I like Roberto Martinez as a manager and Wigan Athletic as a football club. If someone told me Arsenal would lose to Wigan on Monday but win the remaining four and secure third spot I’d take it, especially if it helped the visitors stay up. But the simple fact of the matter is that no one is offering such a deal. The Gunners don’t know what the future holds so they must focus their energies on obtaining the desired result from this game.
As always, it won’t be easy. In their last four games, the Latics have won away to Liverpool and at home against Stoke and United. They also deserved more from the game at Stamford Bridge. Martinez, while showing great respect to Arsenal, must surely believe his side can get a point or three at the Emirates.
The visitors will come with a relatively settled line-up that is clicking at the right time as far as their battle against relegation is concerned. Boyce – Alcaraz – Caldwell – Figueroa is not the world’s greatest back four but they’ve found some solidity of late. McCarthy and McArthur do a good job of sitting in front of the defence while Beausejour provides cover on the left flank and width in attack. Moses and Maloney have the X-factor while Di Santo does a good job of holding and linking play in attack.
Overall Wigan have found a nice balance, which has been vital to the results they’ve been getting recently. As a part of that balance, Wigan have found goals from all over the pitch and that mean Arsenal’s defence will be tested in this game. Moses will provide the direct running threat, Maloney and others can shoot from distance, Caldwell and Alcaraz have been a threat on set-pieces, while the visitors can also play some combinations around the box if they get enough bodies forward.
Defensively, it will be interesting to see how they shape up. Beausejour and Figueroa can defend their left, which also happens to be the flank where a number of Arsenal’s attacks originate. This could frustrate the Gunners and they could need greater incision down their left.
More than the flanks though, I want to see where Wigan set up their defensive block. Recently, teams have troubled Arsenal when they’ve pushed up and pressed hard but few have sustained it without suffering knock-out blows. It will depend on the kind of confidence and belief that Martinez has. Anything higher than the halfway line will be a sign that Wigan back themselves to get something from the game and it will certainly make this an absorbing contest.
Dropping deeper will indicate a willingness to absorb pressure while waiting for counter-attacking opportunities. The Latics have the ability to hold the ball under pressure and this could help them break at pace as they won’t hoof it forward hopefully as often as some of the other teams at the wrong end of the table do. In the past N’Zogbia has troubled Arsenal and Moses could do the same if he gets the chance to run at the defenders.
This will also make Arsene’s selection at left-back very interesting. Gibbs is rated as 50-50 by the manager but Santos, even though his raw stats are very impressive, could be caught out by a quick dribbler like Victor Moses. Will Gibbs be rushed back? Can Santos shrug off the apparent slackness and raise his game? We will find out.
A related factor will be the choice of the attacking player on the same side. Benayoun has done well in a conservative role but Arsenal, as discussed earlier, could need greater creativity/incision from the left. Will Arsene bring Gervinho back into the line-up? His pace can certainly trouble Boyce.
Having had a break against Wolves, Rosicky could also be restored to the starting eleven with Ramsey moving back to the bench.
We might see,
Szczesny – Sagna, Djourou, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Song, Rosicky, Arteta – Walcott, RvP, Gervinho.
Don’t be surprised if Arsene keeps Ramsey in the line-up, either in the centre or on the left. The season is coming to an end and the manager might want to take a longer look at some players before he makes up his mind about the summer. I am not suggesting this is make or break for the young Welshman, just that some of the boss’ choices could be forward looking.
Following a similar line of thought, one might say a number of games for Benayoun before the season ends could hint at a more permanent relationship after the summer.
All-in-all a win could put Arsenal 8 clear of fourth, albeit with an extra game played, and put pressure on the chasing pack. On the other hand a draw or a loss could give them hope and renewed belief. I’m taking nothing for granted.
Before ending I want to link to a couple of new blogs that I like. Arsenal Depot is an effort from a fellow Desi based in Dubai. It provides some balanced and thoughtfully constructed opinions. He Blogs When He Wants To is just, umm, different – in a pleasantly fresh and funny way. Check them out.Follow @goonerdesi