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This is your third place team, England: Spot kick sees Arsenal past Wigan

Dec 22, 2012, 10:09 AM EDT

Arsenal's Arteta celebrates scoring against Wigan Athletic during their English Premier League soccer match in Wigan Reuters

The game was emblematic of Arsenal’s season, one which sees the Gunners move third (temporarily) after a 1-0 victory at Wigan. Against one of the worst teams in the Premier League, the only thing that separated the Gunners from the Latics was a second half penalty kick. Mikel Arteta buried it, just as he buried the two decisive kicks against West Brom. Arsenal had their three points.

Unlike two weeks ago at the Emirates, there was no major issue surrounding today’s first penalty. Theo Walcott cut across Jean Beausejour, drew a penalty that would be called most other days, and Arsenal had their rout to deserved victory.

But the performance won’t assuage any doubts about Arsène Wenger’s club. For 90 minutes, Arsenal was unable to distinguish themselves from a team destined to battle relegation. Against high pressure which would have exposed as naively ambitious against previous Gunners squads, Arsenal failed to score an open play goal. They had four shots on target to Wigan’s three. The teams shared possession: 50-50.

If form holds over the next two days, Arsenal will be back in fifth come Sunday night, a place far more fitting their play than the heights of Champions League. They have in common with Everton and West Brom than rival Tottenham, a description which may be a slight to the Toffees.

MORE: Late Barry goal rescues Manchester City

Whereas Everton showed on the season’s first Monday that they can compete against the top of the table (and in turn be undone by a fall slump), Arsenal’s only shown something is missing. They no longer have the quality to consistently distinguish themselves from most of the league.

Is it the absence of Robin van Persie? Yes. Days like these, he could find a goal from nothing.

Perhaps they miss Alex Song? Yes. He would have helped Arsenal keep more of the ball.

Or maybe the team hasn’t recovered from the Cesc Fabregas sale? As talismanic as the Barça-bred star was, it makes sense Arsenal’s had trouble replacing his drive through the middle.

MORE: Is Dempsey still a starter for Spurs?

After a series of defections, Arsenal is nowhere near the team their brand implies. We know this, but sometimes it’s valuable to repeat the obvious. On days when they can’t prove better than the Wigans of the world, it’s constructive to remember the reasons why.

Arsenal is not as good as they used to be, they’re not as good as they want to be, and they have trouble on the road to teams like Wigan. They need some luck to beat West Brom at home, and they lose in the League Cup to Bradford City. All of which makes perfect sense.

Well, not the Bradford City part.

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