Gunners frustrated by gritty Wigan
Arsenal's Premier League title hopes suffered a blow as relegation-threatened Wigan held the league leaders to a 0-0 draw at the JJB Stadium on Sunday. With Manchester United and Chelsea otherwise occupied in the FA Cup this weekend, Arsenal had the opportunity to turn the screw by extending their lead at the top of the table.
But they failed to grasp the chance and Arsene Wenger's men have now lost impetus in the race for the title after three successive draws. Although they have a two point lead over United, the reigning champions can now go top if they win their game in hand.
Both teams attempted to stick to their principles in a scrappy first half, but the flair players on both sides struggled to have the impact that they would normally expect. Arsenal could have snatched a lead after just 45 seconds, however, when Emmanuel Adebayor raced through on goal only for Wigan goalkeeper Chris Kirkland to deny to the Togo striker with a fine save on the edge of the penalty area.
Adebayor and strike partner Nicklas Bendtner combined moments later for a scoring chance, but their neat interplay eventually crashed against the resolute Wigan defensive wall and Steve Bruce's team survived the early pressure to worry Arsenal themselves with the Ecuadorean winger Antonio Valencia.
Valencia's pace and ability to produce a testing cross made life difficult for left-back Gael Clichy, but the former Villarreal star could not deliver a cross worthy of note to Emile Heskey or Marlon King in the first-half. The pitch continued to frustrate, though, never more so than when Bendtner broke into the six-yard box and was denied a strike on goal by a vicious bobble that lifted the ball high in the air just as the Danish youngster was preparing to shoot.
As the game wore on, though, it was Wigan that began to grow more comfortable with the surface, and Bruce's team built up ahead of steam as they chased an opener early in the second-half. A three-man move involving Mario Melchiot, Antoine Sibierski and Jason Koumas resulted in Koumas having a shot from 20 yards deflected wide on 58 minutes.
Then Valencia forced Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia into action six minutes later with a swerving effort from the edge of the penalty area. Wigan's high-tempo game-plan was having its desired effect of unsettling Arsenal and Wenger's team began to take the rarely used route of hitting long balls to the under-worked Adebayor.
But that tactic failed to work and Wigan continued to create the best chances until Adebayor finally made his presence felt with a defence-splitting pass to Cesc Fabregas in the 90th minute. Fabregas looked set to snatch the points, but Kirkland denied the Spaniard with his legs to seal a deserved point for Wigan.