Wigan Athletic vs. Arsenal: 6 Things We Learned from Dramatic FA Cup Semi-Final
Lukasz Fabianski saved Arsenal's blushes and proved the hero for Arsene Wenger and the Gunners in their FA Cup semi-final clash against Uwe Rosler's Wigan Athletic after the Polish 'keeper saved two penalties in the shootout after extra time.
The man dubbed "Flappyhandski" by Arsenal fans after a series of goalkeeping blunders early on in his career at the club turned out to be the big difference in the penalty shootout.
The Gunners made extremely hard work of beating the Championship-based Latics.
Wigan, huge underdogs before the game, took a deserved lead on the hour-mark when Jordi Gomez slapped home an expertly taken penalty. The 28-year-old Spanish midfielder was forced to stand through three minutes of Arsenal fans booing before he could take the spot-kick as Nacho Monreal was receiving treatment.
In the end, the playmaker was coolness personified as he guided the ball home past the outstretched Lukasz Fabianski to give Wigan the lead. Strangely, Gomez was assigned to take the last penalty in the shootout but by that stage the game was over.
With Rosler's team well on top, Wenger was forced to act and within minutes of the goal, he hauled the ineffectual Lukas Podolski off in place of Olivier Giroud, despite a chorus of boos from Arsenal's fans who questioned the decision.
It was clear that Arsenal were going 4-4-2 for the last 20 minutes. The Gunners immediately upped the tempo and started bombarding the outstanding Scott Carson in the Wigan goal with crosses from deep.
It was from one such cross and set-piece that Per Mertesacker equalized from. The giant German, known as the BFG to Arsenal fans, stooped to head home at the far post and make up for the lazy challenge on Callum McManaman that gave Wigan the Gomez penalty. The irony behind the goal is that the Gunners resorted to base tactics to find the net while Wigan played the composed football.
With the wind in their sails, Arsenal pushed on, but Wigan held firm and forced the game into extra time. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain impressed throughout and almost won the game for Wenger when he smashed the ball off the bar with Carson well beaten in the second period of extra-time.
Arsenal continued to attack and Wigan continued to hold firm as the game counted down towards the lottery that is the penalty shootout.
It must be said that Wigan's players seemed to lack conviction in the shootout while Arsenal's spot kicks were all well-placed and emphatic. In the end it was Santi Cazorla who scored the winning penalty and who will claim the plaudits for putting Arsenal through to the final.
The truth, however, was that the Spaniard was anonymous throughout and was a passenger for most of the match.
Arsenal's fans will care little, though, and they move one step closer to ending a nine-year trophy drought.
Here, Bleacher Report offers six things we learned from Wigan Athletic vs. Arsenal...
Wigan Reduced the Gulf with Arsenal by Clever Play and Pressure of Occasion
On paper, Wigan Athletic vs. Arsenal were a complete and utter mismatch. In general, Championship vs. Premier League ties do not make for pretty viewing.
To illustrate the gulf in class and the mountain that Uwe Rosler's team had to overcome, all one had to do was to observe the betting odds before the game, as per Soccerbase, where Wigan were best priced at 6-1 while the Gunners were odds-on at 1-2.
In the build up to the crucial FA Cup semi-final, Rosler talked to Wigan Atletic's official website about the gulf between the two clubs and how his team would overcome it.
We’re the massive underdog and we’ll face an opposition who will be on top for the majority of the game so I’m sure the players will appreciate the support throughout the game.
We’ve strongly avoided all talk of Arsenal and the FA Cup.
In many ways Arsenal’s defeat at Everton last Sunday didn’t help us because it puts even more pressure on Arsenal to absolutely go for it and to win a trophy this year with their Champions League place under threat.
We have to make sure we stay in the game as long as possible and give ourselves a chance the longer the game goes on to get through to the final - we have to make ourselves strong opposition for the Arsenal team.
Rosler lived up to his pre-match preview.
The Latics made it very difficult for Arsenal to compete and they kept the Gunners' fans quiet for long periods of the game.
The gulf between the two teams was reduced dramatically through intelligent play, tactics and, in no minor part, the pressure and expectation of the occasion.
On paper Wigan left Wembley as losers, but they were the real winners of the showcase semifinal.
Rosler deserves huge credit and his star continues to rise.
Uwe Rosler Masterminds Wigan's Tactical Victory over Arsene Wenger & Arsenal
Uwe Rosler has worked wonders at Wigan Athletic since taking over from Owen Coyle. The foundation for all that is good about the Latics can be found when the Manchester City legend went back to a system similar in shape and style to former manager Roberto Martinez.
Martinez, now at Everton, masterminded the 3-0 destruction of Arsenal recently. The Spaniard used three-at-the-back at Wigan last season and often played with an unconventional six in midfield.
The Latics, just like Everton, pushed up onto Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey with a view to making the pairing play facing their own goal.
Arsene Wenger picked a team full of running in an obvious ploy to penetrate Wigan's unusual backline. In the opening 20 minutes, the pace of Yaya Sanogo and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain caused plenty of problems. However, once Wigan's defense dropped five yards deeper, that pace was negated as there was no room left for penetration. Sanogo, a rather blunt instrument at this stage of his career, offered little thereafter.
Many analysts called for the reinstatement of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey and Sanogo into centre-forward to give Arsenal more pace up front. What they meant to say was that Arsenal needed more penetration up front.
Penetration occurs when the defensive line is broken by either a pass or a player running through. Essentially, it requires the defense to be turned and for the attacking team to get in behind the defense.
Wigan, on the other hand, were brave in defense and in attack and offered twice the conviction and ambition of their Premier League counterparts up until fitness and an overlong Championship season took hold.
Arsenal are a team who needs a fundamental buy-in to Arsene Wenger's philosophy. When the wheels come off, which they invariably do, they lose faith in their system, their style, their manager and in each other.
This time, however, their lack of faith in the force that was Wenger, is disturbing.
It could result with him leaving the club forever.
Arsene Wenger Is Under More Pressure Than Ever
Make no mistake about it, Arsenal's abysmal form of late has not only wrecked their Premier League title ambitions, it has also caused huge cracks in the very foundations of the great club.
Despite today's big win, Arsene Wenger is still under huge pressure to win the FA Cup after seeing his club's Premier and Champions League ambitions flounder. His indecision and poor management of his team's players has resulted in several bad results and a crippling injury list, as per PhysioRoom.com.
The end result is that Wenger is caught in a vacuum of his own creation and now real pressure is being exerted from inside and outside the club.
Prior to this game, Arsenal's season had fallen apart.
Four wins from their last 13 games in all competitions meant that they were knocked out of the Champions League by champions-elect Bayern Munich and had lost all hope of their first Premier League title since 2004.
The only light left at the end of this dark tunnel was the FA Cup. Championship side Wigan, who Arsenal relegated from the Premier League last season, stood in wait.
The Gunners should have played without fear. Instead, they made schoolboy errors and played into the hands of Rosler's side.
Arsenal only came into the game once they had gone behind. Their professional pride had obviously been bruised and all of a sudden they began to show some semblance of character.
It is hard to credit the manager with his team's dramatic turnaround. However, if Wenger is to take the blame for losses and poor performances, he must be given credit for positive results, even if they did not beat the Latics.
The manner in which they eked a result against a team 20 places behind them provides plenty of thought about the ills of this current team.
Arsene Wenger Was Wrong to Gamble on Aaron Ramsey
As soon as Arsene Wenger revealed to an FA Cup press conference, as per Mirror Sport, that Aaron Ramsey would return to the Arsenal starting lineup against Wigan, the collective hearts of the media and the Gunners' fans began to flutter.
The Caerphilly-born midfielder was easily one of the best players in the Premier League prior to his season being shortened by an innocuous looking thigh strain. He picked up the nagging injury against West Ham United on December 29, as per ESPN. Before the injury, Ramsey had scored 15 goals from midfield for club and country in just 31 games, as per Soccerbase.
Respected football coach and fitness expert Raymond Verheijen has been hugely critical of Wenger and his management of Arsenal this season. The Dutchman has belittled the Gunners' injury crisis and how to treat recuperating players on numerous occasions.
He slated Wenger for not bringing Theo Walcott back in gradually. He then made a direct connection between Walcott coming back into full time action and his ACL injury by showing how Wenger mistreated his star winger.
After making the same mistake time and time again this and every other season for the last number of years, Wenger threw Ramsey straight in at the deep end by starting him against Wigan.
The experiment did not work, even though Ramsey was tidy and serviceable throughout.
Ramsey offered little across the entire match, extra-time included. With this in mind, Wenger's decision to pick and risk the Welshman's season has to be questioned at every level of the club.
Players with long-term injuries need to be gradually reintroduced. Ramsey made his first appearance since December as a substitute against Everton one week ago.
Why Wenger chose to play Ramsey for almost 120 minutes is beggars belief.
Did the Everton Win Pile More Pressure onto the Already Pressurized Gunners?
The race to finish in the top four realistically, if not mathematically, is a two-horse race between Everton and Arsenal. With that in mind, Roberto Martinez's team took their chance to heap pressure on Arsene Wenger's team by edging into fourth by beating relegation-bound Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Last week, the Toffees were surgical in the precision in which they dismissed a dreadfully poor Arsenal. This week, it would be fair to say, they were less so against the Black Cats. They eventually won and had Wes Brown to thank after a rather unfortunate own goal was enough to seal victory.
Regardless of the manner of the victory, the result heaped momentous pressure on the Gunners to perform.
The former midfielder offered his view of things in the Arsenal dressing room and on the pitch. Scholes, taking a leaf from Roy Keane's book of honest analysis, lambasted Arsenal when working as a pundit for Sky Sports:
They capitulated at Chelsea and it seems to be a similar theme when they play the top teams.
It happened in Liverpool and they conceded six against the City. For one reason or another, players just seem to go missing. The Artetas, Cazorlas, Rosickys, Ozils, it seems like they go on the pitch with no discipline.
They play a few nice little one-twos, a bit of tippy-tappy football and don't bother running back. There's no leader with them.
It's the Arsenal fans you feel sorry for, because they seem to get the same thing every year, maybe a little hint of the title for a few weeks and then go to Chelsea, City or Liverpool and do nothing.
It's hard to argue with the legend, given Arsenal's form of late, over the last decade and against Wigan.
When the pressure in on, Arsenal lack leadership and do not know how to deal with expectation.
When expectation is removed, as their early Premier League form shows, they are capable of playing and beating most teams.
One player who lived up to his billing against Wigan was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The English international called upon his team to show real steel against Wigan and to go on to win the FA Cup to gain the vital experience of actually winning something tangible.
He rose to the occasion and was easily Arsenal's most dangerous player.
The rest of the club, Wenger included, need to look to the youngster for inspiration, because on the evidence of last two months, there is precious little of it at the Emirates Stadium.
Hillsborough Should Never Be Forgotten
April 15, 1989, is a date that will live long in the memory of English football.
Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were six minutes into their FA Cup semi-final when the game was called to a halt by the referee, Ray Lewis. The reason the match was stopped became apparent much later.
Thousands of fans had rushed into the stadium without proper police guidance. The end result was a crush that, ultimately, led to the untimely death of 96 fans. For the last 25 years, friends and family members of the 96 have campaigned to clear the names of their loved ones, many of which were blamed by police for causing the crush.
In 2012, an independent commission found that no Liverpool fan was responsible for the crush and that the root cause was a lack of police control.
The 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster occurs this week. Across the English football world, the 96 were justly remembered. At Wembley, 96 seats were covered with Liverpool scarves. Similar scenes could be seen right across the English footballing landscape, as per BBC.
The kick-off time for every English match was delayed seven minutes in honor of the 96 fans who never came home.
The Hillsborough disaster helped shape modern football in many ways, and they should never be forgotten.
The names of the 96 can be found, here.