By Richard Clarke
A new hero emerged at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Until now, Thomas Vermaelen had been viewed as just a solid summer signing by Arsène Wenger. A strong, no-nonsense defender who had formed a good-looking partnership with William Gallas in the early days of the campaign and seemed capable of contributing the odd goal too.
However, against Wigan this weekend, the 23-year-old made a step up; winning the game for Arsenal with two great goals and firmly establishing his reputation.
Just before kick-off, he accepted the Arsenal.com Player of the Month award for August. Little more than an hour later, he had bagged a brace.
The first was a powerful header after 25 minutes, the second was a net-rippling drive into the top corner. That made it four goals in his first eight games for Arsenal. Incredibly, he is the Club's leading scorer so far this season, one ahead of fellow defender Gallas!
Emmanuel Eboue added a third this afternoon by diverting in a shot from Eduardo. On the whistle, Cesc Fabregas turned home a cross from Nicklas Bendtner.
However the day belonged to Vermaelen. After the travails of the last three games, it was nice for Arsenal to combine a decent display with a simple, straightforward win.
Uncovering a new star was highly satisfying as well.
With the season now fully off the starting blocks, it was hardly surprising to see Wenger rotate a little in his team selection. Tomas Rosicky and Bendtner had caught the eye in Belgium on Wednesday night but both dropped out this afternoon.
Eboue moved from right back to the right side of the front three. Bacary Sagna replaced him in defence. Robin van Persie was brought in up front.
There was precious little to report in the opening stages. Fabregas had a free-kick blocked and Gael Clichy offered a consistent attacking outlet on the left. However Wigan keeper Chris Kirkland was untroubled.
The visitors had an obvious optimism when they went forward but the closest they came was when a desperate Gallas dispossessed Charles N'Zogbia on the left of the area.
However, by the quarter-hour, Arsenal were starting to turn the screw. Kirkland flapped a corner to Gallas at the far post. The Frenchman's return header beat the keeper only for Titus Bramble to boot the ball off the line.
Abou Diaby and Eboue both saw snapshots fly over as the home side seemed almost to be preparing to take the lead. In the 24th minute, Eboue stormed down the right and tried to cut the ball back for Van Persie. Unfortunately the cross was slightly behind the Dutchman and he could only lever an effort wide.
Then Eduardo clipped a ball to the far post but it was too tall for Eboue, who controlled the ball with his hand and earned himself a booking.
The traffic was starting to go just one-way. Therefore Arsenal's opening goal was entirely expected. Van Persie hoisted a corner into the area and Vermaelen leapt highest to plant a firm header into the roof of the Wigan net.
Arsenal now looked entirely comfortable. Eboue should have given the scoreline its proper reflection on the half-hour but, having raced into the area thanks to Van Persie's excellent throughball, he steered his shot wide.
However Arsenal's Achilles heel so far this season has been conceding when they are on top. And it nearly happened again this afternoon.
Wigan won a corner and Jordi Gomez floated it to the back post. Emmerson Boyce got his head to the ball but Vito Mannone saved well from point-blank range. The Italian then had the presence of mind to throw himself at Bramble as the centre half tried to turn in the rebound. A brave and classy double block.
Sagna dispossessed N'Zogbia in the area as Wigan threatened once more. However Arsenal steadied themselves. Eduardo and Van Persie combined well for the Dutchman to force a stretching save from Kirkland on 43 minutes.
In injury time, Van Persie should have put daylight between the teams. A clipped ball from Fabregas found him entirely on his own in middle of the area. The striker had more time than he realised and attempted to score with a spectacular, swivelling volley. However his connection was poor and the shot dribbled wide.
Four minutes after the restart, Vermaelen would give him an unlikely finishing lesson. Eboue tucked a regulation ball to the Belgian on the edge of the area and he unleashed a vicious curling shot in to the top corner of the net. A peach of a goal.
Within a couple of minutes, Emirates Stadium was singing his name. Vermaelen had clearly and audibly made his mark.
The goal finally broke Wigan's heart. Just before the hour, Arsenal made sure of the points with a third.
Eduardo's low shot was touched onto the post by Kirkland. The ball rebounded out into a crowded area but the Croatian was the first to pounce. He fired towards the net but Eboue diverted the ball in and both players ran off celebrating.
Morally the goal belonged to the striker but the Ivorian is likely to be credited with it.
After Wigan substitute Jason Scotland tested Mannone, Song fired a low shot against the outside of the post.
With nine minutes left, the visitors thought they had grabbed a consolation goal when Paul Scharner tapped in after Mannone had let Scotland's shot slipped through his fingers. However the Austrian was flagged offside.
It was the final proof that this just was not Wigan's day.
In injury time, Bendtner sent a low cross to the near post and Fabregas stabbed home a shot from virtually on the goal line. Rosicky also forced a late save from Kirlkland
However the final word belonged to Vermaelen, who preserved Arsenal's first Premier League clean sheet of the season by blocking Scotland's goal-bound shot from close-range.
- Vermaelen Goal! Goal!
- Fabregas (C) Goal!
- Eboue 73 Goal! Yellow Card
- Diaby 66
- Song Yellow Card
- Eduardo 73
- van Persie
- Rosicky 73
- Ramsey 66
- Bendtner 73
- Melchiot (C)
- Koumas 57
- Gomez 57 Yellow Card
- Rodallega 87
- Mike Pollitt
- Scharner 57 Yellow Card
- Sinclair 87
- Scotland 57