Arsenal 2-1 Latics AET
Tuesday 24th January 2006
After the events of Elland Road and the Riverside, you really couldn’t expect another tie quite so dramatic, but then again… After all this is Wigan Athletic and whatever your thoughts on our season so far, we’ve hardly had a dull moment. On hindsight it was a bit much to expect the Sky generation’s story of the season to continue into this game, Wenger had brought the big guns out, wound them up and sent them out to teach us a lesson about how things should be.
But then again this is Wigan Athletic and how things should be isn’t on the curriculum. From the first five minutes as the Latics midfield fired into Arsenal with gay abandon, whilst Mellor and Roberts set about letting the defence know they were in a game, it was clear that Arsenal weren’t about to get things their own way. In fact during the opening period of the game it seemed if Arsenal were taking it for granted. Even after those first ten minutes, when the tide turned and Arsenal had been shocked into thinking about the game there was enough to suggest that this was by no means a foregone conclusion.
Mike Pollitt had definitely not read the script. After Henry’s deft flick onto Stephane Henchoz’s arm had won a penalty, the Latics keeper, and everyone else watching, expected the Frenchman to step up and convert the spot kick, but no. He had passed the responsibility onto Reyes, one up for the keeper already. The spot kick was a decent one and seemed destined for the bottom corner but Pollitt had guessed right and at full stretch palmed the ball away. Not for the last time a look of disbelief spread around the Arsenal team.
If penalty saves are the making of goalkeeping legend, then the rest of the Yorkshireman’s performance was enough to ensure that he’ll be remembered for a long time around the JJB. Henry, trying to make amends for his decision over the penalty, was on fire. Anyone who doubts what makes him so special should watch a video of this game. The league cup isn’t usually treated to the va va voom and if he was going to be dragged in for his first game in six years then he sure as hell wasn’t going to lose it. Not content with posing an attacking threat, he was dropping off into midfield, dictating the play and driving Arsenal on. If he buggers off to Spain in the summer it will be the premier League’s loss, but it won’t half make everyone else’s life a damn sight easier.
A combination of strength, grit, some luck and inspired goal keeping saw Latics through the first hour of this one without conceding, but as much as Arsenal were on top we still caused them problems. Another captain’s performance from Roberts and you can be sure that Senderos and Campbell will be wishing they don’t come across him again. Neither centre half could handle him and both took turns to wrestle him to the ground in the box, in challenges that if made by a blue shirted player would have drawn lazy comparisons with another sport. To the exasperation of anyone not supporting Arsenal the referee decided that neither were worthy of a penalty.
A further, less clear cut penalty shout was denied later on when Chimbonda was bundled over by their keeper, if anything that was enough to tell us it wasn’t going to be our night, but it wasn’t all about what the referee denied us. Roberts had a couple of good chances to score, pulling at least one excellent save from Almunia and there were half chances for others before the goal that surely shut the door on our cup campaign, and when it came it was from a very unlikely source. If he doesn’t do the Carling cup, Henry does headers even less, let alone off a cross from an Englishman.
At that stage I (and I guess many others) expected the floodgates to open, but don’t forget this is Wigan Athletic and they’re in the business of confounding expectations. The loss of Henry, to a hamstring injury, helped but they managed to level things off a little bit and for the second time in a week, see the game to extra time. By this time Arsenal were trying to draw us out to catch us on the break but all this did was give the game an even more end to end feel and then the hammer blow came. A Van Persie free kick from thirty odd yards out lifted over the wall and into the top corner.
From that point on Arsenal and their crowd started taking the Mick. On their part good football, our lads were chasing shadows. As for the crowd, shouting ‘ole’s after the game they’d just seen was pushing it a bit. They were asking for a fall and, well you know the next bit. Things were getting desperate, Scharner had been pushed up front and a long high hopeful boot from Kavanagh was surely heading onto Sol Campbell’s forehead, but no.
Scharner and Roberts made enough of a nuisance of themselves, the ball dropped into the box and just as you thought the two Latics lads were going to get in each others way the ball fell to Robert’s feet. For the second time in two games a goal in the last minute had done it for us. At the whistle some thought it was penalties, it took a few seconds to sink in and then mayhem broke out. Remember, this is Wigan Athletic and we’re going to the cup final.
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