Barring a lively first 45 minutes from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal offered very little penetrative drive from midfield throughout. The good news is that Aaron Ramsey is back (albeit still finding his feet), but the bad news is that while he’s been away, those around him have fallen into a state of distressing mediocrity. GP surgeries around Islington will be inundated with Arsenal fans looking to check their high blood pressure on Monday morning, having had to sit through and endure yet another characteristically limp shift from their midfield. There was no movement, there were no ideas, and most alarmingly, there was no desire to even make a meaningful sustained venture into the Wigan half for the best part of 80 minutes, and most of the blame should fall at the feet of their captain. When Mikel Arteta isn’t scoring penalties, it would appear that the rest of his play has been taken straight from the Tom Cleverley school of football. Passing accuracy of 90 per cent is fantastic on paper, but in reality the Spaniard has got himself stuck in a sideways rut. With five-yard passes being strung back and forth between the men alongside him, Wigan always found themselves with plenty of time to settle back into position, leaving Arsenal looking at an organised unit that their own captain had effectively helped to create. But perhaps the most worrying problem concerning Arsenal’s middle men is the mystery of the artist formerly known as Santi Cazorla. The little Spaniard was a revelation in his first season at The Emirates and quickly became a fan favourite. But as the men around him dropped like flies and headed for the recovery rooms, Cazorla might as well have pulled up a bed alongside them. Along with Arteta, Cazorla has been run into the ground for the best part of 18 months, and the strain has finally taken its toll. Another poor performance today was in keeping with an absolutely dismal season from the number 19, so much so that he looks set to watch Spain’s World Cup campaign from the comfort of his own home, and that might just be a blessing in disguise for the Gunners.
When Wigan were relegated last year, many predicted that much of the Latics’ first-team squad would follow the outgoing Roberto Martinez through the exit doors of the DW Stadium. The talented young blood that had done so well for Wigan in the FA Cup (and in sporadic periods in the league) were being eyed up by teams that could offer more money alongside the holy grail of Premier League football. James McCarthy duly obliged to Everton’s overtures and none at the club will begrudge him for doing so. Yet arguably Wigan’s most exciting player slipped under the radar and opted/was forced (who knows what goes on behind the scenes with Dave Whelan in charge) to stay at the club many had tipped him to leave. McManaman’s extra year in the Championship appears to have done him the world of good. By spending a season in the second tear, the Merseysider has been able to continue in his development without the scrutiny and pressure of the national media so desperate to see a talented young Brit become a world-beater overnight, so much so that the career of said player can crumble before it has even started: see a certain Mr. Zaha for reference. But the winger announced himself back on the big stage with a relative bang. Despite being substituted before the 70th minute, McManaman had run Nacho Monreal in so many circles that the Arsenal left-back’s heat map might resemble something a six-year-old created with a Spirograph. A constant source of confusion amongst the opposing back four throughout, the Englishman looks more than ready to make his mark in the Premier League come the start of next season.
Yaya Sanogo was so out of his depth that even the cast of The Deadliest Catch wouldn’t have been able to reel him in from the rugged Wembley waters. The 21-year-old started as he meant to go on: wasting a guilt-edged early chance by heading the ball straight at the grateful body of Scott Carson from six yards, before the Ivorian was left with his head in his hands ten minutes later after what was a promising one-on-one encounter with the Wigan goalkeeper was sent begging by a sloppy first touch. It got to the point where even Arsene Wenger’s lifelessly grey face was running red with rage at his striker’s ineptitude (despite keeping him on for 120 minutes whilst opting to remove the dismal Lukas Podolski from the pitch instead). Nothing seemed to click for the big man, and some Gunners were left to ponder the years of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp up front, and wonder just what they had done to deserve this sort of punishment. Yet the groans and laughter (depending on which part of north London they come from) aimed towards Sanogo are still a touch unfair when put into context: the inexperienced striker has been shoved to the forefront of Arsenal’s attack through necessity, when he himself might even admit that he’s just not ready, but zero goals from 13 first team appearances is worrying, and on this showing that stat doesn’t look set to chance anytime soon.
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