Wigan Athletic 0-1 Arsenal: Rediscovering Fun

This is going to be short and sweet this time around, I think.

To be honest, we all were in a festive mood at the Pig today, and the jokes and witticisms were flying in thick and fast. Real's real, this is the most fun I've had watching Arsenal in at least two or three years. I can't be truthful and say that I was paying my usual close attention to formations and tactics - at least on this day, I was infinitely more concerned with the next one-liner.

To give you an idea, my noting that my voice gets high when I bitch at a referee turned into a 20-minute long riff about how Don Knotts would sound complaining that a foul wasn't called. I mean, there was nothing going on in the game so we had to make our own fun, anyway.

But, I suppose I should touch on the match itself. Arsene named an unchanged side from the evisceration of Reading, while Wigan fielded the eleven people in their metropolitan area not carrying a knock of some sort. 

Oddly, for a side in the relegation mire, the home side played with zero tenacity. Rather like Reading, they did not press nor did they pack the middle of the field. Arsenal were a bit out of sorts offensively, but the back four deserve credit for never letting Wigan get out of the starting blocks. So, this ended up looking a lot like two FIFA teams of equal strength with the computer playing out the game.

It was the visitors who threatened first, the feisty Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain testing Ali Al-Habsi with a low drive. Up the other end, Wojciech Szczesny had to be quick off his line to smother at the feet of Shaun Maloney.

That, friends, summed up all of the notable points from the first twenty minutes.

To be fair, Wigan had a glorious chance when Franco di Santo sprung Arouna Kone on the counter. He was in alone, but Per Mertesacker belied the brainless conventional wisdom about his lack of pace to match the Ivorian stride for stride. That removed the rounding-the-keeper option, and forced him into an earlier shot. Thankfully, Kone blazed an effort somewhere into the Van Allen Belt, and the danger passed.

The game settled down from there back into its earlier pattern of Zen-like balance, but there was a highly annoying incident right before halftime. Jack Wilshere made one of the best tackles I've seen this season to get the ball from a Wigan player - it was all ball and perfectly-timed. The referee didn't see it that way, unfortunately, and booked him for it. Hopefully, this is the last we see of Jonathan Moss for a good long while.

Halftime came and went, but the overall theme of the day remained the same. Very little happened, although this time it was Arsenal that spurned a glorious chance. Santi Cazorla played in the Ox, who in turn crossed into the box. Theo Walcott, again deployed as the central striker, got there first and fired a shot with all the space in the world. Frankly, he should have done better. However, you have to give credit to Al-Habsi for coming up with a decent save to keep the scores level.

Speaking of the Omani stopper, I feel like I should mention that I do not have a single bad word to say about Wigan, or any of its players. I mean, there are clubs out there that I loathe with the fury of a thousand burning suns. There are players out there who I would love to see visited by nothing but misfortune and missed nets for the rest of their careers. Many of them play in Manchester these days. But, I have to admit that I really like Wigan, and I pull for them when they're not playing us. Also, as a goalkeeper myself, I have to express my admiration for Al-Habsi's brilliance. If we didn't have Szczesny, I'd be proud to see him in our net.

OK, the love-fest over, back to the game.

It was around the hour mark that the Gunners would race out to the lead that they wouldn't relinquish. A bog-standard attacking play came to Walcott in the penalty area, and if we're being honest with ourselves, he went down very easily to Jean Beausejour's challenge. You know what, though? I'm fine with that. If you want moralizing about diving, you're asking the wrong guy. First off, it happens to us often enough where I'm OK with it due to the Swings and Roundabouts rule.

Besides that though, I am one who believes in doing anything you can to win. If referees don't call diving, then it's to my mind a dereliction of duty if you don't when the opportunity presents itself. Hell, I have faked injuries before in my own 7-v-7 matches late in games with a one-goal lead. Do what you have to in order to give yourself the best chance to win. Nothing else is acceptable to me.

Mikel Arteta stepped up to take the spot-kick, and coolly dispatched it past Al-Habsi.

Wigan didn't have much to offer in response, Szczesny having to save once with his legs and another shot going well wide. The home side also claimed a penalty in injury time, but the referee rightly played on (when on earth will people understand that the rule is "intentional handling", meaning it has to be a deliberate handling of the ball?).  Beyond that, Arsenal defended competently enough the few times where it was required.

There's not much else to say about this one. Three badly-needed points were won today, getting us much closer to the good end of the table. You can only beat what is in front of you, so it's not our fault if our opponents on the day were out of sorts and couldn't be bothered. Onwards and upwards, especially with our nearest and dearest dropping points at home to Stoke.

On behalf of all of us at the Modern Gooner and the NYC Arsenal Supporters, I wish you all a very happy holiday season.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Mertesacker 7, Vermaelen 7, Sagna 7, Wilshere 7, Arteta 7, Podolski 7 (Coquelin N/A), Cazorla 7 (Koscielny N/A), Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Ramsey 7), Walcott 7

Man of the Match: You know, there are times where it is hard to select a MOTM because there is a multitude of candidates, and other instances in which the difficulty lies in our utter crapness, with no one standing out. Here, everyone played well enough, but no one distinguished themselves beyond quiet competence. I'll go with Mikel Arteta though for slotting home the penalty.