By Richard Clarke
Another week, another comeback.
For over an hour of this enthralling Premiership clash, Wigan looked likely to become the first team to beat Arsenal at Emirates Stadium. The side that had so nearly pooped the Final Salute party at Highbury took the lead this afternoon with a stunning strike from Danny Landzaat 10 minutes before half time.
However Arsenal are an irrepressible side this season. This was the 14th time they have trailed and yet come back to take at least a point. As it turned out two goals in the last nine minutes this afternoon would bring them all three.
To be honest the drama of the comeback was better than the Arsenal performance. For long periods, the home side struggled to get their passing together.
However, in a long hard season, character counts for a lot. At full time this afternoon Arsenal had completed two thirds of the current League campaign. It is shaping up well.
They remain fourth in the Premiership, hopeful in the Champions League and FA Cup plus they are already Cardiff-bound in the Carling Cup.
Then there is the sheer, adulterated drama of matches like this one.
Wenger made three changes from the side that had drawn at Middlesbrough last weekend. The dismissal of Philippe Senderos in that game meant Johann Djourou came in alongside Kolo Toure. Theo Walcott replaced Flamini on the right of midfield meanwhile Emmanuel Adebayor dropped to bench. His omission meant that Julio 'The Beast' Baptista was paired up front with Thierry Henry for the first time.
However it was Emile Heskey who would make a muscular menace of himself in the opening stages this afternoon. The former England striker nearly scored with the first opportunity of the game when he got on the end of Lee McCulloch's looping shot. Heskey would be a thorn in Arsenal's side all afternoon.
Walcott was equalling worrying for Wigan with his early right-wing raids. He linked up well with Henry on a couple of occasions and produced an invitation of a cross that arrived just too early for the onrushing Baptista.
Rosicky was also catching the eye on the other flank. In the opening 15 minutes he let fly from distance and then spanked a fierce shot wide after being put through in the left hand channel.
Although Landzaat went close from distance, the home side were dominating. An Arsenal goal seemed inevitable and, after 15 minutes, it seemed to have arrived when Walcott again sent over another inviting low ball. It needed the simplest of RSVPs from the unmarked Henry at the far post. However he somehow spooned the ball high over the bar. It was about as unlike Henry as you could get.
It was proving to be a decent scrap with neither defence having much of a grip on the opposition attack. Midway through the half, Leighton Baines wasted a good position with a weak cross into the arms of Jens Lehmann. A couple of minutes later Henry might have done better with a free-kick just outside the area and then an error by Emerson Boyce allowed Rosicky's speculative ball to wander dangerously past the far post.
However, as half time approached, Arsenal lost their focus and their passing started to become ragged.
Their punishment was swift and severe.
In the 35th minute, Julius Aghahowa and Djourou went shoulder to shoulder in the right-hand channel. The Nigerian striker had won the ball by the time they had reached the touchline and, via the Arsenal defender's outstretched foot, it found its way to Landzaat 10 yards outside the area. The Dutch midfielder met it with a curling left-foot drive that flew past Lehmann into the top corner of the net.
For the 11th time in 19 matches, Arsenal had fallen behind at Emirates Stadium.
Despite that statistic, Wenger's team had always come back to take at least a point. However when Heskey went clear and clipped the ball past Lehmann on the stroke of half time Wigan were in danger of sending Arsenal 2-0 behind at home for only the second time.
Agonisingly for the visitors the ball trickled goalwards but bounced back off the inside of the post. Replays later proved that Lehmann had got a crucial fingertip on the ball.
Deep into injury time, Henry nearly pulled Arsenal level. Clichy sent over a high swirling cross from the left and the Arsenal striker rose above Josip Skoko to glance his header inches wide.
One would suspect Wenger was happy to speak to his players at the break. Their first half performance had been below the usual high standards.
However within five minutes of the restart the Arsenal manager would have to adjust. Djourou got a nasty bang on the nose when challenging Heskey for a high ball. The young centre back was dazed and replaced by Adebayor. As a result Gilberto dropped back to centre half and Baptista joined Fabregas in midfield.
To add insult to injury, Wigan might have doubled their advantage while Djourou was receiving treatment on the side of the pitch. Heskey beat the offside trap but fired over from an acute angle.
The changes only added to the tension at Emirates. Bolton had beaten Fulham earlier in the day and Arsenal needed a least a point to stay in fourth place.
Clichy had claims for a penalty when Ryan Taylor abruptly ended his mazy run into the area. Then Baptista and Walcott sent anxious efforts wide.
Once again, the chances were flowing. Skoko scythed an effort just over the Lehmann's bar then, just past the hour, Rosicky skipped through to scuttle a shot wide.
Arsenal were now piling forward but the threat on the Wigan was not forthcoming. In the 67th minute Wenger played his last two cards - Flamini replaced Hoyte at right back and Aliadiere came on for Walcott. If Arsenal were to lose at Emirates for the first time it would not be for the lack of attacking options.
Arsenal had their back firmly against the wall now. Adebayor did plant the ball in the Wigan net 18 minutes from time but he was adjudged offside. In the 80th minute Heskey bustled clear and tumbled under Flamini's challenge. Again referee Phil Dowd waved play on.
It was a crucial decision as Arsenal grabbed their equaliser almost immediately. Henry sent Flamini through on the right and his low cut back was turned into his own net by Hall with Henry in close attendance.
The winner followed in the 85th minute.
Adebayor ball sent Baptista through on the right and, from the same position as Flamini's assist seconds earlier, he cut the back for Rosicky to power home a header.
Another wonderful Arsenal comeback was complete but, just occasionally, you'd like them to choose an easier route to the three points.
- Lehmann Yellow Card
- Clichy Yellow Card
- Hoyte 67
- Djourou 51
- Toure Yellow Card
- Rosicky Goal! Yellow Card
- Julio Baptista
- Fabregas Yellow Card
- Walcott 67
- Henry Yellow Card
- Flamini 67
- Aliadiere 67
- Adebayor 51
- Baines Yellow Card
- Taylor 87
- Hall 90 Yellow Card
- Landzaat Goal!
- Aghahowa 87
- McCulloch Yellow Card
- Haestad 90
- Kilbane 87
- Valencia 87