Being such a clever bloke the irony will not have been lost on Arsene Wenger. After a few days where if and his players had all but compared us to one of John Beck’s masterpieces, the long ball over the top proved the only way that Arsenal could break down a side that for long periods had played then off the park.
This might not have been the first time Paul Jewell had prepared a team capable of impressing themselves on one of the country’s top sides only to see all their hard work snatched away from them in the dying minutes, but that means little. It was all too easy to come away from this one full of what ifs and woe is me, but let’s face if you don’t take your chances you don’t win games.
A cliché? Maybe, but then again wasn’t he Arsenal’s left back?
The biggest surprise ahead of the game was Paul Jewell’s switch to a 4-3-3 formation. The main object being to match Arsenal’s three man midfield, it also allowed for greater flexibility up front. Whilst the midfield, in particular the returning Denny Landzaat, reveled in this change the three forwards took some time to get used to it.
This made for a first half where Latics were clearly the better side; plan ‘A’ was obviously to stifle Arsenal which was achieved with some ease. Plan ‘B’ was to cause then some problems, again this proved easy, but Latics just didn’t have the quality around the box to complete the job.
If the last half time team talk was one of Jewell’s most difficult, this will have been one of the simplest. A case of keep your shape, concentrate and more of the same boys. Wenger had the harder job on.
For starters, the French ‘professor’ had held back some of his ‘big guns’, preferring to start with Flamini and Walcott instead of Fabregas and van Persie. Whether that was an under estimation of the Latics midfield, or an over estimation of his own reserves, it hadn’t worked, the easy option would have been to throw on his stars. He didn’t take that, preferring to send out the same eleven with the message to attack.
The change in tack, combined with Latics’ growing confidence made for a more open and entertaining second half. For the most part it was end to end stuff as both sides pushed for the goal that would win the game. In the end that was probably the home team’s undoing.
Last season Latics were rightly accused of naivety. All too often they were caught out trying to win games late on when it would have made more sense to take the draw. That might be great for the neutral, but not very helpful in the search for points. Yes Arsenal were there for the taking, but a draw is never a bad result against them and come the last ten minutes of the game it’s one that we should have been happy to take.
Instead the intrepid Latics continued to push, allowing the back four to get caught too high up the pitch nicely lined up for a ball over the top, all in a lovely straight line and trying desperately to play offside. Minutes earlier Kirkland had saved well at the feet of Adebayor, this time the striker managed to roll his shot under the keeper.
It was a case of yet another defeat snatched from the hands of victory as Latics had the opportunities to take a deserved lead. Camara failed to finish off a simple rebound due to some excellent covering from Toure, but the best chance fell to Emile Heskey whose dink over the keeper was foiled by a combination of a bad bobble and a lack of confidence.
Camara’s through ball to create the chance was a pearler and in one movement showed up Latics failings this season. As yet another good performance floundered in the 18 yard box. Jewell had got this one right tactically and the players had put their backs into it, but the longer the game went on you knew that Arsenal would end up taking more than they deserved.
The simple fact is that we don’t carry enough of a threat, and that is something that needs to be addressed come January. Worryingly we also seen less resilient at the back, hopefully that is more to do with injuries and an ever changing line up than personnel, but can Jewell take the risk?
It may seem strange to call for reinforcements after one of the best home performances of the season, this one was up there with the united game, but it has to be a concern that we can play so well without capitalising on it. If the argument is that there are two of the best this league has to offer, then maybe we should be saving these performances for teams like Sheffield United.
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