Monday, 14 April 2014

Arsenal 1-1 Wigan [4-2 on penalties]: Worrying performance, wonderful result


I know that many Arsenal supporters are in paradise at the moment. I know that with Hull coming up in the finals, they'll be relishing their chances. I know that Fabianski's heroics kept us in firm control of a penalty shootout which everyone expected to be nervy.

However, I was downright alarmed by the reactions of this game. I went into it hoping, almost knowing that we'll trash the living shit out of Wigan, irrespective of how uncertain the Arsenal fanbase was. Yesterday I saw why.

Spoiler alert: If you want to know the real truth of what happened yesterday, carry on. I didn't post this article yesterday because I was sure that the joy of reaching the final would taint my analysis of the game. In addition, I also did not want to dent the happiness of Gooners by posting a hugely negative review in the immediate aftermath of our penalty shootout victory.

However, now that the dust has settled, here I go.

Our performance...
Clearly, we had learnt nothing from previous games. Upon slight pressing by a better Wigan, Arsenal became completely pedestrian. Let's not forget that we were playing a Championship side with Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Podolski and Cazorla in our ranks.

It's worrying when teams like Chelsea, Everton and Liverpool press you into submission. However, it really is beyond alarming when Wigan Athletic manages to outplay Wenger tactically. Based on this performance, if Wenger learns nothing I seriously doubt his capability of snatching fourth from Everton.

A fellow Gooner argued that Wigan had defeated Manchester City, which meant that the game would always be difficult. Sorry, it doesn't rub with me. An in-crisis United trashed Wigan 4-0 in the very same stadium. Moreover, equating Wigan with City really is beyond ridiculous. Bradford defeated Arsenal and Arsenal defeated Bayern in the same season - does that mean Bradford would put up a fight against Bayern?

I'm surprised at everyone's relaxed attitude on the prospect of losing out on Champions League. I honestly reckon Everton will defeat Manchester United as well as Southampton. The only genuine banana skin, for them, remains Manchester City. In order for us to gain fourth, we HAVE to win all games starting tomorrow. Based on our performance against Wigan, I'm almost certain we won't.

I think we'll finish the season in fifth.

Podolski's substitution...
Was well deserved, in my opinion. Lukas looked far off the pace and was barely in the game.

But then again, the same could be said of Yaya Sanogo. While the Frenchman did look lively and had his chances, I didn't for one second think that he was going to get on the scoresheet. At least Podolski has the knack of scoring goals and providing assists regardless of his performance, kind of like Theo Walcott. Sanogo doesn't.

Wenger did what I wanted; employ a 4-4-2. However, he did it with the wrong personnel. Why put two target men up front in a 4-4-2? Wouldn't Giroud and Podolski as the two strikers make more sense?

I could deduce two conclusions from this. One, that Wenger's French favouritism enabled him to substitute Podolski rather than Sanogo. Two, that his change to a 4-4-2 formation was more out of desperation than tactical genius.

Nine out of ten managers would tell you that playing two similar strikers up front in a 4-4-2 is stupidity, and the tenth would be Arsene Wenger.

Mertesacker...
Could have been the villain, but instead became the saviour. His tackle in the box, let's face it, was reckless and deserving of a pen.

However, kudos to him for getting the equalizer at the death. At a time when I was genuinely wondering where the goals were going to come from, it was a centre back that gave me the answer.

I hope that the manager learns from this. Arsenal seem unable to get a goal from anywhere at the moment. While we used to be a one-man team with RVP, we now look like a zero man team. There needs to be a short-term change in the system - he needs to employ formations conducive to attackers like Podolski, Cazorla or Chamberlain. That's one of the reasons he's paid 6.5 million every season.

As it stands, we really look toothless in front of goal.

Fabianski should be our first-choice keeper...
I like Szczesny, but he's too cocky and arrogant for my liking. While in terms of ability I think the both of them are similar, Szczesny is known to take unnecessary risks and mess up in important games.

Fabianski doesn't. He's matured, composed and delivers, especially at times when it really matters. He saved us against Liverpool, and did the same against Wigan. While Fabianski was earlier used as a tool to threaten Szczesny's position in the starting lineup, I think it's time we promote him to our regular keeper.

If I were Wenger, Fabianski would have been on a bumper contract with a promise of regular first-team football.

In conclusion...
I agree with the supporters, celebrating at the end was completely justifiable. It wasn't because we had barely scrapped past Wigan, it was because we managed to get into the final when it really seemed like we wouldn't.

However, that's the trouble. Barely scrapping past Wigan is not a sign of a progressive team. In all honesty, we really were lucky to have gotten into the final. If we want to fulfill our objective of finishing fourth and winning the FA Cup, big short-term changes are needed.

Knowing Wenger, I don't think we'll see any changes. If we do get fourth, it would be down to scrappy victories against mediocre opposition. At a time when we were supposed to be challenging for the title, we're looking uncertain over fourth. What a mess.

It's times like these, irrespective of FA Cup joy, that makes me pray Wenger leaves in June.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )