Arsenal faced off against an FA Cup-winning Wigan Athletic last night in an all important clash at the Emirates.
Wigan needed the points to survive relegation and Arsenal were looking for the win to keep them in the race for the top four. In the end the Gunners triumphed and, with one game to play, they are now favourites for the top four spot and also hold a superior goal difference over their north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Sadly, Wigan, despite their fighting spirit near the end of the season, will become the first FA Cup winners to exit the Premier League in the same season.
Arsenal started the game well and dominated the first 20 minutes, scoring an early goal when Lukas Podolski nodded in a simple header from a corner. Wigan then fought back admirably and scored an equaliser just before half time. In the second half Arsenal came back stronger and finished off the match before the 70-minute mark with goals from Theo Walcott, another from Podolski and one from Aaron Ramsey.
1. Podolski played well through the middle and warranted his starting berth in that role with two goals, but Walcott once again showed that he could be as dangerous in front and Arsene Wenger should probably think about a possible 4-4-2 or another variation that will place Walcott in the box more often.
The winger has earned his striking stripes this season, finishing clinically and scoring 21 goals for the club with one game to go.
2. The partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny continued their good run and stood firm once again. Koscielny enjoyed a particularly good game; in one instance getting back to clear what should have been a goal – getting a boot to a ball that was well above shoulder height and saving Wojech Szczesny from embarrassment.
Mertesacker also played well making vital clearances and making his presence felt during set pieces – apart from Maloney’s free kick which sailed over the German pair of Mertesacker and Podolski. Nevertheless, if the centre-back pair keep playing like they’ve been, Arsenal’s defensive record is set to improve greatly next season.
Incredibly, Arsenal haven’t conceded a goal from open play in their last seven league games. They conceded a penalty against West Brom, a free kick against Norwich, a penalty against Man United and another free kick against Wigan on Tuesday.
Defending set pieces is something that Steve Bould can focus on during the summer but the massive improvement in open-play defending during the latter part of the season is probably the biggest reason for Arsenal’s likely top four finish.
3. Kieran Gibbs proved his defensive capabilities against the dangerous Callum McManaman – the same player that ran circles around Gibbs’ predecessor Gael Clichy over the weekend when Wigan beat Manchester City in the FA Cup final.
Gibbs is still very young and could become an Arsenal great if he keeps progressing at this rate. He is already a better defender than Clichy in my opinion and he is much more threatening going forward.
4. Santi Cazorla once again showed his class and why he deserves to be named player of the season for Arsenal.
He harrowed the Wigan defence throughout the game, providing four fantastic assists. The little Spaniard will be a key to Arsenal’s hopes for silverware next season.
5. Mikel Arteta played well and showed the consistently that he’s been displaying for most of the season. However, the Spaniard pulled his calf and is a major doubt for Sunday’s match against Newcastle.
His leadership, organisational skills and fantastic passing will be sorely missed in the crucial clash at St James’ Park and Jack Wilshere or whoever Wenger opts to play in Arteta’s stead will have big shoes to fill.
6. Bacary Sagna had a sub-par game, again. The France international simply hasn’t been good enough of late. He has been a vital part of the Emirates outfit over the years but perhaps it is time for Wenger to let the right-back go.
Carl Jenkinson is a quality player with plenty of potential and if the Arsenal boss can sign a class fullback to provide Jenkinson with competition for the role, Sagna won’t be missed all that much.
7. Another player who had a disappointing game in my opinion is Aaron Ramsey. Apart from his goal that finished off the match, the Welshman was very average and made too many mistakes when the pressure was on. Most Arsenal fans might and probably will disagree with me as he has received much praise from the Arsenal faithful recently, but in my opinion Ramsey isn’t good enough for the Gunners first team. Granted, he has improved considerably over the course of the season and has shown moments of brilliance, but not enough to warrant a starting spot in Wenger’s side.
He would be a good squad player to bring off the bench when the situation required it and perhaps he will yet prove that he deserves a starting berth in years to come. But, if Arsenal are going to challenge for top honours next season, players of Ramsey’s calibre simply aren’t going to be good enough.
8. Arsenal are leading their bitter north London rivals by point and a win at Newcastle will see them play in the Champions League next season. The fact that the Magpies are no longer threatened with relegation might prove beneficial to Arsenal as they won’t be fighting for their lives, but the Gunners can’t afford to take them lightly either and will have to keep showing the grit that have landed them above Tottenham in the table after going seven points behind Spurs a little over two months ago.
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