Wigan Athletic 0 Arsenal 1: Jewell's misery as Adebayor seals smash-and-grab raid for Arsenal
Thursday 14 December 2006
The scoreline was synonymous with the Arsenal of old and so were the words that Arsène Wenger chose to explain a dramatic late victory over the unfortunates of Wigan . Resilience and spirit peppered the Arsenal manager's post-match press conference as frequently as they had laced the performance of his players, but it was the prerequisite of past Highbury successes that Wenger failed to mention which best described the Gunners' rise to third in the Premiership table last night; he got lucky.
Having refused to concede the title race at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, the Arsenal manager chose to concede the initiative at the JJB Stadium, leaving three of his most gifted talents on the bench until succumbing to the inevitable when he introduced Cesc Fabregas 15 minutes from time. Wenger was only in a position to repair the effects of his own rotation policy due to a wastefulness in Wigan that mirrored similar profligacy within the Arsenal ranks, and two minutes from time, the inspirational Spaniard duly delivered a killer pass for Emmanuel Adebayor to deprive Paul Jewell of his first point against the League's leading four clubs.
Arsenal looked almost sheepish on the final whistle while Wigan, themselves in sight of late victory when Jens Lehmann denied Josip Skoko and Kolo Touré foiled Henri Camara on the follow-up, threw themselves to the ground in despair, a scene that reversed the triumph and tears of last season's Carling Cup semi-final. Not that Wenger was unduly concerned, as his side finally took their place among the Champions' League contenders.
"We have played Porto, Chelsea and Wigan in a week and we were desperate to win this game," explained the Frenchman . "It was a tense game but a game we would have lost a year ago. I trusted us to win because we know a little better how to deal with the threat of teams like Wigan. I can understand they were frustrated at the end because they had created chances, but overall I feel the team has learnt quickly, shown great spirit and resilience, and that is what got us the result."
With the notable exception of Old Trafford, the North-west has provided familiar pitfalls for Arsenal this term. But, with Fabregas joined among the substitutes by Robin van Persie and Alexander Hleb, Wenger approached kick-off in a position of perceived luxury rather than a manager deprived of captain Thierry Henry, a formidable centre-half in William Gallas, who could now be out until the New Year with a thigh injury, and 18-points adrift of league leaders Manchester United. Third in the table justifies his gamble today, but it was close, and his protestations of improving maturity would have sounded distinctly hollow without Adebayor's late intervention.
Wigan initially took the game to the visitors, Emile Heskey and Camara going close in the opening nine minutes, but a start that promised rich entertainment proved sadly misleading for the remainder of a lifeless first half.
The occasional exception was Theo Walcott, whose duel with Leighton Baines down the Arsenal right provided a welcome distraction and who offered a penetration and purpose that few in red and white equalled, especially Julio Baptista who, if he is indeed "The Beast" of his nickname, was tranquillised here. "What a first half that was!" proclaimed the half-time announcer, with a touch of sincerity in his voice. Perhaps the mulled wine had taken its toll.
Fortunately the second half offered a stark contrast, with Heskey and Baptista failing to convert fine chances in the opening three minutes. In fairness to the previously maligned Arsenal man, he was denied by the first of several impressive saves by Chris Kirkland rather than poor finishing, although his Wigan counterpart could not claim the same.
Camara instigated the opening with a piercing pass through the Arsenal defence but from the moment Heskey took receipt of the ball, his confidence disappeared against the approaching Lehmann. Hesitant with his first touch, his second followed an unkind bobble on the edge of the area and the £5.5m record signing simply flicked a shot into Lehmann's palms.
Arsenal instantly broke at the opposite end, and though Kirkland denied Baptista, the visitors were suddenly in the mood to follow their manager's exhilarating philosophy. The Wigan keeper again came to the fore to deny Adebayor, Freddie Ljungberg shot across the goalmouth and then, incredibly, the towering Arsenal striker failed to connect with a Walcott pass as it rolled square of the home keeper, barely a yard in front of those telescopic legs from Togo.
He did, however, get the final touch that mattered. "We just switched off for a micro-second," rued Jewell, who absolved Fabregas of an apparent foul on Camara in the lead to Arsenal's winner, but departed miserable at the restoration of the Premiership's natural order.
Goal: Adebayor (88) 0-1.
Wigan Athletic (4-3-3): Kirkland; Wright, Boyce, Hall, Baines; McCulloch, Landzaat, Skoko; Kilbane, Camara, Heskey (Johansson, 67). Substitutes not used: Pollitt, Jackson, Cotterill, Todorov.
Arsenal (4-5-1): Lehmann; Eboué, Djourou, Touré, Clichy; Walcott (Hoyte, 90), Flamini (Fabregas, 75), Julio Baptista (Van Persie, 75), Silva, Ljungberg; Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Almunia, Hleb.
Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).
Booked: Wigan Wright.
Man of the match: Kirkland.
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