Goal.com's 'Tactical View' looks at how Roberto Martinez's plan to stop Cazorla worked but didn't stop Arsenal from taking all three points..
Saturday’s early kick-off at the DW Stadium promised an attractive contest between two reputed pass masters. Instead, it served up a game which was closer to a stereotypical English tussle and was decided by Mikel Arteta from the spot following a soft, but correct, decision to award a penalty.
Arsenal seem to finally be making a habit of winning in relatively ugly fashion, but are at least three years late in doing so. Wenger’s defensive-minded decision to substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (who was the Gunners’ most threatening outlet at the time) in favour of Aaron Ramsey late in the game, in order to protect a one-goal lead was the kind of in-game change that had been few and far between during his tenure.
Wenger fielded an unchanged line-up from their five-goal thrashing of Reading. Theo Walcott continued in his preferred centre-forward role in a 4-2-3-1 formation, flanked by Lukas Podolski on the left and Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right.
On the other hand, Wigan manager Roberto Martinez had to deal with a major injury crisis with four centre-backs – Gary Caldwell, Ivan Ramis, Antolin Alcaraz and Adrian Lopez – out injured. Martinez continued in his preferred 3-4-3 formation but made one bold modification to it.
James McCarthy, a central midfielder with an ever-growing reputation, played a free role in front of the two centre-backs. It was a decision influenced by Santi Cazorla’s customary movement in-between the opposition lines and also his virtuoso performance against Reading. McCarthy stationed himself between the two central midfielders and the other two centre-backs, and tracked Cazorla when the diminutive Spaniard threatened in and around the box.
The alteration worked well for Martinez. Cazorla was allowed no shots on goal throughout the match (compared to 5 against Reading) and made only 1 dribble (compared to 7 against Reading). He was often forced to drift wide to find space. McCarthy, on the other hand, made 6 tackles (highest in the match) and 1 interception in a solid performance. He also provided the comfort of an extra man in midfield when required to go 3 versus 3 and cancel out Arsenal’s midfield trio.
However, in the early stages of the match, Wigan seemed to be struggling with a makeshift structure. McCarthy and Martinez were seen gesturing to each other, trying to pinpoint the midfielder’s role and position.
When Cazorla initially drifted wide, McCarthy followed him. This particular movement, on one occasion, allowed Arteta to run into acres of empty space in the middle of the park and set up Oxlade-Chamberlain for an effort on goal, which was saved by goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi. Thereafter, McCarthy concentrated on picking up Cazorla only when he threatened from near the centre.
|For a 22 year-old, James McCarthy showed maturity beyond his years|
Both Wigan and Arsenal preferred to attack down the flanks and played with plenty of width. The away side’s attacks came predominantly from the right hand side, not only because right-winger Oxlade-Chamberlain and right-back Bacary Sagna were two of the best players on the pitch, but also because Jean Beausejour was defensively poor and offensively adventurous and was left exposed by left wide forward Shaun Maloney’s natural habit of drifting inside during attacks.
Considering that the two teams preferred width, they were atrocious in their ability to cross, which in turn made for an apt scoreline. Of Wigan’s 31 crosses, only 3 (accuracy 10%) were successful. Wigan full-backs Ronnie Stam and Jean Beausejour who, even when they were afforded plenty of time and space, were extremely wasteful in their crossing – attempting 19 crosses, of which only 1 was successful and plenty of the rest not even troubling Arsenal’s defence.
The Gunners weren’t much better themselves in this regard, with only 2 successful crosses out of 14. Oxlade-Chamberlain was the culprit for the away side with no successful crosses in 6 attempts. However, while Arsenal had only Theo Walcott as a mini-target man to explain the inaccuracy of the crosses, Wigan had Aruna Kone and Franco Di Santo waiting to pounce in the box. It was ironic that a massively over-hit cross eventually led to the decisive play of the game.
Theo Walcott’s performance didn’t do much to strengthen his case for playing regularly upfront. In fact, Olivier Giroud – who was on the bench after recovering from an injury layoff – was badly missed in this match since Arsenal had no outlet to hold the ball and give the defence some respite when Wigan were piling on the pressure in the second half.
|Theo Walcott was largely anonymous in the game|
Walcott’s involvement in this game was abysmal. He had the least number of touches on the ball for any Arsenal starter and attempted only 7 passes in the whole match; including only 2 passes in the second half. Neither was he getting in behind the defence, nor was he dropping deep to get more involved which made Wigan’s makeshift centre-backs feel more comfortable than they ought to have.
His counterpart Kone was lively with his runs in behind the defence and along the channels, easily getting the better of Per Mertesacker on occasions. Kone should’ve been on the scoresheet but for his inadequate finishing. And while Arsenal’s front three didn’t switch positions in the entire match, Kone and Di Santo moved relatively freely to give the Gunners defensive line something to think about.
The match was pretty even throughout – even possession a fair indicator of that – and certain individuals shone brighter than the others.
Both Mikel Arteta (76 passes, 93% accuracy) and David Jones (88 passes, 99% accuracy) were the best passers for their respective sides and did well in keeping their respective teams ticking over. Bacary Sagna held his ground well with 4 tackles and 2 interceptions as Wigan attacked from his side of the ground.
Wigan’s central midfield trio (if you include McCarthy) made 12 tackles and 3 interceptions in comparison to 3 tackles and 7 interceptions from Arsenal’s central midfield trio. These figures show why Arsenal’s game was much less fluid than Wigan’s on the day. The Latics were excellent in pressing quickly and high up the pitch but were left ruing their lack of killer instinct in the final third.
Beausejour’s silly foul to concede a penalty allowed Arsenal to grind out another win to stretch the winning streak to three matches in the league. It’s always good to make a habit of winning when you’re playing ugly and Arsenal have shown resilience in doing so.
But as Arsene Wenger rightly noted after the match - "We didn't find the same fluency going forward” – his team has lost much of its trademark fluidity.
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