spaces that were too tight due to the congestion from the many bodies in Wigan's penalty area. Barcelona solve the problem by refusing to play with a target man. It is why Lionel Messi drops very deep often. 

Arsenal need to practice more drills, more options to employ against situations such as the one they faced here against Wigan. It was a similar situation to the one against Wolverhampton Wanderers in December.

Van Persie was so frustrated that at the end of the match he refused Gary Caldwell's hand of friendship.


Players Assessed

Robin van Persie: Caged. His involvements at deeper positions were always good. The problem, again, is that Wigan shuttered the space very well.

Theo Walcott: Neutralized. He couldn't get behind his marker, except for the one time that resulted in a clear foul, which Marriner failed to punish.

Yossi Benayoun: Was tactically sound, but the manner of Wigan's tactics meant that his role wasn't contributing much to Arsenal's cause. He worked hard and did everything right and even nearly scored on a couple of occasions, but he had to give way because Arsenal needed width.

Gervinho: Was brought on to provide width for Arsenal, but even he couldn't unlock the congestion in the Wigan goal area. Wigan refused to be pulled wide, as a result, Gervinho resorted to cutting inside, in a similar fashion to what Benayoun had done before him. He did manage to get behind his marker a few times.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: A major structural shift had to take place to allow the introduction of AOC. Johan Djorou gave way, resulting in Song being pulled back into central defense, even if this didn't stop him from going forward.

Aaron Ramsey: Mostly anonymous. He didn't do anything wrong, neither did he contribute anything significant. I'd say an ineffective replacement for Arteta. His introduction made Rosicky play wider.

Alex Song: Play his normal game but not with the same effectiveness. Arteta's absence put paid to that.

Mikel Arteta: Injured early. I believe his absence affected the match.

Andre Santos: As usual, his best game is going forward. He is part of the reason the first goal came as he didn't react to the situation fast enough. But he played relatively well.

Johan Djorou: Not a particularly bad game for him, although he was part of the trio that failed to clear the ball for the second goal.

Thomas Vermaelen: Had a solid game, a performance garnished by the goal he scored. Was at fault for the second goal as well.

Wojciech Szczęsny: He was certainly culpable in the second goal.

Whether or not a better reaction to the first goal could have made a difference is a subject of speculation. He had little to do in the entire match. Although he pulled off a one-on-one massive save from Victor Moses.


A Bad Day

Arsenal play relatively well. There were a few strange lapses, two of which sank the boat on this day, but aside from that, the tactics themselves weren't wrong. What happened here is the reason teams are warned not to concede cheap goals. Cheap goals sank Arsenal.

The big problem for Arsenal, beside the congestion around Wigan's danger area, was that the final pass just couldn't come. 


Advantage for Third-Place Lost

Arsenal now have to win against Chelsea at the weekend, a task easier said than done.

Chelsea have found a second wind. But perhaps since Chelsea plays in midweek, this could be the advantage Arsenal need. But I have noticed that Arsenal seldom play well after a long stretch of time. Concentration seems to be a problem for them, part of the reason for this loss. Although there wasn't much time between this match and the last.

A win against Chelsea is important because after their game in hand, both Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United could cut down Arsenal's advantage to two points.

The implication of all this is that no team still vying for Champions League places is safe. Arsenal could yet tumble out of contention.

Living to fight another day. Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images.



This loss is simply one of those things. It isn't sufficient for a reversion to the boo-boy mode. I hope those concerned take note.

If there's any alarm it is how thin Arsenal's squad can look only too quickly. But for Abou Diaby's return, which is likely to happen against Chelsea, there isn't currently a replacement for Arteta, more so, since Francis Coquelin is still out injured.

This means that while there's a long-term cover for the team, the options that are present are painfully thin.


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