Arsenal's title hopes hurt by 10-man Wigan
Wigan Athletic 2 Arsenal 2
Thursday 30 December 2010
Arsene Wenger had already been warned; his Arsenal side have proved they don't enjoy travelling to the DW Stadium. Few can forget how their title charge went up in smoke at the end of last season, losing a lead, and a game, few would have believed possible. That day in April had a terminal effect on Arsenal's chances of silverware. Last night's result could prove to have similar lasting consequences.
Wenger was quick to dismiss that notion, but you couldn't help but feel that Arsenal's old failings will come back to haunt them in May. Leading 2-1 and with Wigan, who are destined for a relegation fight, having lost their best player in Charles N'Zogbia, the home side looked beaten with 78 minutes on the clock. Yet Arsenal went to sleep, eventually seeing Sébastian Squillaci head into his own net barely three minutes later.
Wenger's team selection had backfired, with eight changes from the side that dismantled Chelsea barely 48 hours earlier proving his downfall. The big guns such as Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott were eventually called upon from the substitutes' bench, but only after the game was up.
Yet Wenger later claimed that fatigue rather than complacency was behind his bold selection, refusing to pinpoint his weakened team for their latest failings.
"There is no rule as we had the disadvantage that Wigan played three days ago and we played 48 hours ago," he said. "I had to change as we play again Saturday, we play again Wednesday and again next Saturday and again on Tuesday. So we can't always play with the same team.
"I don't think it was a problem at all. With 10 men or nine, you can still score from a corner. Man Utd drew at Birmingham and we played 2-2 here, so we will have to wait until the end of the season."
Despite Wenger's claims, the Frenchman will be tearing his hair out after seeing his side squander a certain win here at the home of the relegation candidates.
Arsenal looked open from the start, and defensively all at sea. It was no shock to see Laurent Kocielny's trailing leg trip up N'Zogbia, with Ben Watson firing the 18th-minute opener from the spot.
Arsenal huffed and puffed, their intricate play around the box finally paving the way for Andrei Arshavin to level in the 39th minute after Ali Al Habsi had parried Nicklas Bendtner's initial shot. Five minutes later it was Bendtner's turn, feeding off the Russian winger's pass before sliding the visitors into the lead.
Yet Arsenal hit the reverse pedal after the break in a go-slow approach. Even when N'Zogbia was shown a red card for headbutting substitute Jack Wilshere in the 78th minute, Arsenal looked like they had a goal they could concede in them.
That duly arrived three minutes later when Squillaci bundled the ball over his own line, under pressure from Gary Caldwell.
As Wigan defended for their lives, there was simply no way through for Arsenal. A penalty shout for handball against Tom Cleverley in added time was all they had to call upon.
"They caught us a bit at the start f the second half," Wenger added. "But we didn't do enough. We conceded two goals at set pieces, but credit to them as they didn't give up. Nasri was 100 per cent it was handball and a penalty."
For Wigan, this was a point even they didn't expect to take home. But their manager, Roberto Martinez, says he will take disciplinary action against N'Zogbia after he went from hero to zero following his red card.
"I'm very pleased and there were so many positives, the only negative note was that," said the Wigan manager. "His team-mates were there for him to get him out. But there is no excuses and it's unacceptable.
"You can't accept that reaction. He let his team down and we will deal with it internally."
Wigan (4-2-3-1): Al Habsi; Gohouri, Alcaraz, G Caldwell, Stam (Figueroa, 85); Thomas, Diame (McArthur, 72); N'Zogbia, Watson, Cleverley; Rodallega. Substitutes not used Pollitt (gk), Boselli, S Caldwell, Gomez, McManaman.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Fabianksi; Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Eboue; Rosicky, Diaby (Wilshere, 27) (Walcott, 83), Denilson, Arshavin (Nasri, 82); Chamakh, Bendtner. Substitutes not used Szczesny (gk), Vela, Djourou, Clichy.
Referee L Probert (Wiltshire).
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