Arsenal’s best performance came courtesy of their even younger youngsters, crushing Wigan 3-0 in a game played with great freedom much due to the centre backs.
Arsenal 3-0 Wigan Athletic (Carling Cup), November 11, 2008
“We’ve had our backsides kicked,” said now outgoing manager Steve Bruce, giving the Arsenal youngsters the greatest compliment an opposing manager could give. The Gunners didn’t just play good, they played out-of-the-world good. Maybe Steve Bruce gave too much respect to the youngsters; he started with a 4-5-1 just to avoid a spanking but instead was given a mighty heave instead.
The movement of the interchangeable midfield posed much problem to the Wigan backline while up front, Jay Simpson was the pillar from who Arsenal could base their play around. Wilshere was superb on the right side of the midfield four, essentially all central players, orchestrating, constructing and dragging players out of position. If Merida on the left or Wilshere did cut inside, one of the central players in Randall and Ramsey were seamlessly able to move wide.
Indeed it was Wilshere in the centre of the pitch who set up the first goal, a sumptuous through ball that carved open the defence and finding Simpson to poke home. The freedom of expression allowed by Wenger made the performance a sight to behold and a deadly counter attack akin to the ‘Invincibles’ put the game beyond doubt.
However the attacking play could not have been possible were it not for the calm and composed centre back pairing of Song and Djourou. Yes, Wigan had 13 attempts, forcing Fabianski to make the save of the season but it was more due to the fact of the weak midfield cover, which was understandable given the expansive style and the relative youth of the players. The defensive double act complemented each other well; Song using his tackling ability and greater awareness of what’s in front by attacking the ball and Djourou calmly reading the play. Both were equally fantastic in bringing the ball out; Djourou’s surge from the back leading to the third goal. His pass was received by Vela and the Mexican put the icing on the cake with a glorious chip leaving the press reaching for the any number of superlatives to describe the goal.
Arsenal subsequently loss the following leg, despite having many clear chances as both defenders were withdrawn due to first team commitments and the unfamiliar pairing of Rodgers and Silvestre failed to act as the basis to allow the attackers to play with the freedom.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Fabianski, Hoyte, Song Billong, Djourou, Gibbs, Wilshere (Bischoff 76), Randall, Ramsey, Merida, Simpson (Lansbury 76), Vela (Fonte 84).
Subs Not Used: Mannone, Coquelin, Ogogo, Frimpong.
Goals: Simpson 42, 66, Vela 70.
Wigan: Kirkland, Cattermole (Brown 67), Boyce, Bramble, Melchiot, Valencia, Koumas (Camara 58), Palacios, De Ridder, Figueroa, Zaki.
Subs Not Used: Kingson, Taylor, Scharner, Kilbane, Cywka.
Ref: Steve Tanner (Somerset).