Wigan 1 (Mido 18) Arsenal 4 (Walcott 61, Silvestre 71, Arshavin 90, Song 90)
In so many ways, this game reminded me of a match at Goodison Park last season, where Everton battered us for the first half, led 1-0, and seemed to be sending us to a somewhat insipid away defeat. All of a sudden, we turned it around in the second half, and ended up winning 4-1 in a match we’d played so poorly in.
Saturday’s game at the JJB was very similar. A first half performance that was laboured and uninspired saw us deservedly behind at the break, Mido’s close range volley after poor defending from a corner the least that Wigan deserved. In fact, we were exceptionally lucky not to be further behind, or a man down, or both.
Gibbs, in for Clichy, had a bit of a rough ride against Valencia all day, but his game probably should have been over shortly before half time – after failing to get enough of a connection on a back header, he hauled Valencia down when the Wigan man was certain to win the race for the ball. With no covering defender, it was a clear red, but Alan Wiley chose to show only yellow. A lucky escape, and more was to follow when the resulting free kick crashed into the inside of the post.
Big teams make the most of their luck, but in the early stages of the second half little seemed to have changed. With Adebayor, Van Persie and Nasri on the bench, the only change had been enforced – Silvestre replacing Djourou who had gone off with a serious looking knee injury, one that leaves us with only two recognised centre backs, perhaps for the remainder of the season.
But then, it all turned around. Walcott and Arshavin combined (the latter while on the ground) for Walcott to score his first goal of the year, and the introductions of both Adebayor and Van Persie seemed to force Wigan to back off. Shortly afterwards, Arshavin fed Cesc, who teed up Silvestre for an easy tap in, before gloss was added to the scoreline in the closing moments when first Arshavin, who had earlier struck a post, fired in first time after Koumas gifted him the ball, and then Song waltzed through a deflated defence to finish with aplomb.
4-1 was remarkably flattering, as we only turned up for the last half hour, but it is a long way from the early season matches when we didn’t even manage that. With Villa and Everton cancelling each other out yesterday, the lead is now eight points with six games to play, a lead that should surely be maintained even though three of those six games are against the sides above us.
Attention now turns to a week of cup matches – Villareal on Wednesday and then Chelsea at the weekend. The Spaniards will be without Senna, man of the match from the first leg, which is a massive bonus for us, and we have a wonderful chance of reaching our second semi final, which could even be against Porto. As for Chelsea, they will be able to make changes for the Liverpool match, so they may be fresher by the weekend, but we’ll cross that bridge later.
As for now, we should be happy that we are so comfortably in fourth. Villa have taken two points from seven games, a run that has destroyed their hopes and may allow us to pick and choose our matches for the rest of the season.
Starting with the next two.