Sunday, 23 December 2012

Wigan 0-1 Arsenal - An Unexpected Journey

As far as a footballing nightmare goes, Saturday afternoon was it. The original plan was to go to Morecambe vs Dagenham & Redbridge - and enjoy our final away game (and victory) of the season. But oh no. Mother Nature had other ideas in store and as the clock struck 11:20am, about 40 minutes from Warrington, Morecambe called the fixture off. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but with the predicted weather patterns you'd have thought the fixture would have bitten the dust earlier.
Our Train to Glasgow was packed.

This ultimately left us in a conundrum. Do we waste £30 and just turn around, or do we find another match in the North to go to. The choices were Blackburn vs Brighton, or Wigan vs Arsenal. Having been awake since 7am I was determined to see some kind of football somewhere. At this point I should also point out the awful service given by Virgin Trains. Paying £30 for tickets and being forced to sit on the floor is unacceptable, so much for the "higher prices are improving our train system" rubbish.

With a mass of Arsenal fans around us, the option was simple - Wigan vs Arsenal it was. Off we got at Wigan North Western station to be greeted by; yep you guess it, yet more persistent drizzle. No disrespect to the people of the town, but Wigan didn't look like a particularly enticing place. There were several boarded up buildings, a flooded car park and a man in a hoodie that didn't appear to be the most savoury of characters. After a 20 minute walk we arrived at the DW Stadium.

We were now faced with another problem. Over Twitter it was alluded to that to purchase tickets at Wigan on the day, you need to have a history of buying tickets. This seemed quite odd as Wigan don’t usually fill up their ground, and like a fat bird at a bar you’d have thought they’d be grateful for the attention.

Luckily, thanks to my long list of contacts I knew a Wigan/Bolton supporter who managed to help us out (@JoeBillGibbo.) At a discounted rate of £5 per person, it actually worked out cheaper than what Morecambe would have charged – and somehow our accents didn’t give us away! Who said football wasn't affordable?
Dreary Looking DW.

The ground itself is situated on the outskirts of the town, meaning you have to walk past an Asda and through a car park to get there. With little fuss we progressed through the turnstiles and into the stadium concourse which was pretty rammed. With news that the Supporters Coach were also taking in this game, Wigan's attendance almost doubled (I like Wigan really.) 

The DW is effectively your generic modern build almost, furnished with modern seats and catering facilities. The main stand is extremely similar to Leyton Orient's in shape and stature, whilst the East Stand we were in created the majority of the home noise and was the largest in size. The Arsenal fans were housed in the North Stand which accommodates a shade under 5500 supporters and for the large part was full. 

The ground began to expectantly fill up as Wigan were looking as though they would garner their biggest attendance of the season. Meanwhile down the road, Accrington Stanley vs Plymouth was still on and their attendance was aided by around 1000 stranded Brighton fans. Who says us football lot aren't a welcoming and generous bunch? With the time approaching 12:45, the unfamiliar faces of Cazorla et al entered the field of play.

From an afternoon of watching Femi, Kevin Ellison and Izak Reid, we had been promoted to Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs. I was especially looking forward to seeing Oxlade-Chamberlain first hand once more, at least two years after we were first acquainted with him. With the Premiership music playing overhead, the Arsenal supporters were in full voice and the game began.

As you may expect in poor conditions with sweeping rain overhead, the match took a while to get going. Both sides were attempting to knock the ball around on the slippery surface, whilst chants were exchanged between the two sets of supporters. Despite the loss of Gary Caldwell & Alcaraz through injury, Wigan were looking surprisingly dominant during the opening stages. 

Despite the home side’s possession, it was Arsenal who registered the first shot on target. Mikel Arteta was allowed time on the ball and the midfielder crafted a wonderful ball through to the on-rushing Oxlade-Chamberlain who saw his shot parried wide by unorthodox goalkeeper Al-Habsi. Lukas Podolski then worked some space and also tested Al-Habsi who was once again equal to the effort. Inbetween that however, Arouna Kone forced a good stop from Szczesny as both sides looked to assert their dominance in the opening quarter of an hour.

The Superb Arsenal Fans
Just before the 25 minute mark Wigan should have taken the lead. Kone beat the offside trap with ease and outpaced the lagging Mertesacker, unfortunately though he dragged his shot agonisingly wide of the post when it would have been easier to score. It was an excellent piece of play by the Latics who had Arsenal on the ropes for a period. If their wingers were more adept at crossing the ball, they may well have taken the lead.

Theo Walcott who has pleaded with Arsene Wenger to make him a striker was enjoying a torrid afternoon. The converted forward was seeing all of his efforts blocked by a stern Wigan back line. The main incident of the first half came just before half time. Jack Wilshere made a perfectly timed challenge on the tricky Shaun Maloney; Jon Moss however took an indifferent view and opted to book the midfielder to the delight of the Wigan support.

There was just enough time for Franco Di Santo to fire over before Moss blew his whistle to signal the half time interval. A very even first half saw few chances hit the target, whilst the hosts were enjoying the majority of the possession. As Slade blurted out over the tannoy for the second time in the afternoon, the teams remerged for a second half of football at the DW.

The teams line up.
(Ok, it was the 1st half)
It was Arsenal who began the second half the better and Oxlade-Chamberlain brought the game to life. The Southampton academy graduate shot down the right before crossing in for Walcott to fire against the arms of Al-Habsi when he really should have found the net. This was not the sort of display that was going to convince Wenger that he was the number 9. Arsenal are looking for.

Despite a long range effort from Figueroa, Arsenal was the more dominant side in the second period. A neat interchange in the middle of the park between Cazorla & Wilshere released The Ox down the right once more, this time however the ball in was cleared by the resilient Wigan defence. 

With half an hour to go, the visitors got the break they were looking for. A clever one two released Walcott into the Wigan box where he was brought down under a clumsy challenge from Beausejour. My first instinct was penalty, the Gunners supporter’s first instinct was penalty, and Jon Moss agreed - awarding a penalty. Mikel Arteta took the spot kick with supreme confidence and sent Al-Habsi the wrong way to give Arsenal a 1-0 advantage.

The Latics thought they had been unfairly treated, and with that they set about levelling the scoreline. Figueroa was the first man to force Szczesny into a save following a speculative effort from outside the area. It was Kone minutes later that had hearts in mouth as he was released down the right before drawing a wonderful stop from the Polish 'keeper at his near post.

With 75 minutes played, the Wigan fans reverberated a noise around the DW like no other. Franco Di Santo was seemingly forced off to take a piercing out; however referee Jon Moss didn't allow him back onto the field of play. Latics supporters became more and more irate, much to the enjoyment of their Arsenal counterparts who loved every minute of it. After several minutes had passed he was allowed back on which was greeted with ironic cheers from the home support.

Despite Oxlade-Chamberlain turning in a man of the match performance, he was replaced by current cult villain Aaron Ramsey with 15 minutes left. Almost immediately Arsenal lost that level of invention that they had previously had, furthermore with the introduction of Francis Coquelin, it was clear what Wenger's intentions were. 

True to form, Wigan bombarded the Arsenal penalty area. David Jones saw his strike from outside the box whistle inches wide of the post, whilst Mertesacker had to be alert to clear a low ball across the six yard box from Beausejour. Despite fervent pressure, Wigan was unable to find that elusive equaliser as the referee blew for full time, meaning Arsenal have still only lost once at the DW.

On the balance of play Arsenal could say they deserved the victory, however I'd be inclined to say a draw would have been the fair result. Ultimately though that doesn't matter, it's the three points that do and they went to the Gunners which lifts them up to 3rd, if only for a limited time. Even with all of the rumours surrounding Wenger, he's still the right man for the job in my opinion and if Arsenal continue to do well away from home and pick up at the Emirates they should have no problem finishing 4th.

Wigan on the other hand suffered from not being good enough with their crossing. There were so many wasted opportunities and poor decisions which cost them in the end. What was admirable though was the way they play football, much their London counterparts. Both sides attempted to knock the ball around in difficult conditions and did so to the best of their abilities. Had they exploited Vermaelen a bit more who was having something of an off day, the scoreline may have been different.

With that, we headed off home. The train back to Euston was far less busy on the journey down which allowed for a comfortable trip. The only two downsides from then on was being conned £10 by TFL and falling down the metal steps at Euston Square. I'm not a safety expert, but surely metal + rain = slippery. In the traditional British way, I feel like putting in a complaint to both Virgin & TFL for the way I was treated on Saturday afternoon. I'd encourage anyone else who had to endure the awful Virgin service to do so as well!

As far as clich├ęs go, it was "one of those days." Thank you for any Arsenal/Wigan fans reading this, I hope you've enjoyed a different account of events for a change! For any Daggers giving this a glance, normal service will be resumed at home to Southend & Port Vale, whilst should Northampton not fall foul to the weather on New Year’s Day, there'll be a report for that too.

Thanks for reading and remember to follow me on Twitter, @NickDRFCMurphy.

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