Sunday, 4 December 2011

Victory a four-mality as Gunners beat Wigan comfortably

Arsenal showed good all-round strength yesterday to beat a struggling Wigan side who look to be going into the Christmas period readying themselves for a scrappy relegation battle. The Gunners persevered after a slow start to find a good rhythm, ultimately dictating the majority of the play and enjoying long spells in possession – which, crucially, they were able to make count, unlike the game at Fulham last weekend.

With fifteen minutes played, however, the resounding win that eventually resulted was not immediately obvious. Wigan were finding some success with their tactics of strong pressing in midfield as the ball was played out from the Arsenal back-line. This denied time and space to Song, Arteta and Ramsey, and as a result Arsenal initially struggled to create any sustained build-up play. To combat this Arsenal began to hit long diagonal passes across the pitch – Vermaelen in particular attempted this a couple of times with the object of playing in RvP behind the Wigan defence. The Wigan forwards were also working hard, moving out wide when out of possession to track Santos and Koscielny and prevent them from supporting Gervinho and Walcott.

Arsenal were patient, however, and gradually began to assert themselves. The tempo slowed as Wigan seemed unable to keep up their fast-paced pressing game, and this enabled the Gunners to settle. The first goal duly arrived through a good strike from Mikel Arteta four or five yards outside the opposition box. Al Habsi, perhaps, should have done better but Arteta's shot was hit with pace and it moved visibly in the air, dipping beneath the Wigan keeper's outstretched arm.

Two minutes later Arsenal forced a corner and pleasingly van Persie's delivery was much better than has been exhibited recently, if a little deep. Vermaelen was in the right place, however, and he nodded home from a standing jump – showing impressive athleticism and no loss of his famous spring after his well-documented tendon problems. The Belgian's return to the team has provided a far greater threat at set pieces, and moreover the team's corner-kicks yesterday were much improved.

Playing his 250th game, van Persie was a real menace, timing his runs well and causing the Wigan centre-backs major problems. His understanding with Walcott has been excellent this season, and it was again evident against Wigan, but in addition RvP alternated well with Gervinho, the Ivorian cutting inside and allowing van Persie to drop deep and also run wide, leaving Steve Gohouri exposed and playing catch-up throughout the ninety minutes.

At 2-0 the game became very one-sided and Arsenal could afford to play higher up the pitch, the ball rarely leaving the Wigan half. Mertesacker and Vermaelen both looked comfortable, and the midfield axis again worked effectively to dominate the middle third. Ramsey was full of running, despite taking some heavy challenges.

After half-time Wigan emerged with a renewed sense of purpose, and Arsenal were forced to soak up a little pressure as well as the rain, as it bucketed down. Martinez attempted to change his team's shape as Sammon played through the middle and Moses and Gomez attempted to run the channels, but with half an hour to play this had clearly been ineffective. Accordingly the Wigan manager introduced Albert Crusat for Jordi Gomez and Franco di Santo for Conor Sammon, but they had hardly been on the pitch before Wigan found themselves 3-0 down. More good interplay between Gervinho and van Persie led to a well-worked goal.

Arsenal wrapped up the victory with a now-familiar Walcott-van Persie combination, RvP picking his spot to notch his 14th of the season.

A good all-round performance in which it was good to see players other than van Persie get on the scoresheet, although RvP's promptings contributed greatly to the team's attacking threat. Gervinho got the goal that his recent performances have deserved, while Mertesacker and Vermaelen both played well at the back, exhibiting few of the defensive lapses that have previously cost us in this fixture. In 2011 RvP now has a better scoring record than Lionel Messi – an impressive statistic. As the Gunners go into a period with tough games against Everton and Manchester City to come, as well as the dead Champions League rubber in Greece, the team looks to be hitting a rich vein of form. Clearly van Persie is at the heart of this, but yesterday Arsenal showed that there is far more to this team than the flying Dutchman.

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