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Masterclass from Fabregas soured by cheat jibes

It is harsh on any player to score a hat-trick yet not get a man-of-the-match award, but that is the fate suffered by Robin van Persie as Arsenal were inspired -- and Wigan infuriated -- by Cesc Fabregas. The Arsenal captain eclipsed Van Persie's first hat-trick for the club with a display that was described as "outstanding" by Arsene Wenger, but which also drew claims of cheating from Roberto Martinez.

The Wigan manager was upset with an incident in the 69th minute, when Fabregas went down under the challenge of Gary Caldwell. The Wigan captain was sent off and Arsenal were awarded a penalty, which van Persie missed before completing his hat-trick 15 minutes later and taking his tally for the past week to six goals in three games. The post-match discussion was less about the Dutchman than about Fabregas. Wenger praised his captain, saying: "The ball he played in for the second goal was amazing -- I could watch it again and again."

But it was the fine line between gamesmanship and cheating, and the cultural differences between England and Spain that exercised Martinez. "I know Cesc very well. He is a wonderful player and very clever, and he knows how to buy decisions from referees. He tried it once in the first half," he said.

On the penalty decision, Martinez said: "There is contact, but you do not know how much of that comes from Cesc looking for it, or from Gary's leg. I don't think that contact is intentional to bring Cesc down. Cesc comes from different culture -- if you take a decision from the referee it is because you are clever and you are getting something for your team. In England, to do that is cheating, but in South America, Spain, even Italy, to try to get a decision from the referee is just being clever and getting that advantage."

If it sounds like sour grapes from Martinez, he was just as scathing about his own team, especially in an impotent first-half performance in which goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi miraculously kept the deficit to 1-0 at half-time. Watched by David Beckham and son Romeo, who was wearing an Arsenal scarf, The Gunners took Wigan apart as they attempted to keep up with Manchester United at the top of the table.

Arsenal are often accused of trying to walk the ball into the net, but that was not the problem here, as they tended to shoot on sight. But Al Habsi was terrific, making fine saves to deny Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Theo Walcott and Van Persie. The defence played their part in keeping Arsenal at bay, with Steven and Gary Caldwell both throwing their bodies in the way to keep out shots from Fabregas and Walcott.

But they had little chance of preventing van Persie from opening the scoring in the 22nd minute, when he ran on to Alex Song's precise through ball. Onside by an inch, there was nothing marginal about the finish as he rifled the ball inside Al Habsi's near post with his trusty left-foot. It was an ominous sign for Wigan.

The Dutchman, clearly back to full fitness after two seasons disrupted by ankle injuries, made it 2-0 in the 59th minute with a fine strike. A short free-kick was rolled to Fabregas, who chipped in a long pass that Van Persie met with a first-time finish past Al Habsi from close range.

Wigan had failed to score in their previous three visits to Arsenal and rarely looked like breaking that run. But goals were flowing at the other end and after Van Persie missed from the penalty spot, blazing high over the bar, he made amends, sweeping the ball in at the near post from close range after good hold-up play from Walcott.

The result keeps Arsenal on the coat-tails of United, just two points behind the leaders, who have a game in hand. Wigan are still in the relegation zone, but Martinez is confident they can get out of trouble -- as long as they do not have to face Fabregas and van Persie again.


Sunday Indo Sport