LATICS recovered from the dismissal of Charles N’Zogbia to put a major spanner in Arsenal’s title hopes for the second successive season.
Last year, N’Zogbia was the hero with the dramatic last-minute winner against the Gunners, but this time he was the villain after getting himself needlessly sent off following a bout of handbags with Jack Wilshere.
From the moment N’Zogbia put his forehead into the face of the young England midfielder, there was only ever going to be one outcome, and the Frenchman will now sit out the next three games as a result of his petulance.
Thankfully, his blushes were spared last night when Latics forced a late leveller when Sebastian Squillaci headed into his own goal under huge pressure from Gary Caldwell, after Hugo Rodallega had nodded Ben Watson’s corner back across goal.
Watson had earlier given Latics the lead from the penalty spot after N’Zogbia was fouled by Squillaci, before goals from Andrey Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner put the Gunners into the driving seat.
Roberto Martinez made one change to the side that won at Wolves on Boxing Day, Hendry Thomas returning to the engine room after suspension for James McArthur.
Latics would certainly have fancied their chances after seeing Arsene Wenger name only three of the side that demolished Chelsea 48 hours previously.
And the home side, possibly with the memory of their dramatic 3-2 victory in this fixture last season still fresh in their m ainds, ripped into their opponents from the outset.
Inside the first two minutes, N’Zogbia and Tom Cleverley both got in crosses that were only just in front of Wigan attackers.
And N’Zogbia warmed the hands of Lukasz Fabianski from 30 yards after good work from Rodallega.
Latics were given a scare when Arshavin raced on to a through ball to drill just over the bar on 10 minutes, but it was a rare moment of danger as Latics continued to boss the opening skirmishes.
And it was no more than they deserved when they took the lead on 18 minutes through boyhood Arsenal fan Watson.
N’Zogbia tied Squillaci and Abou Diaby in knots down the Wigan right, the former tripping the Frenchman for a nailed-on penalty.
Watson picked up the ball as soon as Lee Probert’s whistle went, and smashed an unstoppable shot past Fabianski into the bottom left-hand corner to put Wigan ahead.
There was nearly a repeat two minutes later when Rodallega went down in the area after colliding with Fabianski, the official this time pointing for a corner.
Watson delivered a beauty into the area and Antolin Alcaraz’s header was cleared off the line by Denilson.
Arsenal threatened from a corner of their own midway through the half, Ali Ali Habsi punching the ball as far as Tomas Rosicky, who fired in an excellent drive that was parried by the goalkeeper.
With Laurent Koscielny lurking, Latics were indebted to Caldwell for flicking the ball back to Al Habsi with remarkable assurance.
The Gunners made a change on 26 minutes, replacing Diaby with Wilshere, before Thomas required lengthy treatment following a late lunge by Rosicky.
Thomas was then clattered by Bacary Sagna within a couple of seconds of re-emerging from the dressing room, although he was able to continue this time.
Arsenal were offering nothing going forward as half-time approached, and it was completely against the run of play when they equalised six minutes before the break.
A poor throw-in from Steve Gohouri surrendered possession, and Bendtner found himself free down the right.
His shot was well saved by Al Habsi, but the rebound was volleyed home in acrobatic style by Arshavin despite the best attempts of Caldwell on the line.
If that was harsh on Latics, the game was turned completely on its head when the visitors went ahead just five minutes later.
Arshavin threaded a ball in between Alcaraz and Caldwell, and Bendtner controlled nicely before slotting past Al Habsi.
Rodallega saw a snap-shot saved by Fabianski with the last action of the half, but Latics will have been kicking themselves to have played so well and to have gone into the interval behind.
They didn’t have the same explosive start to the second half as they had enjoyed in the first, although they were giving as good as they were getting as the hour mark came and went.
Cleverley went close when he dispossessed Sagna and bent a right-foot shot just over Fabianski’s bar, although Arsenal nearly added a third when Marouane Chamakh headed inches wide from an Arshavin corner.
The Russian almost added his second with 20 minutes remaining when he found himself unmarked in the area, only for Al Habsi to come to Wigan’s rescue with a point-blank save.
Diame gave way to McArthur for the closing stages, and the Scot almost scored with his first touch following a super counter-attack.
N’Zogbia played a one-two with the new boy only to see his shot saved by Fabianski, but McArthur elected to take a touch instead of hitting the follow-up first time, and the defence was allowed to clear.
That was N’Zogbia’s last act, as he was needlessly sent off with 11 minutes remaining following a head-to-head exchange with Wilshere.
To call it a headbutt would be overdoing it somewhat – and Wilshere didn’t do himself any favours by hitting the deck like he’d been hit by a freight train – but in fairness the official had little choice than to brandish red.
Incredibly, though, the dismissal acted only to motivate Latics into an equalising goal within seconds, Watson’s corner being headed back across goal by Rodallega and Squillaci heading into his own goal past a helpless Fabianski.
Latics then held on, despite Arsenal throwing everything at them, for a battling point that gives them a massive lift heading into the New Year.