Wigan surrendered meekly to their customary defeat at Arsenal yesterday but their manager did not. Roberto Martinez enlivened the post-match debate by accusing Cesc Fabregas of cheating after Gary Caldwell incurred the ninth red card of his career for a foul on the Arsenal captain. Martinez tempered his view by indicating this was a back-handed compliment from one Spaniard to another, but Fabregas is unlikely to be amused.
Perhaps Martinez was seeking to deflect attention from his team's performance. Had it not been for the heroics of goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, Arsenal would have been approaching double figures. As it was they settled for three, all scored by Robin van Persie, who would have converted his first hat-trick in English League football into a quartet had he not missed a penalty.
Van Persie has now scored six goals in four matches and looks to have finally regained the form he was in before suffering a serious injury in November 2009. Given that Marouane Chamakh's performances have dipped, and Andrei Arshavin continues to disappoint, his revival is timely.
Manchester City's defeat means Arsenal are back in second place with Manchester United still to come to the Emirates. "We get stronger and stronger, the way we play is fantastic to watch, let's just keep going," said Arsène Wenger, adding: "We were outstanding in the first half, although the players were a bit frustrated at half-time as we did not take our chances maybe."
"I was pleased with the reaction in the second half but we were very disappointed with our first-half performance," said Martinez. "Only Ali played to his level. If I could have changed 10 players at half-time, I would have. We didn't cope with the tempo of the game. We didn't keep the ball well enough. We played to Arsenal's strengths. We played with fear."
Martinez then said Fabregas was "clever at buying a decision", adding: "In England that is cheating, in South America, Spain, Italy, it is being clever. There was contact, but it was soft." To neutral observers the penalty looked clear-cut, but in the first half Fabregas did look to fall dramatically over Caldwell's leg, and dive into the area, in an attempt to win a spot-kick (a free-kick, on the edge of the box, was awarded).
It took just a minute for Samir Nasri to bring the first save from Al Habsi as Arsenal started at their customary rush. The Omani keeper made seven saves in the opening 45 minutes.
Arsenal could not be denied completely and their goal came midway through the half. With Alex Song in possession, both Gary and Stephen Caldwell stepped up but Maynor Figueroa played Van Persie onside. Song fed the Dutchman, who whipped his shot past Al Habsi.
Arsenal remained in control after the break and doubled their lead when a deep Fabregas free-kick picked out Van Persie running off Gary Caldwell. He made a difficult first-time volleyed finish look deceptively easy.
The hat-trick should have been completed a dozen minutes later. Song, having a quietly impressive match, slid the ball through for Fabregas, who was tripped by Gary Caldwell as he shaped to shoot. There was no arguing with the red card, whatever Martinez's post-match view. However, Van Persie thrashed it into the stratosphere, before sinking to his knees in despair.
His treble was only delayed, however. With four minutes left Fabregas and Theo Walcott combined for Van Persie to drive in a thunderous shot.
Referee: Kevin Friend
Man of the match: Van PersieReuse content