Bruce rues reverse as Arsenal play cards right
Wigan Athletic 1 Arsenal 4
Monday 13 April 2009
In a competition for the most misleading scoreline of the season, this match would rank high. If the result looks suspiciously like a routine Arsenal victory, then the reality was very different. They were outplayed by Wigan for more than half the game and could easily have been three goals and a player down before their late surge put an entirely different complexion on events. The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, called it "great character"; great fortune would be nearer the mark.
Wigan were ahead through the excellent Mido when Kieran Gibbs pulled down the onrushing Antonio Valencia with a tackle that would not have been out of place in the other Wigan team's Good Friday derby against St Helens.
Gibbs escaped with a yellow card, apparently because Mikaël Silvestre was somewhere in the frame. Without wanting to spell out his theory on the record, the Wigan manager, Steve Bruce, clearly believed it was a case of rough justice for the smaller club.
He might have felt a little more sanguine if the outstanding Ben Watson's free-kick had gone in rather than hitting the inside of the post, or if Mido's looping header had not been cleared off the line – by Gibbs of all people – early in the second half.
That was another turning point. Not only was the lead not doubled, but Wigan also lost the services of Mido, thanks to a facial injury in his collision with Lukasz Fabianski.
Up to that point, it had been a case of Good Egyptian, Bad Egyptian. On the day when the Latics tried to draw a line under the Amr Zaki affair, by revealing the striker had apologised and been given the maximum fine for his late return from international duty, his fellow countryman gave a display of great commitment to the cause.
The way he was chasing and tormenting Arsenal, it was not too much of a leap of the imagination to theorise that Wigan would not have lost if he had stayed on the field. Instead, they were forced to draw upon their resources on the bench – and therein lay the great difference between the two squads.
Arsenal had Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie flexing ominously on the touchline by the time Theo Walcott had equalised. Bruce, on the other hand, would have us believe that he is so short of outfield options that he should have two goalkeepers among his substitutes.
It was against that backdrop that the game got right away from Wigan in the last 20 minutes. Michael Brown's foul and Cesc Fabregas's cross saw Silvestre claim a rare goal to grab the lead. And, after Watson – such an impressive performer in midfield – had been replaced for the last few minutes, Wenger's men cashed in.
A comically misplaced pass from Watson's replacement, Jason Koumas, presented Andrey Arshavin with the third, before Alex Song strolled through for the fourth. It all suddenly looked so straightforward, but that had hardly been the whole story.
Goals: Mido (18) 1-0; Walcott 1-1; Silvestre (71) 1-2; Arshavin (90) 1-3; Song (90) 1-4.
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Melchiot, Boyce, Bramble, Figueroa; Valencia, Brown (De Ridder, 78), Scharner, Watson (Koumas, 84); Rodallega, Mido (Kapo, 57). Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Kingson (gk), Edman, Sibierski.
Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Fabianski; Sagna, Djourou (Silvestre, 34), Touré, Gibbs; Walcott (Adebayor, 67), Denilson (Van Persie, 62), Song, Arshavin; Fabregas; Bendtner. Substitutes not used: Szczesny (gk), Eboué, Nasri, Vela.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Booked: Wigan Athletic Boyce, Bramble, Brown; Arsenal Gibbs, Van Persie, Song.
Man of the match: Watson.
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