09 May 2013

A Comedy of Errors: Wigan vs. Arsenal

An alternate lede might be, "here's one stat that sees Wigan outstrip Arsenal." For a good chunk of the season, we've led the league in errors leading to goals, plagued early in the season by a number of miscues that saw us drop points against teams we really should have beaten (Norwich, Fulham, Swansea) and teams we might have beaten (Man City, Chelsea, Man U). Thankfully, once we got through a horrid winter that saw us concede nine goals through errors between November and January, we've settled down nicely. Wigan, on the other hand, just can't seem to shake off these kinds of errors, conceding goals on a near-weekly basis to see them lose or draw games that they were about to win.

Let's get one thing out of the way. The "errors leading to goals" statistic is tricky because it reflects, at times, a defender's honest effort to block a shot only to deflect it in while a foul that leads to a penalty, like Sagna's foul against Man U, isn't always counted as such an error. There are also times when one player makes a mistake, forcing a teammate to make a last-ditch dive or tackle that ends up leading to a goal. In other words, let's take the details with a grain of salt while keeping an eye on broader trends.

Having said that, we were pretty sloppy through the first months of the year, conceding at least one goal per month (not counting August's two games) through January, an dire month in which we conceded four such goals in five games. I've tallied the dropped points only by removing the conceded goal. Vermaelan's error against Swansea, for example, doesn't result in dropped points in my book because we still lost even without his error. Draws would have been wins and losses draws. I don't think I need to point out the correlation between conceding a goal through errors and dropping points. It's manifestly clear. Thankfully, since then, we've largely eliminated these errors, with only Mertesacker's red-card to mar our recent record, and that came in a victory over West Brom anyway. Since that winter of discombobulation, then, we've found a way to settle down even as the pressure to keep maximum points has grown. Each passing week has seen a seemingly more-disciplined, if not invincible, defensive effort, driven in part by the pairing of Koscielny and Mertesacker and of Ramsey and Arteta. As a result, we've now conceded "only" 14 goals through our own errors, still far too sloppy for a club with top-four ambitions, but we're in fourth nonetheless.

Wigan faces a similar dilemma at the opposite end of the table. As they scramble to climb out of relegation, their own errors continue to pull the rug out from under them. I'm not going through their fixtures game-by-game, thank you very much. Suffice it to say that, for all of our generosity, Wigan has now gone one-up on us, having allowed their 15th goal through error on the season. On Tuesday against Swansea, Wigan twice went ahead only to concede silly goals each time, the worst seeing Swansea claim the lead for good after some slap-sticking allowed Swansea to score the go-ahead. In a game that could very well have changed the race for 4th in our favor, Wigan had Spurs on the ropes despite that ridiculous exchange between Figueroa and Robles that forced Robles to attempt a clearance that struck Bale's outstretched foot and went in. Wigan recovered and looked set to win 2-1 until an Emmerson Boyce own-goal in the 88th minute allowed Spurs to escape with a draw. Brutal. Just brutal.

It's enough to make your heart go out to them, isn't it? It's almost enough to make us feel a kinship with them, being 1-2 on the chart for most goals to errors. Wigan has a reputation, though, for slipping out of the drop-zone at the last second, so I'm not sure they've quite learned the importance of taking care of the ball. It must therefore be up to us to remind them with a thorough thumping on Tuesday. A little tough love, that 's all I'm asking. Nothing mean or vindictive.