Six days of magic for Wigan
THERE are many great managers who wait a lifetime to beat Manchester United and Arsenal in the course of one league season: Roberto Martinez has done it in the space of six days with a team many had considered to be relegation fodder for some time.
For some time now, Martinez has been telling everyone that Wigan Athletic are good enough to survive and suddenly, over their last two Premier League games, they have forced the world to sit up and take notice. If their win over United at the DW Stadium on Wednesday was remarkable, then the two goals they scored in the first eight minutes at the Emirates last night was rub-your-eyes-in-disbelief time.
This was a triumph for Martinez's belief in his way of playing even with a team that was moored in the bottom three of the Premier League since mid-December until they beat United on Wednesday. His unorthodox 3-4-3 formation caught Arsenal as cold as it did United and within eight minutes Franco Di Santo and then Jordi Gomez had scored the goals that won the game.
Martinez believes that his players "clicked" in February and since then have been unlucky with results culminating in the two offside goals that Chelsea scored against them nine days ago. "The only way out of relegation is by playing well," he said. "You need to find a way to win, not short-term ambition. To sneak a result here and there will not be enough."
He said with a smile that he expected the following day's headlines would be about Arsenal's bad day at the office and he was in part right, but this was also a monumental performance from Wigan. In Victor Moses they had the game's best player but there were also big contributions from the likes of Gary Caldwell, James McCarthy and Jean Beausejour.
At the end of the game, Caldwell, the Wigan captain, had a disagreement with Robin Van Persie, who was unwilling to shake the hand of his opponent. Arsene Wenger left the touchline without shaking hands with Martinez but in defence of the Arsenal manager he did hang around to wait for a while as his counterpart chose to embrace his coaching staff first.
It was a strange kind of night in the Emirates where the home supporters were quiet, bordering on mutinous for much of the second half. The Wigan support was just 200-strong - the smallest ever at the stadium - and around 20 of them appeared to be in Oman national team tracksuits, presumably team-mates of Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi. They picked a great game to watch.
Only Blackburn Rovers' win over United at Old Trafford on New Year's Eve tops this result for sheer shock value this season. At this time of the season, these three points are golden for Martinez whose team are now 16 th and five points clear of the relegation zone with four games to play. Martinez's only concern could be that having beaten two of the best they now have to raise their game against Fulham, Newcastle, Blackburn and Wolves.
As for Arsenal, it was a night when Wenger said there was "not enough petrol left in the tank". He was furious that his team had conceded the second goal when Aaron Ramsey was not yet ready to come after Mikel Arteta had gone off the field injured. Arteta has what Wenger suspected was a serious ankle injury and the chances are that Arsenal may have seen the last of him this season.
Wenger's team are still five points clear of Spurs and Newcastle behind them who are level on 59 points but have played one game fewer than Arsenal. They also have to face a newly-resurgent Chelsea at home on Saturday. Without Arteta last night they looked bereft of ideas and the usual suspects in poor performances - Theo Walcott, Andre Santos - copped it at times from a restless home crowd.
The Arsenal manager was annoyed that by the end of the game he had Van Persie, Walcott, Benayoun, Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the pitch by the end of the match but really his team had created more chances in the first half. Thomas Vermaelen headed in Arsenal's goal on 21 minutes from Tomas Rosicky's cross after Moses had slipped as he tracked the Czech midfielder.
Beaten 4-0 by Arsenal at the DW Stadium in December, Martinez was without Shaun Maloney, his matchwinner against United. Maloney is a class act but with Gomez in place of the Scotland international, Wigan cut Arsenal to bits in those early stages. They were helped by an Arsenal defence that reverted to its pre-Spring form of utter disorientation.
The first goal came from deep within the Wigan half when Sagna gave the ball away and James McCarthy picked it up. From McCarthy to Moses and onto Gomez, it was played into Franco Di Santo. He chipped it over Wojciech Szczesny, clipping the ball off the goalkeeper on the way, and finished neatly.
For the second goal, Moses got past Sagna again, as he had with Jonny Evans six days ago in the build-up to his disallowed goal against United. He crossed to the near post where James McArthur had the first attempt but found his shot blocked by Vermaelen. When it came back out Gomez had two stabs at the ball and forced it past Szczesny with the second.
It was after that Arsenal finally replaced Arteta with Ramsey. Van Persie was not quite the unstoppable force of the last few months. At the start of the second half, he could not respond quickly enough to get a good contact on a Santos cross from the left. Just before the hour, Van Persie crossed to Santos at the near post and the Brazilian failed to hit the target.
On 58 minutes, Moses, who had been busy turning Sagna inside out and back again for most of the game, ran onto a long throw on this occasion and benefited from Santos and Johan Djourou getting themselves in all sorts of bother. With Szczesny to beat, the Wigan striker lost his nerve and hit his shot at the goalkeeper.
Wenger complained bitterly to the fourth official Kevin Friend about Al-Habsi's time-wasting for much of the match and he had a point. Martinez simply said afterwards that time-wasting was "part of the game". Certainly, as his players were generously applauded off by the remaining home fans there were no doubts in many Arsenal fans' minds who had been the better team.
Arsenal: SZCZESNY, SAGNA, DJOUROU, VERMAELEN, SANTOS, SONG, ARTETA, WALCOTT, ROSICKY, BENAYOUN, VAN PERSIE
Wigan: AL HABSI, FIGUEROA, CALDWELL, ALCARAZ, McCARTHY, McARTHUR, BEAUSEJOUR, GOMEZ, MOSES, BOYCE, DISANTO
Scorers - Arsenal: Vermaelen 21. Wigan: Di Santo 7, Gomez 8