If the final whistle was blown on the current Premier League season at the end of this weekend’s games and Wigan Athletic were relegated, would they really be missed by anyone?
Arsenal cruised past them today without having to produce anything even resembling a bead of sweat. 12-0 would not have been an unfair scoreline and it probably should have been at least 5 or 6. Wigan, for their part, produced nothing. Literally nothing. No shots, no fans, no atmosphere, nothing. Why do they bother?
Even when they play at home, they barely manage to entice enough fans to fill even 2/3 of their tiny, characterless ground. Their average attendance is around 16,000 this season, a full 6,000 less than their nearest rivals for apathy, Bolton Wanderers. Only Blackpool have a lower average crowd but I think most will forgive this, given that this is their first season in the top flight for many years and their ground only holds 16,220 in the first place! One suspects that the only reason their average is less than maximum is due to teams like Wigan failing to bring more than a handful of supporters when they play away.
It’s always hard to estimate away contingents but I would be amazed if the relegation-threatened side had more than 300 advocates today. I base this figure on the view I had from the opposite end, by the way, and not on the volume of their combined sound when they urged their team on as I don’t recall hearing a single one of them throughout the duration of the afternoon.
It may be argued that they had nothing to sing about. Their team were not only completely outplayed from start to finish today – they produced so little threat going forward that they probably regard a 3-0 defeat as some measure of success.
Whilst it’s true that Arsenal have struggled to break down sides that come to N5 to defend in numbers, the reason we have had so many bad results in these games has more than a little to do with the fact that most of these teams pose us some problems at the other end. This means that our full backs can’t afford to get forward as much as they’d like and our attacking options are easily nullified by large gangs of brutish central defenders. The likes of Bolton and Blackburn have always given us something to worry about at the back in the past and Newcastle played it perfectly earlier this season, winning 1-0 with Andy Carroll’s header.
But Wigan were bereft of ideas and looked beaten from the moment that Kevin Friend blew his whistle to begin the proceedings.
After the game, Wojciech Szczesny tweeted “Did any of you notice that I was actually playing today?” which pretty much sums it up. He intercepted the only Wigan attack I can remember using his head – quite literally – in the first half, but that was about it. The remainder of his afternoon was spent clapping his gloved hands together along with the rest of us in an attempt to keep them warm.
I would imagine that, were it not for Robin Van Persie’s superb hat-trick and some superb play from the home side this afternoon, the stewards in the away end would have had to spend some time shaking the hardy few that had bothered to turn up awake once the final whistle had gone. If this is the way their team plays away from home, who can blame them for being reticent to spend their money on seeing them?
But the reality of course, is that Wigan Athletic have never had many supporters. The people of Wigan are not interested in football and, frankly, we’re not interested in them.