Wigan have troubled Arsenal in recent seasons. They won at the Emirates last season and derailed the Gunners’ title challenge with a home win in 2009-10 that featured three goals in the last 10 minutes or so. Wenger’s side have also had a couple of comfortable 4-0 wins in both those seasons which highlights the inconsistency we’ve seen from Latics. It’s one of the reasons they are almost always in a relegation dogfight even when the quality of their football is admirable.
Tactically, they offer a different challenge than other teams in the League with their 3 man central defence and the use of wingbacks. Some experts describe their formation as a 3-4-3 but to me it’s more like a 3-5-2 because when they have players like Gomez and Kone in the side, the former almost always plays as a central midfielder and Kone often plays as striker in central areas. Without the ball their shape often resembles a 5-4-1.
Possession battle will be interesting in this game. Wigan have the ability to hold on to the ball unlike Arsenal’s last three opponents, viz.: West Brom, Bradford, and Reading. It won’t be easy for Arsenal to win the ball back as it was in those games. So the Gunners will have to work hard to win the ball back higher up the pitch or take a conscious decision to drop deeper. I’m eager to see what they do. Pressing higher up the pitch hasn’t worked well this season as we’ve discussed on numerous occasions.
Will Arsenal press higher up the pitch and invite pressure on the defence? Counter-attacking has been a big weapon for the Latics in this fixture. In the past they had quick and tricky players like N’Zogbia and Moses who made decisive contributions. This time around the burden will be on Arouna Kone. He is quick, has the ability to get past his defender, and has a good shot in his armoury. The Ivorian can also hold up the ball and bring others into play. A high line without cohesive pressing will give Wigan a good chance of scoring.
We also have to see the tactics Roberto Martinez deploys. Wigan have won only 1 out of their last 7 League games and that was a relegation six-pointer against Reading, probably the only side with form worse than their own. In all those 7 games, the Latics have shipped at least 2 goals. How will the Spaniard tighten up his defence? He could go for the aggressive route and press the Gunners in the central third, or he could drop his team deeper in order to deny Arsenal time and space in the critical areas of their defensive third.
As previously mentioned, Wigan can keep and pass the ball around. They’re seventh best in terms of possession this season with 54.3 percent. At home this rises close to 58 percent and puts them sixth on the list. Last season Wigan conceded the ball to Arsenal and the Gunners had nearly two-thirds of possession in both games. If Martinez prioritizes defending spaces, his team will again yield the ball and rely solely on counter-attacks and set-pieces. This will undoubtedly make it hard for Arsenal as the Gunners haven’t consistently clicked in attack this season.
If Martinez takes the bolder route and pushes his team higher up, the game will be more open and exciting with a number of opportunities arising at both ends. Wigan have the ability to test Szczesny’s goal if they play with purpose. Their problem is that they can’t do so on a consistent basis while keeping Al-Habsi’s goal well-protected.
Speaking of Keepers, Ali Al-Habsi could have a big say on the result. He’s a mercurial custodian who can have a blinder in one game and an absolute stinker in the next. Often he goes from the sublime to the ridiculous and back over the course of 90 minutes. Wenger will hope there are some mistakes in his game but don’t be surprised if he frustrates the Gunners with his excellent reflexes.
I guess the starting line-up will be the same as the one that produced some delightful football at the Madejski on Monday.
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Arteta, Cazorla, Wilshere – Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Podolski.
Wenger could use the likes of Giroud, Koscielny, or even fan favourite Gervinho, but I have a feeling he will stick with a team that produced some high-quality combinations in the previous game.
Wigan’s current form and injury problems make this another eminently winnable game for the Gunners. The fact that they’ve conceded 2 goals or more in each of their last 7 League games means anything less from Arsenal will be a surprise and a disappointment.
That said, in order to win this game, the Gunners will have to do something they haven’t done so far this season, i.e. win three Premier League games in a row. But if Wenger’s side have to climb up the table and build some distance with the mid-table clubs, they have to win such games and win them in a manner that helps strengthen the fragile confidence. A big win is needed and will help the morale and vibes around the club but any win will suffice if a big one doesn’t work out. Dropping points will be a massive disappointment, to put it mildly, but not entirely unforeseeable.Follow @goonerdesi