It was a match in stark contrast to Arsenal’s 5-2 destruction of Reading on Monday as Wigan pressurized the Gunners for much of the tightly-fought encounter. It was only when Theo Walcott was fouled in the box on the hour mark and Mikel Arteta converted the penalty that Arsenal were able to break the resistance.
For all the home side’s neat possession and admirable work rate, they sorely lacked a cutting edge. But, in truth, so did Arsenal, leading to a match where chances were few and far between.
Ali Al-Habsi was forced into a rare save when Arteta fed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain down the right of the box and his near post shot was turned away by the Wigan goalkeeper.
It was Wigan, though, that arguably had the best opening of the first half. Arouna Kone took advantage of Arsenal’s high line and Per Mertesacker’s lack of pace on the turn as, fed through by Franco Di Santo, he raced clear into the area. Symptomatic of Wigan’s struggles in front of goal, the Ivorian lost his composure at the crucial time and scuffed his shot wide across goal.
For Arsenal, their best chances fell to Theo Walcott. Yet, playing in his favored central striking role for the second game in succession, the England international failed to enhance his claims for a regular run leading the line.
On a rare occasion that Santi Cazorla was able to find some space on the edge of the box, the Spaniard produced a typically fine ball into Walcott, but Emerson Boyce was able to prevent the danger with a good block.
An even better chance fell Walcott’s way after the break. Oxlade-Chamberlain picked him out with a good pull back but Walcott could only shoot straight at Al-Habsi.
Gradually Arsenal had been starting to get more joy out of the Wigan defense at the start of the second half and they got their breakthrough 15 minutes in. Cazorla played a clever little pass goal-side of Jean Beausejour to Walcott, who was clumsily bundled down by the Chilean to leave the referee with the simple decision to point to the spot.
Arteta stepped up and sent Al-Habsi the wrong way to give the Gunners a vital lead.
After going behind, Wigan stepped up the pressure, but, still struggling to find a final pass, they failed to pose a consistent threat to Szczesny’s goal.
On one of the few occasions Wigan did get through on goal, it took a mixture of skill and determination from Kone, coupled with some less than impressive Arsenal defending, as the forward cut in from the left into a shooting position but was thwarted by the legs of Szczesny.
Other than that effort, Arsenal did well to restrict the perennial relegation strugglers to efforts from distance. The pick of the bunch came from David Jones, whose left-footed shot from 20 yards fizzed inches past the post with Szczesny unmoved.
Arsenal were certainly holding out in the end, a fact reinforced by Arsene Wenger’s defensive substitutions. It was a strategy that ultimately proved successful as James McArthur volleyed Wigan’s last half-chance wide of the target.
It won’t by any means be a win that will live long in the memory for Arsenal fans, but Wenger will hope that it could be crucial, both for the three points and the potential continued boost to his side’s sometimes fragile morale.