Wigan Athletic 2-2 Arsenal: Feels like a loss

Two points have gone missing, and many Arsenal supporters will hold the referee accountable. In this case, I believe that accusation to be false - I believe that instead of Lee Probert in the penalty area with the swallowed whistle, the real crime was Arsene Wenger in the visiting manager's office with the starting teamsheet.

Coming off the momentum-changing victory over Chelsea two short days ago, it's understandable that Wenger would face a selection quandary for a follow-up like Wigan away. You want to maintain some amount of consistency while also keeping in mind that the games are coming thick and fast over the holiday period. A degree of rotation was inevitable and even welcomed, but making eight changes from the side that conquered one ghost in the last match (with another needing expulsion today) was not only arrogant, it was borderline idiotic as well.

Some of the changes made sense - the hideously off-form Gael Clichy was benched for Emmanuel Eboue, Abou Diaby was installed in central midfield in an attempt to get some match fitness, and Nicklas Bendtner was finally given a game. On the other hand, the mistakes were legion - Bendtner was shuffled off to the wing yet again (this one is just inexplicable to me), Johan Djourou was rewarded for keeping Didier Drogba in his pocket with a return ticket to the bench in favor of Sebastian Squillaci (FUCKING WHY, ARSENE?), and Denilson was placed in the role of...err...whatever it is he's supposed to do, which is mystifying given that he's the softest, most lightweight member of the squad playing in a fixture we traditionally have trouble with against a physical side.

The opportunity was there to pile pressure on Manchester United, fresh off of their latest instance of two dropped points against Birmingham City. The opportunity was there to further demoralize Chelsea by putting more distance between us, and to remind the upstarts of Manchester City (never mind our nearest and dearest from the other end of the Seven Sisters Road) that it's not just the Manks they have to compete with. With all of that in mind, that was the lineup that Arsene Wenger put out.

I can't explain it, either.

I didn't get to the pub until the 15' mark or so, but I'm told I missed absolutely nothing. The Eurosport MBM (since the Guardian couldn't be bothered, apparently) reckoned that Wigan should have scored off a free header, and that Laurent Koscielny had to make a brilliant saving tackle to prevent another chance. Way to tear into the 18th-place team from the off, lads! Anyway, seconds after I arrived, Koscielny was desperately unlucky to concede a penalty kick. He was a half-second late closing down Charles N'Zogbia in the penalty area, but he skillfully withdrew his trailing leg just as the Wigan man was stumbling by. Frankly, I can't blame N'Zogbia for diving in that situation given how precariously close they are to the First Division trap-door. Also, I can't blame Probert for pointing to the spot there, either. In real time, I thought that was an absolute nailed-on penalty. There wasn't much Koscielny could have done about it either, short of perhaps making it more clear with his body language that he was getting out of the way. Ben Watson summarily smashed the penalty high into the top corner, and the home side were ahead 1-0.

If I'm being honest, I thought Arsenal were going to immediately go to pieces following that setback. In a sense, they almost did. Some miscommunication between Koscielny and Lukasz Fabianski allowed Hugo Rolladega to make a serious play for the loose ball. Koscielny brilliantly toe-poked the ball away at the last, but Fabianski did follow through and take the Wigan man's legs out. Had the ball been anywhere near the play, that would have been a stonewall penalty and possibly a straight red for our keeper. Luckily, Koscielny's intervention allowed Probert to keep his whistle tucked in his pocket on that one. Still, it was a worrying portent and was not miles away from the possibility of going down 2-0 away from home inside of 20 minutes.

The disaster was averted there, but Arsenal still couldn't make any inroads through the Wigan rearguard. In particular, the midfield trio of Tomas Rosicky, Denilson and Diaby had the penetrating power of a marshmallow willy. Seriously, that is about as soft of a midfield three as you'll find in this or any other major league. Things did improve somewhat with the now-inevitable injury to Diaby, who limped off in favor of the much more combative Jack Wilshere. Just before that though, in fairness to Rosicky, he did force a smart save out of Omani keeper Ali Al-Habsi with a low drive.

It looked as if Arsenal were going to head into the interval down a goal, but six mad minutes later, they instead went to their tea with a 2-1 lead. An uncharacteristic long ball over the top was met by Bendtner, who had cut in from the wing. Al-Habsi was equal to his shot, and the ball looped out to the far edge of the penalty area. Andrei Arshavin, so anonymous in previous matches, reminded us all of the magic he's capable of with a stunning acrobatic volley. Al-Habsi was just getting to his feet and moving the other way, leaving him no chance to get anything on the shot. What a brilliant strike from the little Russian, and a much-needed tonic to the rest of the side as well.

The men in blue were somewhat out of sorts after conceding, and Arsenal again showed a bit more of a killer instinct than usual to take the lead. Arshavin's square ball just outside the area to Bendtner was in truth not all that good, and should have been dealt with by either Antonin Alcaraz or Gary Caldwell. Instead, Bendtner took the ball, easily brushed through the two center-halves as if they were made of papier-mache, and dinked the ball past Al-Habsi to make it 2-1 to the Arsenal.

Now, momentum was firmly with the men in red and white, and we'd kick on and really smash these northern monkeys, right? Instead, the Gunners came out ominously flat in the first ten minutes of the second half, allowing Wigan to regain some measure of self-belief. All it would take for this Arsenal team to leave a pile of broken, battered teams in their wake would be a semi-consistent run of 90-minute efforts. Whether this club will ever again be capable of that under this manager is another story, though. I have wondered about that for some time.

Despite that, Arsenal still had some chances to kill it off. Chamakh spiked a header a few inches the wrong side of the post, and Arshavin had a glorious chance to kill it off that was spurned with a weak shot. I don't want to take away from Al-Habsi's save there - the keeper was easily their MOTM - but you would expect someone of Andrei's caliber to put that away 8 times out of 10. Once again, the Gunners would pay dearly for their profligacy.

What makes it worse though is the fact that Wigan were down to ten men after the 78th minute. Wilshere fouled N'Zogbia in the middle of the park, which was rightly called by Probert. The Wigan man decided to make a meal out of it though, perhaps in a quest to get our Jack booked. Wilshere gave him some verbals, probably calling him the diving, cheating cunt that he is. Nothing wrong with that, it happens on both sides in every match at every level of the game. The red mist descended on N'Zogbia though, and his subsequent Glasgow kiss to Wilshere eventually resulted in a deserved set of marching orders (that said, the fourth official had to rescue Probert and his linesmen there, as none of them seemed to see it - while he can't be blamed entirely for the two lost points, please believe me when I say that he and his team were COMPLETELY out of their depth and should be working a First Division match at best on the weekend).

So, of course, Wigan were level three minutes later.

A standard-issue corner kick, which Arsenal had been starting to defend a little better lately, resulted in the goal. Had Djourou been playing, I am 95% sure that this too would have been harmlessly cleared out to safety, and we'd have won the game. Instead, Rodallega won the first flick-on header at the far post. It came back out to the center, where Caldwell was waiting. With Fabianski nowhere (he can't really be blamed for the goal, but his footwork and positioning were shoddy on that one - a better keeper may have had a shot), Squillaci found himself the wrong side of goal to his man. His desperate header meant that he got a deserved own-goal instead of the Wigan man being able to claim it for himself. It's bad enough that we conceded against ten men, BUT HOW THE SHITTING MOTHERFUCKING FUCK IS A PROFESSIONAL CENTER-HALF NOT GOAL-SIDE ON HIS MAN ON A FUCKING SET PIECE IN A 2-1 GAME THAT WAS AN ABSOLUTE MUST-FUCKING WIN? MOTHERFUCKING GODDAMIT.

I hate to digress slightly at this point, but I'm going to do it anyway. This column at Soccernet endeavored to name the worst performer for each Premier League club so far this season. Strangely, the author named Koscielny as his pick for Arsenal. While he's made the odd mistake and gotten sent off on two occasions, he's actually largely been solid and a decent physical presence. When I was reading it, I thought to myself "surely, it has to be Clichy or Squillaci?". Let's face it, kids. Sebastien Squillaci is not all that good. As a matter of fact, he kind of sucks. It's worse because the idea of Squillaci was quite a good one. He was the right age, came from a decent club with Sevilla, has international and Champions' League experience and won a bunch of titles with Olympique Lyonnais. However, his play this season has been iffy at best, abysmal at worst. Sadly, it's been a lot more of the latter than the former. Our best center-half pairing (excluding the seemingly endlessly-injured Thomas Vermaelen) is Koscielny and Djourou, so why Squillaci was playing when clearly deemed not good enough to face Chelsea is fucking baffling to me. GODDAMMIT, WENGER.

Believe it or not, Arsenal still had a chance to win. After the substitutions came (far too fucking late, frankly...another black mark against the manager today), the Gunners won a dangerous free kick just outside the Wigan penalty area thanks to some decent work from Bendtner. Samir Nasri stood up to take it, and at first glance it seemed to harmlessly hit the wall and go out for a corner kick. However, on the replay, it showed that Wigan substitute James McArthur so clearly handballed on it, Helen Keller could have seen it. Seriously, it looked like something out of a volleyball game. Of course, despite the fact that Cesc Fabregas conceded a penalty for the same kind of play earlier in the season, Probert and his band of clowns all failed to see the obvious infraction. While the penalty (especially with Al-Habsi on form) wouldn't 100% have been the winning goal, you still would have liked our chances and there is an argument that it cost us two points despite Wenger's failings today. It was ridiculously-poor refereeing, end of discussion.

The game fizzled out from there, and we never looked like getting the winning goal. No urgency, no plan other than witless Liverpool-esque long balls up the field, no drive, no determination. Two points wasted, and make no mistake, a huge blow to Arsenal's title ambitions. You have to give some credit to the Latics for fighting all the way, but the truth is that they are a side that a team with title pretensions like Arsenal should be skull-raping on a regular basis. You can't help but think that if Nasri or Walcott were in along with Djourou, this is a comfortable win and we'd be heading to Birmingham on Saturday with the wind at our backs.

I don't have much else to say, other than now we have to go win at a stadium where the current leaders couldn't manage all three points. Following that is a home date with a much-improved Manchester City, and a potentially-tricky away match against a West Ham side that is slowly beginning to believe that they can stay up. Momentum was thrown away today, for no fucking good reason. Yet again, our manager has cost us points, and yet again, questions have to be asked as to his suitability to lead this team to silverware. As wonderful as the win against the dirty Rent Boys was on Monday, it won't mean shit if the squad can't get their act together and consistently put three points on the board against hopeless fucking triers like Wigan Athletic.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Fabianski 6, Eboue 6, Koscielny 7, Squillaci 5, Sagna 7, Arshavin 7 (Nasri N/A), Diaby 6 (Wilshere 6 [Walcott N/A]), Denilson 6, Rosicky 7, Bendtner 7, Chamakh 6