Wigan vs. Arsenal: Rating the Gunners Players in Gritty Win
On a nasty afternoon in Greater Manchester, Arsenal ground out a 1-0 win over Wigan at the DW Stadium.
It was neither the most exciting game of football nor the Gunners' best. In the end, it took one mistake to give them the chance to win the game.
Wigan's peculiar 3-4-3 formation (or so it looked) actually worked well against Arsenal. The Latics pressed incessantly and caused the Gunners some real problems in their own half. Both teams enjoyed the same amount of possession, which is extremely uncommon by Arsenal's standards.
However, all the hard work that Roberto Martinez's side put in was undone in the 59th minute. Theo Walcott played a one-two on the right side of the box with Santi Cazorla, and the former's quickness was too much for Jean Beausejour, who had an all-around terrible day.
Mikel Arteta calmly stroked home the ensuing spot-kick, and Arsenal just had to hunker down for the final half hour.
It was perhaps not the most convincing or elegant win for the Gunners, who still struggle to command the trust of their fans. But they now have nine points from their last three Premier League games, and you can't do any better than that. Christmas will have a little extra cheer around the Emirates Stadium.
Let's look at how each Arsenal player performed.
Aaron Ramsey: 6
Did not get very involved during his 15-minute cameo, which will not get him any more support from increasingly disillusioned fans, but scarcely had the opportunity to.
Francis Coquelin: 6.5
Came on a couple minutes after Ramsey and got involved on the defensive end of things with a couple good challenges, providing a solid presence at the back of midfield.
Laurent Koscielny: N/A
Brought on in stoppage time to shore up the defense.
Wojciech Szczesny: 7.5
Szczesny was not tested that much in the first half, but when called upon to provide a commanding presence, he did so.
Arouna Kone's gilt-edged chance in the 24th minute comes to mind. The Pole spread himself to force Kone to put his shot wide, making up for Per Mertesacker's error that let him get through.
Szczesny made a couple good saves in the second half, including one with his leg to deny Kone from close range. This was as good a day as any goalkeeper can hope for: a clean sheet and three points.
Bacary Sagna: 7
Because of Wigan's quirky formation, Sagna had to deal with not one but two wingers: Jean Beausejour and James McCarthy. He handled both with aplomb.
Strong in the air and on the ground, Sagna held his position well and was always available to cover for another defender's mistake.
Perhaps most of the blame lies with Beausejour, but Sagna forced him into awful positions and the Chilean launched numerous crosses into the stands, basically eliminating one side of the field.
Per Mertesacker: 7.5
It is obvious that the giant German lacks pace, and he was exposed by Arouna Kone in the first half, nearly giving Wigan the opening goal.
However, Mertesacker is only caught out when he fails to read the game well. And for most of the game, his main skill did not desert him, stopping Kone and Shaun Maloney with composed challenges in the second half.
Thomas Vermaelen: 7
After a torrid start to the season, Vermaelen finally looks to be finding some form. He didn't come bombing forward as much as usual, remaining a calm presence at the back that was especially good at stopping Wigan's counterattacks.
Vermaelen's partnership with Mertesacker looks to be a very fruitful one for Arsenal, and I can't see Arsene Wenger changing his centre-backs unless one of them is either injured or suspended.
Kieran Gibbs: 6
It's easy to compare the two full-backs because of their similar roles, but Gibbs often suffers from being juxtaposed with Bacary Sagna.
Gibbs is the opposite of Sagna: a mainly offensive player who can sometimes be exploited at the back. While the Englishman was not especially bad against Wigan, he certainly did not have his best day.
And, even considering their differences, he was worse than Sagna, struggling to get involved in attacks and occasionally giving the Latics some joy on the left.
Mikel Arteta: 8
Once again, Mikel Arteta played the Xavi role, orchestrating play from the heart of midfield and keeping Arsenal running fluidly throughout.
It can sometimes be difficult to see Arteta's brilliance, but Wigan made it a little more obvious. If it was not for the Spaniard, Arsenal would have had a much harder time getting out of the sticky situations caused by Wigan's pressing.
And, of course, there was the decisive penalty. Arteta looks to have put the anomalous miss against Fulham behind him, assuredly sending Ali Al-Habsi the wrong way to give Arsenal the goal they needed.
Jack Wilshere: 7
Wilshere did not have as good a day as he did against Reading last week, but no amount of strict marking could keep the pugnacious midfielder out of the game.
Wigan's pestering and pressing constrained Wilshere's creativity, but he was one of the best at maneuvering his way out of the Latics' pressing and orchestrating Arsenal's intricate passing triangles.
Despite his struggle to retain possession, he seldom resorted to sideways or backwards passing, always looking for a man in front of him.
Santi Cazorla: 6.5
This is certainly not how Cazorla wanted to follow up his hat-trick against Reading. Constantly surrounded by men in blue shirts, he struggled to find space in which to work and was not as consistently crisp as his two midfield partners.
That said, Cazorla did not commit any major errors and did not massively disappoint. He'll benefit from a full week's rest after working very hard to win and keep the ball.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7.5
The Ox did not have a first half to remember, but came out for the second period with renewed purpose and vigor.
He was unquestionably Arsenal's best player during the second 45 minutes, marauding down the right flank, crossing the ball high and low, constantly linking up with his teammates and giving Wigan's defense problems.
Perhaps Arsene Wenger took his star off to save his young legs, which is understandable, but Oxlade-Chamberlain deserved to complete the game on merit.
Lukas Podolski: 6
Podolski's day was about as dreary as the weather during the game. He seldom found himself involved in play from his position on the left wing, making few noteworthy positive contributions before he was hauled off in the 78th minute for Francis Coquelin.
One could give Podolski a lower rating, but, as always, the German's work rate and dedication should be applauded and are worthy of mention.
Theo Walcott: 6.5
Maybe Walcott is not the answer to Arsenal's striking problems after all.
A very good, if not scintillating, performance against Reading raised some eyebrows, but Walcott might have paved the way for Olivier Giroud to return to the starting lineup.
He has always struggled on the right wing against defenses that sit deep, and he did the same through the middle. His positioning was poor, runs were generally ill-timed and, predictably, there was no aerial threat for Wigan to worry about.
Walcott's biggest contribution interestingly came when he rotated to the position he usually plays, and has campaigned to get out of. Were it not for his deft one-two on right wing, Arsenal might have had to settle for one point.
Disagree with any of my ratings? Be sure to let me know in the comments or via Twitter.
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