By Randy Osae
Arsenal kept their title charge on course by nervously defeating Wigan in a very cramped affair on Saturday.
Maximum points were deservedly taken, but the visitors pushed Arsene Wenger’s men to the limit in order to nick out this vital victory.
In addition, Arsenal fans finally voiced out criticisms of Emmanuel Eboue in the clearest of volumes. The Ivorian received loud jeers as he went off late-on after troublesome giveaways of the ball which nearly proved costly on several occasions. But it was a bit harsh on Eboue who only returned from a nine-game injury lay-off to replace a wounded Nasri early on.
Gallas’ calf problem meant another freshly fit Ivorian was directly drafted into the side. Kolo Toure was the only change from last week’s beginners at Stamford Bridge.
Wigan defied suggestions that teams always come to the Emirates with a conservative look. The visitors were striving in the early stages and Palacios was the first to hit the target – testing Almunia with a dangerous shot from the edge of the area.
Soon, with 15 minutes played, Arsenal were to enjoy the initiative. A corner was never cleared out of danger by the visitors and Fabregas tapped the ball back into the penalty area with Song tangling with Bramble. Adebayor was available to pounce onto the loose ball and finish past Kirkland.
Unfortunately, Arsenal lost a battler in their fight to nurse that lead. Palacios went in very hard on Nasri with a tackle that saw the French winger struggle to get back onto his feet and eventually replaced by Emmanuel Eboue.
Adebayor almost doubled his and Arsenal’s tally on the stroke of half-time. The Togolese lashed onto Denilson’s cut-back pass but his effort was tipped onto the foot of the post by Kirkland.
A 2-0 Arsenal lead at the break would have been a bit flattering because Steve Bruce’s men had shown they possessed some fight in them. And they kept their tilt in the second half as Figueroa set up a perfect cross for Heskey which the English forward squandered by heading straight at Almunia.
Van Persie was in the middle of bound openings which could have put the game beyond doubt. But the Dutchman failed to rediscover his clinical touches against Chelsea. Bacary Sagna almost delivered that awaited second goal with an effort from a scrambled corner-kick traveling just above the crossbar.
Wigan claimed they deserved a penalty when Kolo Toure had a clumsy meeting with Henry Camara in the box, but referee Steve Bernett was not convinced. Denilson was then victim of another agonizing miss when his well drilled shot from about 20-yards went on to strike the post.
Mario Melchiot had little reasons to not be the hero for Wigan. That was due to the grace of an outstanding save by Almunia which denied the Dutchman from close-range when he looked bound to equalize.
Adebayor then went close with a teasing header onto Van Persie’s delivery, and also saw his left-footed shot from about 6-yards out saved by Kirkland.
That was when the likeness of Arsene Wenger’s men gifting their advantage began to emerge. Their inability to put the game to dead inspired Wigan – who by the help of a very sluggish Eboue pass – managed to set up a cross which Heskey headed just over Almunia.
Eboue was not done there with his derailing of Arsenal’s nervy defense of that slender lead. The Ivorian let off Toure’s pass onto the feet of a Wigan player again, and the visitors almost punished.
The crowd who had reacted amid those blunders cheered in relief when an eventual substitution of Eboue (for Silvestre) was sighted and jeered the 25-year-old as he traumatically walked straight down the tunnel.
They soon changed their voices to help Arsenal see out a tough win.