The way I see it - Arsenal v Wigan Athletic

Last updated : 23 November 2007 By Jason Hogan

Firstly though, I feel it would be remiss of me as an Englishman not to talk about the so-called "Golden Generation" of English players that perished ultimately at the hands of Croatia on Wednesday night.

In October, I wrote an article on this website in which I said that I wouldn't be shedding a tear if England failed to make it to next year's Euro Championships. Yet, whilst I fully stand by what I said, I have to admit that there was a part of me that still couldn't help feeling a little gutted about what unfolded before my very eyes on Wednesday night.

I really don't know why I was like that. I really surprised myself and even as I'm writing right now, I still haven't worked it out. I mean, it wasn't as if I didn't see this fiasco coming from a mile off. After all, I also went as far as saying on this very website a month ago that I had given up on seeing England ever becoming a genuine force in the international arena long ago.

I suppose, in spite of the scathing contempt I have shown for England in the past, the reason I found myself lamenting over what happened to England on Wednesday stems from the fact that I didn't quite fully prepare myself not only for how ruthlessly all the flaws that exist within the whole make up of the English national side were going to be exposed but, in terms of establishing where English football is really at, the sheer damning, brutal sense of finality that came with it.

I popped in to my local newsagents on Thursday morning and as well as chatting to my mates from behind the counter I ended up talking to a couple of rather glamorous middle aged ladies about England. Now believe me when I say that on first impression, these two ladies
struck me as the type whose definition of sport would be shopping at Harvey Nicks and they didn't look like footy fans. But in the midst of the communal conversation we were all having, it was the two ladies that hit the nail flush on the head when they said to me that the English players were too spoilt, too pampered and didn't really care enough about playing for England. I couldn't have agreed more.

I said to them it was so much in contrast to the Croatia side. You could almost see the pride in wearing their national shirt oozing out of their players. And in spite of the wind, the rain, the cold and the scathing criticism of Croatian coach Slaven Bilic beforehand over the pitch, the Croatians went on to deservedly become the first nation ever to beat England twice in the same qualifying campaign.

Of course, the fact that the current crop of English players are overpaid, overrated and over here is a notion that isn't new and in truth, when it comes to assessing why England consistently fail to make any real impact at international level, the modern day material bling culture is just the tip of a massive problematic iceberg.

The thing that has got to me most over the years is this constant usage of the term "England Expects" by the press and the media - what in heavens name gives England the right as a nation to "expect"?

I mean, if you are a native of Brazil or Argentina and a football fan you will have earned the right over the years to have genuine expectations for your national team. They have shown themselves to be proven winners down the years.

The same could also be said in Europe of the Italians, the Germans and the French. What have England done on the international stage to match these guys over the last 40 years? Not a damn thing. And yet, England still supposedly expects.

I say this as an Englishman born and raised. The days when it was just enough for us all to say "We are England", puff our chests, wear three lions on our chest and sing the national anthem with an almost obnoxious amount of gusto disappeared a long, long time ago.

Slaven Bilic said it all after the game in the shape of two words. We really need to "wake up" in this country. There are way too many little Englanders in this country who are mentally stuck in the dark ages and simply cannot accept the fact that the world (not just in terms of
football may I add) has long since evolved and it continues to do so.

People in this country can start talking about implementing quotas and whatever else they like but for me, until people this country really start to embrace this most basic of ideals for a start and begin running with it, there is no way England as a footballing nation will ever again see the kind of days that a generation were lucky to see once upon a time back in 1966 that's for sure.

Thankfully, as an Arsenal fan I am lucky enough to say that I have had far more reason to have genuine expectations over the last 20 years or so and particularly since Arsene Wenger took to the helm.

The one thing that stands out about Arsenal under the stewardship of Wenger is that we have never been worse than runners up in at least one competition or another in ANY of the full seasons the Frenchman has been at the club.

Let me qualify what I'm saying here, just in case the above paragraph didn't quite make sense. In all the seasons under Wenger, even when we have not won anything, we have still finished either as runners up in the league or runners up in one cup competition or another EVERY season.

In other words, for over a decade and even at a time when we have been widely considered to be in decline, we have still consistently been there or thereabouts, offering up a genuine sustained threat when the trophies are being handed out.

The current season, contrary to what the so-called experts said in the summer, has suggested so far that we have the potential to again be live contenders for all the trophies available to us this season without a doubt.

I'll go on record right here and now to say that I would absolutely love to see us win the league this year. Not only would it be the biggest slap in the face for the narrow minded Little Englanders in this country, it would be, certainly under Wenger's time, our greatest achievement.

Of course, I still don't genuinely know whether we will go on to do that but as every game has gone by my belief that we will pose a genuine threat to any team that does win the league grows.

As I said right at the top of this piece, I did watch the Reading game and I was honestly pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the win was for us in the end.

Reading are no mugs particularly on their own patch but it was very clear pretty much from the start that the Royals had set their stall out to contain and frustrate us rather than have a real go at us.

The first 45 minutes was a microcosm of so many games Arsenal played in last year. We had loads of the ball and, save for the odd counter attack from Reading, we spent most of our time in their half without really creating a lot.

But just when frustration was really starting to kick in we scored right on the stroke of half time through Flamini after good work by Hleb and Adebayor.

The second half was much more open in general. Adebayor ended his goal drought after an brilliant set up from Rosicky and Fabregas and he should have had a second when he finished off a superb counter attack that had all the hallmarks of Arsenal's "Invincibles" but it was ruled out wrongly for offside.

Alex Hleb settled things late on when he seized on to a loose ball, surged into the box round the keeper and smashed a shot high into the roof of the net. It was no more than he deserved for a highly industrious shift on the night.

Even though Nicky Shorey pulled one back, the Arsenal showed they had the ability to respond after playing after everyone else and headed into the international break having reclaimed top spot from ManUre.

Now the international break is now mercifully over, the Arsenal's next assignment is at home of course to Wigan.

It turned out be a case of deja-vu for Chris Hutchings at the JJB. Having failed to fill Paul Jewell's shoes after succeeding him Bradford back in 2001, the exact same fate befell Hutchings again at Wigan.

In fairness to Hutchings I think that he was a touch unfortunate to lose his job this time around. Wigan may have lost six matches on the spin but in truth the results did not always tell the real story of how they have played.

For a start Wigan certainly appeared to have give as good as they got against Liverpool and but for an absolutely dreadful decision which led to a Marcus Bent goal being disallowed and an absolutely horrendous miss by Julius Aghahowa from point blank range the Latics would have picked up at least a point.

I also thought that they were a touch unlucky not get a point from either of their recent trips to Goodison Park or St Andrews when they were involved in a five goal thriller with Birmingham. What hasn't helped Wigan's cause through the majority of this bad spell is the fact that they haven't been able to call on the services of Emile Heskey.

Now I know there are a lot Arsenal fans who will contemptuously dismiss what I'm about say out of hand but this lad has been a big miss for them and for all the names people have called this guy over the years, I do believe his presence has the potential to make a big difference to Wigan on Saturday.

In many ways I have always likened Heskey to Freddie Kanoute when he was over here strutting his stuff for both West Ham and the Spuds in that every now and then he will produce his A game and be virtually unplayable.

For example, I remember Heskey putting in one of the best performances I have honestly ever seen when Wigan played Sheffield United in that relegation shoot out at the end of last season. He was absolutely out of this world both in attack AND defence for them that day. I even remember him making a last ditch saving tackle in his own box to prevent a United player from scoring that afternoon.

Heskey has also had his fair share of moments against us down the years particularly as a Leicester and Liverpool player down the years and I honestly think that we cannot dismiss him as a threat too readily.

The other lad we will need to watch is Jason Koumas. The boy has decent feet and is not too shabby at dead ball situations. He is the sort of bloke that is well capable of sticking free kicks away anywhere within a 25 yard radius of goal.

Whether Steve Bruce will be officially unveiled as Wigan boss in time for their trip to The Grove remains to be seen so it's possible that they will have a caretaker in charge for the game on Saturday.

But even though Wigan appear to be coming to The Grove on the crest of a slump and they may have a long winter ahead of them, I don't see this game as a home banker for Arsenal. I don't see this game as being one of those usual run-of-the-mill no-win situations either.

I see this game as one with a genuine incentive attached to it and in some ways as being a bigger game than the ones we played against Liverpool and ManUre recently.

You see, in spite of the fact that we have had such a great start to the season, the one thing that reminds me not to get too far ahead of myself, was the number of points we dropped against lowly opposition not just away from home but at The Grove too.

We dropped a total of 10 points at home before we had even reached the New Year last term and when you added them to defeats on the road to the likes of Man City, Bolton, Fulham, West Ham and Sheffield United in the same period, it was precious little wonder we never really got close to challenging for the title last year.

If we are going to make a sustained challenge for the title this year, we cannot allow ourselves to give suckers an even chance. I have been impressed so far not by the fact that we have won games but often the WAY we have won them. We will need all of those qualities again of we are going to see Wigan off on Saturday.