Martinez praises performance but highlights Kone chance and penalty decisions as pivotal
Roberto Martinez applauded the performance of his players against Arsenal in the final home game of the season on Saturday afternoon, despite their 1-0 defeat to the Gunners.
Latics were dominant for large spells of the game, but couldn’t reflect their possession prowess on the score-line and in the succumbed to a harshly awarded penalty converted by Mikel Arteta on the hour-mark.
Arouna Kone’s gilt-edged chance in the first –half was a fantastic opportunity for the home side to take the lead at a crucial stage, but the Ivorian hit wide in search of his fifth goal of the season, and Martinez pointed to these factors as pivotal in the outcome of the match, saying:
“We didn’t get the result our performance deserved but that is the only negative feeling to come out of the game, because the display was as good as it gets.
“The penalty decisions were big ones. The referee has given one to Arsenal which is very soft and then you at least want consistency when Kieran Gibbs clearly handballs Jordi Gomez’s shot; his arms are not in a natural position and it is a clear decision.
“We have to accept that we were stopped from getting a positive result, but if we continue performing in the same manner then we’re in for an exciting second-half of the season.
“Remember we were playing an Arsenal side with great quality going forward, as they showed against Reading in their previous match. But from the first minute we were brave, kept the ball well and created the key moment in the game; when Arouna is one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
“The first goal in the game was always going to dictate things and unfortunately we couldn’t get it when the chance came, but overall I was very impressed.
“Our midfield three (James McCarthy, James McArthur and David Jones) were taking on three of the most technically gifted players in Europe and stopped them from playing. We were more notorious in the middle and looked better in possession – you won’t see many teams beat Arsenal in terms of amount of possession or force them to run the clock down in the closing stages to see away our threat, which is a complement to our players.
“The truth is though that the negative feelings lately of injuries and suspensions affected us a little too much and the confidence in the final third suffered slightly.”
Martinez made three changes to the team at the start of the afternoon, keeping James McCarthy in the side despite doubts over an ankle injury picked up at Norwich the previous weekend. The midfielder was heavily involved throughout, supported the midfield and filling the void left in defence following Adrian Lopez’s injury and the Gaffer heaped praise on the 22-year-old, saying:
“You have to remember the kind of players we have representing Wigan Athletic. James should have missed the game on medical grounds but was so desperate to play that he had an injection before the game to ensure he was available.
“We played him a little differently than we normally do and I feel you have to adapt your style sometimes to play against this Arsenal side. We had to be brave, went one-v-one in many positions and the players were magnificent tactically to cope with the changes.
“For me he (McCarthy) turned out to be the best player on the pitch which is some statement considering the opposition. Similarly, Gary Caldwell wanted to be involved and be a part of the squad; he wasn’t able to play but it’s another sign of the character this squad has which will serve us well in the coming months.”
Finally, the Spaniard paid credit to the supporters who gave the team a standing ovation at the final whistle and who Martinez explained are key to confidence levels remaining high during the tough times:
“The players were really affected by the result because they knew how well they had played and won’t accept that a performance like that doesn’t bring a result.
“But the fans were incredible in sticking with them and giving them the ovation they did. Our football story is an incredible one and they are the ones allowing that to continue.
“We’re a great example of how to face adversity and there is a mutual feeling between the players and fans when it comes to what it means to represent our club.
“You can see that the fans are very patient and we’re all looking forward to the next half of the season when we’re confident of getting more rewards for our performances.
“We have Everton up next at Goodison Park on Boxing Day and hopefully we can get that little break we’re looking for against them.”