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By Richard Foord
The world of football is a fickle one. After embarrassment at Bradford some were calling for Arsène Wenger’s head. Yet victory last week at Reading caused some of the dissension to simmer. Saturday’s victory at Wigan papered over the cracks, but the jury for Arsène and his team is very much still out.
An issue that has taken up as many column inches as Wenger’s supposed decline is Theo Walcott’s reluctance to sign a new contract. On Saturday his plea to play a central role were answered; Wenger perhaps becoming more pliable the more a new contact is resisted. Bewilderingly however, he played Walcott up front without a strike partner. Time and time again the forward was forced to drop deep to pick up the ball, when his obvious strength involves sitting off the last defender and using his pace to get in behind the defence. The one time he managed to do this in the game; Arsenal were rewarded with the match-winning penalty (albeit a highly dubious one).
Having Walcott as the sole striking outlet also affected Arsenal’s style of approach play. On several occasions Gibbs found himself in crossing space on the left, but elected to cut inside to his central midfielders – the diminutive Walcott does not offer much of an aerial threat. As such Wilshere and Cazorla repeatedly tried to force play through the middle of the defence where the inevitable swarm of blue and white shirts ensured that not a clear cut opening was created throughout the match.
Wigan also had their fair share of opportunities. For much of the afternoon they were beating Arsenal at their own game. They were afforded far too much leisure on the ball by Arsenal’s three central midfielders and comfortably worked openings around the pitch; a statement reflected in the fact that Dave Jones did not misplace a single one of his 47 passes in the first half.
However, Wigan were as wasteful as they were industrious. Arouna Koné missed two clear cut openings, with Beausejour and Stam consistently getting into good wide positions but failing to deliver.
Ultimately, it was an unconvincing win for Wenger’s side, yet the bare facts remain that it brought them 3 points and their 3rd straight league victory – the first time they have maintained such a run since March. At the close of play Arsenal sat at 3rd the league, making far happier viewing for Arsenal fans who have seen their team drop as low as 10th in recent weeks. This apparent turnaround is as much a testament to the tight nature of this premier league this season: along with Arsenal are three other clubs on 30 points all vying for lucrative Champions League qualification.
The murmurings of discord have subsided in North London for now. Earlier in the week Arsenal made a fan-fare of securing the long-term signatures of five young British players. Carl Jenkinson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, and Kieran Gibbs are touted are the long-term core of the Arsenal team. The future and security of Arsène Wenger is by no means as certain.