Tuesday 20 February 2018

Late Squillaci howler brings Gunners back down to earth

Wigan 2 Arsenal 2 Mark Ogden

When will it ever stop being grim up north for Arsenal? Two days after defeating Chelsea, two dropped points against 10-man Wigan might prove the costliest of the season if Arsenal fail to win the title once again.

Leading 2-1 and with Wigan reduced to 10 men following the 77th-minute dismissal of Charles N'Zogbia for butting Jack Wilshere, Arsenal still managed to throw victory away with an own goal by Sebastien Squillaci. But with a record of 17 wins and 16 defeats out of 42 games in the north-west since September 2005, maybe it is no longer a surprise when Arsenal drop points in this part of England.

Despite having seen his team overcome champions Chelsea at the Emirates on Monday, Wenger risked upsetting Arsenal's momentum by making eight changes to his starting line-up against Wigan. Only one of those changes was forced on the Arsenal manager, with captain Cesc Fabregas' suspension ruling him out.

But after suffering a costly 3-2 defeat at the DW Stadium last April, Wenger was playing with fire against a team with form for producing unexpected results. Other than Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have been beaten on this ground since the start of last season, while Tottenham have suffered on home turf against Roberto Martinez's team. Yet Wigan can also be cut open far too easily, so Wenger would have been hoping to encounter the Latics on one of their bad days.

The sight of Hugo Rodallega almost heading in an opener for Wigan inside two minutes was not part of Wenger's script, however. Tom Cleverley's pinpoint cross from the left evaded Arsenal defenders Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny, but Rodallega was a millimetre away from connecting with the cross at the far post.

It was a warning, though, that Wigan were in the mood to repeat last season's victory and inflict another damaging blow to Arsenal's title aspirations. And all the while, Messrs Nasri, Walcott, Wilshere and Clichy were sat on the bench, hoping that another medal would not be slipping away on a miserable night.

Arsenal's movement was as fluid as ever and Wigan struggled initially to shackle their opponents, but once Andrei Arshavin had broken free to test goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi from Tomas Rosicky's pass, the home side settled and began to stretch Wenger's team.

They made the breakthrough on 17 minutes when N'Zogbia's pace and direct running took him to the edge of the penalty area, where he was tripped by the hanging foot of Koscielny. Referee Lee Probert pointed to the penalty spot and Ben Watson confidently struck the ball past Lukasz Fabianski to give Wigan the lead.

Beating Chelsea is one thing, showing resolve and fight to haul back a deficit away from home is another, but Arsenal ticked those boxes and proved their new-found tenacity by overturning Wigan's lead to go in 2-1 ahead at half-time.

It required some bruising challenges, with Wigan's Hendry Thomas the unfortunate victim of most of them, but Arsenal gradually imposed themselves and deservedly levelled on 39 minutes when Arshavin volleyed past Al-Habsi after the 'keeper had blocked Nicklas Bendtner's shot.

Bendtner's goal, which gave Arsenal the lead five minutes later, was perhaps fortuitous, with ricochets and lucky bounces taking him past Gary Caldwell and Antolin Alcaraz, but the Dane made his own luck and he was rewarded when he shot past Al-Habsi to score from 12 yards.

Arsenal fatally eased off in the second half, however, and failed to chase the third goal that would have put the game beyond Wigan. Arshavin, in particular, was found wanting in the creativity stakes and Arsenal's inability to deliver the killer blow energised Wigan and gave Martinez's team the belief that they could haul themselves back into the game.

Those hopes appeared to have been snuffed out with N'Zogbia's dismissal, but the red card instead inspired them and Wigan equalised four minutes after the sending off.

Watson's corner was headed back across goal by Rodallega and, rather than head clear, Squillaci bundled the ball into his own net as he wrestled with Wigan captain Caldwell. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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