Premier League – Wigan hold Arsenal for crucial point
Arsenal’s title bid suffered a set-back after the Gunners were held to a goalless draw at relegation-threatened Wigan.
The stalemate extended Arsenal’s lead at the top of the Premier League table to two points, but their nearest title rivals Manchester United now have a game in hand on Arsene Wenger’s side.
It was a battling performance from Wigan – who recorded their fourth clean sheet in five games – and one that propelled them up to 13th place, ahead of Reading and Newcastle. The point may yet prove crucial in their fight against relegation.
As for Arsenal, it was very much a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’.
When Cesc Fabregas carved open Wigan with a defence splitting pass with barely a minute on the clock, it seemed Arsenal were set to continue exactly where they left off in the San Siro five days ago.
But Emmanuel Adebayor was denied an early opener by a super Chris Kirkland save; and the Gunners were not to get a more clear cut chance until the final minute, when Kirkland denied Fabregas with another important stop.
Indeed, there was little about Arsenal’s performance that evoked memories of that famous win over Milan.
Perhaps that was inevitable, given the difference in circumstances between the two games – playing the reigning European champions in the Champions League last 16 at the San Siro is a world away from a Sunday afternoon clash on a muddy pitch in Wigan.
And Arsenal struggled to cope with the culture shock as Wigan defended stoically during the first period before venturing further forward in the second and even threatening to take all three points.
Other than his first minute save to deny Adebayor, Kirkland was relatively untroubled during the opening period, a Fabregas header the only time he was really troubled.
After the break, a lack of communication between the Wigan keeper and Paul Scharner nearly led to a breach in the hosts’ defence, but Kirkland saved from Adebayor even though he found himself stranded in no-man’s land.
As the half wore on, Wigan found their stride and began to pose more of a threat as an attacking unit. Jason Koumas lashed a volley wide of the post and Valencia stung Manuel Almunia’s fingers with a 25-yard drive as Wigan started to believe they might actually nick a winner.
But that attacking endeavour gradually petered out as the final whistle neared and as Arsenal strove to find a decisive goal. And they would have done, had it not been for Kirkland, who again bailed out his team-mates when he denied Fabregas in the 89th minute.
Wigan had a handball shout turned down in injury time, but the referee’s refusal to award a penalty did little to dampen the spirits of the JJB Stadium faithful as Wigan secured a vital point.
Steve Bruce’s side now very much hold their destiny in their own hands, and with home games against fellow strugglers Bolton, Birmingham and Reading to come, it appears their fate will be decided at the JJB.