They were all laughing. I can still see it so clearly. The day was April 18, 2010 and Arsenal was playing Monday’s opponents, Wigan Athletic, in an end of season affair not dissimilar from this one. But that was really no excuse for what happened, is it?
Just to remind readers, it was a nice sunny day in northern England and we had taken a lead in the 41’ through Theo Walcott only to double our advantage early in the second half when Mikael Silvestre (gulp) scored with a looping header. The ensuing celebration was a mix of self-congratulatory high-fiving and laughter as if it was a Sunday at the county fair instead of a football match against at team of professionals struggling for survival.
Well, those smiles were quickly smacked off our faces as Wigan dominated proceedings going forward finally scoring in the 80th, equalizing in the 88th, and then winning it with a Charles N’Zogbia wonder strike in the 90th.
Now on first glance it appears things may haven’t changed too much since that game 24 months ago; We currently sit and third and Wigan is scrapping for every point to avoid relegation. But that’s where the similarities end as far as Arsenal is concerned.
Peerless Under Pressure
If anything this Arsenal team has become accustomed to is playing under pressure. Since the summer when the club was embroiled in transfer speculation, to the qualification matches versus Udinese, to the terrible start – this team has seemed to find themselves in must-win situations game after game.
And they’ve responded for the most part – qualifying for the main draw in the Champions League, responding to the slow start to be where they are now, and defeating Spurs at the Emirates.
Now the team finds themselves in another game considered a must-win what with Spurs and Newcastle five points back and Chelsea coming to the Emirates in five days time.
So if this season is any indication, at the very least we shouldn’t expect any ghosts of Wigan matches past showing themselves Monday.
Of course there is another team playing Monday and given recent form Wigan won’t be intimidated.
They are coming off an impressive 1-0 defeat of Manchester United, a contentious 2-1 loss to Chelsea and wins versus Stoke and Liverpool. Given those results, they may be the Premier League’s most in-form side relatively speaking.
But coming to the Emirates is a different matter. Arsenal has won 12 of 16 league games on home turf and has not dropped a point at home since the 2-1 loss to Manchester United in late January. All told it has been a run of seven successive wins with Arsenal averaging more than three goals per game while allowing just over one per game including three cleans sheets in the last four games.
Meanwhile, Wigan has been better of late on the road, winning at Liverpool and Bolton and tying Norwich. But for the season they have just 15 of a possible 48 points on the road and have never managed a point at the Emirates.
Monday Night Football
A Monday night affair can often be an odd one but in this case I believe it works in Arsenal’s favor. I just think that when you win one like Wigan did mid-week then you want to get back on the horse as quickly as possible. The extra days off may take Wigan a little out of their recent stride.
That said I could see them come out hard and try to unsettle Arsenal early, trying to land the first punch in which is surely to be an interesting affair.
The mid-week game at Molineux was a fairly controlled professional display for everyone except Andre Santos. The left back certainly struggled in his first start after a lengthy lay-off and if we were playing anyone but 10-man Wolves we may have been in trouble.
Wenger says Kieran Gibbs is 50/50 to play but with the match against Chelsea on Saturday morning I don’t imagine he’ll be risked.
This leaves the left back duties to the Brazilian and he’s adept and confident enough of a player that he should adapt but it will be interesting to see if Roberto Martinez attacks the left side to exploit him.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wenger stick with Yossi Benayoun to provide cover and experience.
Szczesny - Sagna - Vermaelen - Djourou - Santos - Song - Arteta - Rosicky - Benayoun - Walcott- Van Persie
Al-Habsi - Boyce - Figueroa - Caldwell - Alcaraz - McCarthy - McArthur - Beausejour - Moses - Di Santo - Maloney