Arsenal 2 Wigan Athletic 0: Young Gunners take lead from captain Gallas
Monday 26 November 2007
Here is a story about William Gallas from last season. Arsenal had just earned a narrow victory and the players returned to the dressing room. As Gallas celebrated he noticed that one of his young team-mates looked unhappy. "What's the matter?" Gallas asked. "I didn't play well," came the reply. "Who cares," Gallas said, barely concealing his disgust, "We won." The defender used choicer language than the sanitised "who cares" but the point was made. He did not really care how they played as long as they won.
It is an attitude that might just transform this team of football purists into winners, again. It is why, as well as a desire to stop his complaints, which reached a crescendo with Thierry Henry's departure, Arsène Wenger appointed Gallas as captain. That was a statement of steely intent. Gallas was the winner as well as the whinger and the rest of them had better start listening.
It was in evidence against a luckless Wigan Athletic side, being watched by their new manager Steve Bruce, who simply did not deserve this defeat. Few would have predicted a draw but, then again, no one would have predicted that Arsenal, free-flowing, creative, wonderful, would fashion so few opportunities. That was the real shock even if they were stripped of three-quarters of their first-choice midfield.
It was not, as has often been the case, that Arsenal were profligate, or even that Wigan had to depend upon an outstanding goalkeeping performance – although Mike Pollitt, in for the dropped Chris Kirkland, did produce one fine save from Emmanuel Adebayor. It is just that Arsenal, sluggish and out-of-sorts, did not play well while the visitors were determined and organised and deserved more.
"The biggest disappointment for us," said Wigan's admirable caretaker manager, Frank Barlow, who will give way today to his friend Bruce, "is that we conceded a goal from a cross after we had fought off all their passing football." Gallas scored that goal, in the 83rd minute, and helped create it by barrelling forward and slipping the ball to the substitute Nicklas Bendtner who fed Bacary Sagna. From the full-back's cross, Gallas threw himself in front of the Wigan defence to glance in his header.
It was all about desire. And, as such, it was just like his ping-pong goal that equalised against Manchester United. Both strikes have helped Arsenal open up a three-point lead, with a game in hand, over the champions. The man with the mohican is a ferocious warrior. "He's a forgotten centre-forward," Wenger said. "It's not the first time he's done it and I don't believe it's a coincidence. He wants absolutely to win and he went where we sometimes miss [being]."
And he goes where it hurts. It can spill over. Gallas was quick to involve himself in a running feud between Marcus Bent and Denilson and was booked after pushing his hand into Emile Heskey's face – as was the England striker. Gallas protested that he wore the armband but captaincy doesn't include such rights. Still it sent a message, perhaps one that has been lost since Patrick Vieira was in his pomp, that this is not a team to be messed with.
His defensive partner Kolo Touré rates Gallas as highly as any previous Arsenal captain. "He's loud in the dressing room, he has a big heart and everything he says and does is for the team and the club and that's the most important quality in a captain," Touré said. "William seems to enjoy the responsibility. He is a really mature player, which is important in a really young team. He leads by example."
He needed to. Arsenal were anaemic and this will be one of those games only to merit a brief recollection in any end-of-season DVD. Indeed Wigan could have profited from headed chances for Bent and Paul Scharner while a break, with three on one, by the Austrian should have caught out Arsenal.
Instead Wigan, who had a five-minute pep-talk from Bruce before kick-off, were caught out by Gallas after Theo Walcott was carried off with a twisted ankle. They then fell for a sucker punch when a typically rapid break allowed Bendtner to ease the ball to Tomas Rosicky, whose low cross-shot beat Pollitt. It means that 14 of their 33 points have been secured in the final 10 minutes with Gallas, as ever, driving them on.
Goals: Gallas (83) 1-0; Rosicky (85) 2-0.
Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Almunia; Sagna, Touré, Gallas, Clichy; Eboué (Eduardo, 68), Denilson, Diarra, Rosicky; Walcott (Bendtner, 80); Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Lehmann (gk), Senderos, Song.
Wigan Athletic (4-4-1-1): Pollitt; Boyce, Bramble, Granqvist, Kilbane; Brown, Scharner (Skoko, 90), Landzaat, Olembe (Heskey, 68); Koumas; Bent (Sibierski, 83). Substitutes not used: Kirkland (gk), Hall.Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire)
Booked: Arsenal Gallas; Wigan Brown, Granqvist, Bent, Heskey.
Man of the match: Boyce.
Emmerson Boyce (Wigan)
The best performers were the Wigan defenders Boyce, 28, and Titus Bramble, 26, while Theo Walcott, 18, on his first league start of the season, flattered to deceive with his quicksilver runs.
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