Who are you lot, and what did you do with Arsenal? Actually, on second thought, I don't care...I like you better.
Just about the only thing today that wasn't Introduction to the Opposites was the fact that I missed the first 20 minutes of the match. Tardiness is my middle name, apparently. From what I was told after the match, the Latics had a few half-chances and even had more than 40% possession for a little bit (Quick learning aside: apparently, "Latics" is just a shortened derivative of "Athletic", and man alive do Oldham Athletic supporters have a giant bug up their ass about Wigan stealing the nickname. Steady on, guys...what was that line again about imitation and flattery?).
Anyway, Wigan's early contribution to the match seems odd to me, because all I saw once I walked in was Arsenal curbstomping this helpless rabble.
Poor old Ali Al-Habsi has quietly been one of the five or six best keepers in the division this season (for me, Tim Krul has been the best, with the others being Wojceich Szczesny, Joe Hart, Jose Reina and Al-Habsi in that order), but his existence is one of vainly trying to keep his side in games long enough to perhaps steal a goal somewhere along the way. He held out for almost half an hour today, but once the floodgates opened, that was it as far as this being a competitive fixture.
The opening goal started from the back, with Szczesny rolling the ball out to his defense. No blue shirt was visible on screen until the Gunners got to the halfway line, with Thomas Vermaelen rampaging upfield. Four Wigan players attempted something vaguely along the lines of trying to close him down, but he still had all the space in the world to lay off a pass to Mikael Arteta. The Spaniard, in acres thanks to the two midfielders who had moved to maybe kinda sorta close TV5 down, looked up, figured "why not?", and had a lash at goal from about 30 yards out.
Yes, Virginia...an Arsenal player took a shot from distance. It even went in, too! How about that?
When I saw it in real time, I thought Al-Habsi had made a right old pig's ear of the shot...I even thought he had gotten a hand to it. I must be going blind in my advancing years, as replays showed the shot arrowing directly to the upper 90 - Lev Yashin standing on Peter Shilton's shoulders couldn't have stopped the shot. What a goal that was...more please, Mikael!
The fight visibly went out of the home side at this point, as Arsenal relentlessly steamed forward. The Gunners well and truly had their tails up now, and had a second goal just one minute later.
Seriously, can we please play this lot every week?
Arsenal won a corner on their next attack after the goal, and Robin van Persie was there to take. For some reason, he took an absolute age to send in the delivery. I don't know if it was a deliberate delay tactic or if he was waiting for someone to get open in the maelstrom of bodies that is every penalty area during a set piece, but whatever the reason was, it worked. RVP sent in a driving ball towards the far side of the area. Vermaelen was man-marked by two guys, but both dozed at the wrong time, allowing the Belgian to backpedal away from them. He met the corner with a ferocious header into the top near corner, leaving Al-Habsi no chance.
Game over. Thanks for playing, Wigan.
Sadly for the men in blue, there were 60 minutes of this left to go. The Latics managed to make it to the halftime interval with no further damage, but worryingly for Roberto Martinez, they created nothing going forward. The Arsenal backline weren't forced to press hard to win back possession even when Wigan had the ball - they just had no ideas and no drive. They were a beaten team, as they have been all season. Rooted to the bottom of the table on just 9 points, I don't see how they stay up.
Martinez took off Jordi Gomez and target striker Conor Sammon, both of whom accomplished the square root of fuck all on the day. Albert Crusat and Franco di Santo came on, which was somewhat of a tactic change for the home side. Bombing long balls to the target striker wasn't working, so clearly they figured keeping it on the deck and playing off the counter was worth a shot.
It didn't help. Wigan still couldn't get anything going in the face of Arsenal's endless assault. Two minutes later, the Gunners extended the lead to three.
Unsurprisingly, the move started with van Persie on the left side of the penalty area, holding off the left back and the left center-half. He cut inside, and took a decent shot with his weaker right foot. Al-Habsi made a solid save, but unfortunately for him the rebound came straight out. The other center-half had shaded over towards RVP, I'm guessing to help out if the other two guys got torched (that's how good our Robin is - three defenders shitting themselves against him at once), and the right back was nowhere to be found. Inexplicably, Gervinho could not possibly be more open, and his joy was palpable as he bundled the rebound in.
You can't defend like that and stay in the Premier League. But, more importantly, the goal will hopefully give the Ivorian some much-needed confidence in attacking areas.
The match from here was more of a procession than anything else, the scoreline kept respectable only with some fine stops from Al-Habsi. Frankly, I am kind of annoyed with Le Boss for not making substitutions sooner. Why risk anyone getting hurt in a scenario where we are playing frustrated opponents on a field that they just harvested the potatoes from a few minutes before the opening whistle? When the subs finally came in the 80th minute, there was frustratingly no place for young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Why, at this point, are we still giving these minutes to Andrei Arshavin? I get it, the thinking is that maybe playing in a game like this will finally get the little Russian going...but he hasn't shown anything in eons and the Ox has so much promise.
Man, here I am nitpicking in a game where we did no wrong. I really am a miserable old goat sometimes. Besides, the kids are surely going to play in Tuesday's meaningless run-out against Olympiacos anyway.
The fourth goal came right before the substitutions, and again it started from the back. A wonderful series of pinballing passes started from Vermaelen to Gervinho in the middle, who one-touched it out to Laurent Koscielny (who I didn't know played until after the game - that was how little threat Wigan showed on the day). The Frenchman played a wonderful slide-rule pass up to Theo Walcott, splitting the right back and right center-half. The center-half recovered enough to close down Walcott, but was muscled off the ball and fell over.
Let me repeat, for emphasis: The defender got muscled off the ball by 87-pound Theo Walcott. It's nice to see from Feo, but man alive, can we just relegate these poor bastards now?
Walcott was in alone on a tough angle, but he probably would have scored if he wanted to. Instead, he unselfishly spied the completely unmarked RVP in the center of the area, and fed him nicely. The Dutchman casually looped the ball into the far corner, sealing the deal on an excellent team performance.
As mentioned, the subs came on right after, but I don't recall us having another significant chance afterwards (though now that I think about it, I feel like Yossi Benayoun had a half-chance somewhere in there). In fairness, they didn't have much time to make an impact.
The win leaves Arsenal tied with Newcastle in fifth place, two points behind Chelsea in 4th. We have the Champions League game on Tuesday, then we entertain Everton next Saturday. Hopefully the team takes care of business there, because the week after has the looming specter of the Arabian Petro-Dollar All-Stars at Middle-Eastlands. At the very least though, we have some momentum heading in, and a win against Timmy Howard's lot will give me a fair bit of hope going in.
In the meantime, I continue to be impressed with Arsenal's recent penchant for dismantling the poorer sisters of the league like Wigan.
The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:
Szczesny 7, Santos 7, Vermaelen 8, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 7, Gervinho 7 (Coquelin N/A), Song 7 (Arshavin N/A), Arteta 8, Ramsey 7, Walcott 7 (Benayoun N/A), van Persie 7
Man of the Match: Mikael Arteta, for the long-range screamer along with a composed performance in the middle of the park.