Last night two goals from Nicklas Bendtner and Manchester United’s best player from last season, Own Goal, helped Arsenal into the semi-finals of the Carling Cup.
The club is now within touching distance of its first trophy in over five years, since Patrick Vieira signed off on his Arsenal career by slotting the winning kick in the 2005 FA Cup.
In truth, this game was a breeze for a very strong Arsenal second team. Wigan put up very little resistance and any forward threat they posed disappeared with an injury to Victor Moses, their only bright spot in attack, midway through the first half.
It took us some time to find our rhythm. Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner looked disjointed up front while the use of 4-4-2 forced Theo Walcott to receive the ball in less threatening positions. Carlos Vela, meanwhile, seemed to be playing on skates — not in the Zidane way, mind you — and slipped over any time he looked dangerous.
Fortunately our misfiring frontline was supported by a rock-solid back six behind them. Although the difficulty of their job was tempered by Wigan’s inability to create anything meaningful up front, Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny were in complete control at the back an their confidence projected onto the rest of the team. Kieran Gibbs got forward well, Emmanuel Eboue played like Emmanuel Eboue and with Wojciech Szczesny prowling the penalty area like a caged tiger, we never looked likely to concede a goal.
Denilson had a mixed game, working well with Jack Wilshere but misplacing too many passes. A lot of his poorer passing came in the first half as a result of seeking out van Persie and Bendtner, whose movement was tempered by the formation and a general rustiness in their play. However, I felt the Brazilian lost the ball too often in the middle third of the pitch, perhaps a result of attempting to take more responsibility and dictate the pace of the game in the absence of more senior players.
The game became far more comfortable when Wigan’s captain deflected in Walcott’s wicked corner and at half-time, it was hard to see any other outcome than an Arsenal victory.
The boys toiled for a killer goal throughout the second half — Vela in particular seemed in the mood — but had to wait until the 67th minute before Bendtner scored. To his credit, the enigmatic Vela played a big part in the goal, setting the Dane up with a perfect low cross that cut out three Wigan defenders.
Chances came and went in the final twenty minutes, as did Arsenal substitutions — Samir Nasri, Craig Eastmond and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas all getting game time — but the score remained 2-0. A fair reflection on the game and our first clean sheet since beating Wolves in the league.
Some conclusions from the win over Wigan.
Firstly, those baying for a return to the starting team for van Persie need to hold their tongue. Still a long way off his best, understandably of course, van Persie has done nothing to warrant the displacement of the hard-working, disciplined Marouane Chamakh. If Wenger can find a way to accommodate the pair then perhaps that is a solution although a front three of Andrey Arshavin, Samir Nasri and Chamakh is the best we have on current form.
Secondly, Vela needs to be given more time. He is arguably the best finisher in the Arsenal squad, is as quick as anyone aside from Walcott and when he involves himself over 90 minutes like he did last night, is a handful for defenders. He is a player waiting for the right injuries to allow him an opportunity to make his mark on the first team. Wigan was a step in the right direction.
Finally, Djourou and Koscielny look very natural together as a central-defensive pairing. Although their lack of leadership qualities necessitates the presence of Sebastien Squillaci on a regular basis, there is a balance to their pairing that bodes extremely well for the future. Throw in Thomas Vermaelen and we have a very strong, very hungry central-defensive quartet.
With Wigan successfully navigated and Manchester United shockingly knocked out of the competition by West Ham — 4-0! Get in there you Hammers! — the Carling Cup is there for the taking.
For the good of the club and the supporters and to take the first steps towards creating a winning mentality among this group of players, we must take it.
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