Arsenal v Wigan FA Cup semi-final: Collapsing Gunners face test of nerve at Wembley

Failure to reach the final is almost unthinkable for the Gunners after seeing their title challenge falter

This Arsenal season, which promised so much, is stuttering towards what could be its traumatic climax.

Arsenal have a respite of sorts from their collapsing league form this weekend. They are preparing to return to Wembley for the first time since that dramatic afternoon in February 2011 when they were beaten with the last kick of the game by Alex McLeish’s Birmingham City in the League Cup final.

That 2-1 defeat still seems to overshadow everything that has happened since, coming in an especially trying period when Arsenal went out of four competitions in four weeks, revealing that the old battling character and burning will of the “Invincibles” side had gone.

Since then, Jack Wilshere, Wojciech Szczesny and Kieran Gibbs have grown up and new players have come in, many older and more experienced – Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla – and one, Mesut Özil, genuinely brilliant. The team is slightly different now: slower, stronger, slightly safer, less gung-ho.

But are Arsenal any better? Are they much closer to winning the league, or the Champions League, than they were in 2011, or 2008, or 2006? It is difficult to make the case.

 

The 3-0 defeat at Everton on Sunday allowed control of the race for fourth place in the Premier League to slip from their hands. They might still finish there – Arsenal’s run-in is straightforward, Everton’s is difficult – but that is almost not the point any more.

In their first league meeting with Everton, in December, a late equaliser from Gerard Deulofeu stopped Arsenal from going seven points clear at the top. Since then there has been a slow drift back to their true level, and now Arsenal need favours to stop Everton from doing what Spurs never could and denying them Champions League football.

Read more: Arsenal lack a 'competitiveness' in the big games

Arsenal have now lost at five of the top seven and it is remarkable that Sunday’s  3-0 reverse was the second narrowest margin of defeat from those games. No matter how many positions and points they finish from the top this season, it will not tell the true story of the gulf between them and the best. That is to be found in these numbers: 6-3, 5-1,  6-0 and now 3-0.

It is difficult to guess whether it will be a relief or not that they look down, rather than up, this weekend. Their focus, instead, is Wigan Athletic and their FA Cup semi-final on Saturday. Wigan are clearly a good cup side – look at their two defeats of Manchester City – and in excellent form since Uwe Rösler replaced Owen Coyle as manager.

Arsène Wenger said on Sunday night that his side were lacking confidence, charisma and belief – and that is the problem. These big games are often personality tests, and the fear is that – just as they did three years ago – Arsenal could fail theirs on Saturday.

Speaking last month, Wenger left open the possibility that he would not, in fact, sign a new contract at Arsenal. “Unless I decide otherwise,” he said, when asked if he would definitely stay. “I want to have a feeling coming out of the season that I have done the maximum for the club.”

Even if the maximum for Arsenal now only seems to be fourth place, it is far from clear that is how this season will end.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'