After the great win against Chelsea on Monday night Arsenal got back to the bread and butter of playing one of the lesser Premier League teams last night. They made the trip north to play Wigan knowing that a win would put them into second place, with "Manure" ahead of them on goal difference. With Wigan looking for a point to get out of the relegation zone it was never going to be an easy game, but Arsenal's away form so far suggested that they should could come out on top.
In my preview of the game I thought that Arsene Wenger would make a few changes, but I didn't predict that he would make as many as the eight that he did. Somebody suggested on Twitter that it was similar to the teams that he put out in the Champions League trips to both Shakhtar Donetsk and Braga, and it certainly had that feel to it.
In defence only Lukasz Fabianski, Bakary Sagna and Laurent Koscielny kept their places, but after that the rest of the team was all changed. I know Gael Clichy took a knock against Chelsea and I would imagine that he was rested as a precaution, and Cesc Fabregas was suspended after getting his fifth booking of the season against Chelsea. With Johan Djourou still not being risked twice in a week, and Robin Van Persie still far too fragile to play twice in a week they both had to be rested too.
Other than that I don't think there should have been any changes, but the boss just decided to change the lot. The midfield trio of Denilson, Abu Diaby and Tomas Rosicky was a far cry from Cesc, Jack Wilshere and Alex Song who had filled that area of the pitch so well against Chelsea. With both Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh playing up front the formation was more like a 4-4-2 than the usual 4-3-3. A lot of Arsenal fans think that the team should get back to that formation, but the combination of Bendtner and Chamakh didn't exactly fill me with anticipation of great things to come.
I was also concerned that Emmanuel Eboue was put in at left back to mark Wigan's danger man Charles N'Zogbia. If Eboue was to play it should have been on the right hand side of the defence asSagna has shown previously that he can play at left back.
The game started with Arsenal missing the drive that they had shown in their five away wins in the league so far, and it looked like they were missing either Song or Wilshere in midfield in my opinion. The defensive mistakes were very noticeable early on, and Arsenal were a little lucky that Wigan didn't take advantage of any of them. When the first goal came it was from Wigan, and it was from the penalty spot.
Arsenal had an attack broken up, and Eboue was hopelessly out of position as Wigan broke. When the ball was played to N'Zogbia he ran at two Arsenal defenders, and went down from what seemed like an outstretched leg from Koscielny. The replays showed that there was no contact at all, and it will be interesting to see if the FA consider it to be a punishable offence. Ben Watson stepped up and put the ball into the corner from the penalty, beyond the dive of Fabianski, and things didn't look good for Arsenal. Thankfully only 17 minutes were gone, and they had plenty of time to turn things around.
With 27 minutes gone Diaby limped off and his latest comeback was shorter than usual. He was replaced by Wilshere who made an immediate impact, as Arsenal stepped up the pace and looked more threatening. Arsenal began to make a few chances, and eventually they got the equaliser that they wanted on 39 minutes. Bendtner had a good shot well saved, and the rebound came out to Andrey Arshavin 15 yards out. He acrobatically volleyed it back into the corner of the net to get Arsenal back on level terms. He had done very little before that, but it was a very well taken goal.
Only five minutes later Arsenal took the lead after more good work by Arshavin set up Bendtner to score their second goal. Arshavin shook off a couple of challenges, and played a ball to Bendtner's feet just outside the Wigan box. The big striker did very well to take the ball past two defenders, and finished very neatly into the corner past the diving keeper. Half time arrived very soon after that, and things were looking a lot better for Arsenal.
Early in the second half there were half chances for both teams, but none of them were taken, and the Arsenal faithful were getting a little nervous. In the 70th minute Wilshere played Arshavin in, but he somehow managed to miss from six yards out. It was a chance he should have taken, and it proved to be very costly for Arsenal before the end. Only five minutes later Fabianski saved Arsenal with an excellent point blank save from the very dangerous N'Zogbia.
If any player was going to get Wigan back in the game he was the most likely candidate, and only two minutes later there were sighs of relief at the Arsenal as he was given a straight red card for head-butting Wilshere. It was a stupid thing for him to do, and it looked like it had cost his team any chance of winning a point. However, as is often the case it seemed to galvinise Wigan, and they continued to push forward. Then with 10 minutes left disaster struck for Arsenal.
From a Wigan corner the ball went to the far post, and was headed back across the Arsenal goalmouth. As Squillaci rose to try to clear the ball he was on the wrong side of his man, and he only managed to head the ball into his own goal. It was a hammer blow to Arsenal's hopes of keeping pace with the two Manchester clubs, and the boss quickly brought on Nasri and Walcott to replace Arshavin and Wilshere to try to rescue the win.
It almost paid off just before the end when Bendtner was taken down just outside the Wigan box, and Nasri stepped up to take the free kick. He curled the ball over the wall, but a Wigan defender jumped to block it, and the ball hit his hand above his head. It was very similar to the penalty Arsenal conceded to The Spuds, and the referee was perfectly positioned to see it. Unfortunately he didn't spot it, and Arsenal didn't get the penalty that probably would have ensured the three points.
The boss seemed to take a gamble that the team he picked would be good enough to get the three points against Wigan, but it backfired. With a tough trip away to Birmingham on Saturday he appeared to be resting players, but it cost Arsenal two points. I have no doubt that Arsenal would have taken all three points if the boss had played a stronger team, and the onus is now on the players to make up for that result by beating Birmingham on Saturday.
In recent away wins Arsenal have ridden their luck at times, but that luck deserted them last night. Wigan's penalty was a dive, their equaliser was an own goal, and Arsenal should have had a late penalty, but all of that hides the fact that too many changes were made to a winning side. The games are now coming thick and fast for Arsenal, and their best players have to be able to play twice a week or more points will be dropped. The last thing that Arsenal want to do at the moment is hand "Manure" a big lead at the top of the table, as they have the know how to keep it.
That's it for today, but I'll be back tomorrow with my usual Premier League predictions, and the day after with my preview of the trip to Birmingham.
Here's the highlights from last night's game.
See You Tomorrow.