Arsenal v Wigan Athletic Preview: Can Gunners Overcome Latic Blues?

ARSENAL FC
v
WIGAN ATHLETIC

The Emirates Stadium, North London
January 22, 2011, 08:30 PM IST (15:00 B.S.T)

After a successful outing at Elland Road, where they beat Leeds United 3-1 to advance to the fourth round of the FA Cup, the Gunners now begin the first of their four home games in a row against Roberto Martinez’s team. However, Arsenal will be wary of Wigan, who have had their number in the last two meetings between the sides. The inexplicable 3-2 loss at the DJ stadium last season still rankles the Gunner faithful, and they will expect  not less than a thrashing of the visitors, to make amends for this as well as for the 2-2 draw against 10-man Wigan earlier this season.

Arsenal have shown this season that they are gunning for all four trophies, but they still lack the consistency to maintain momentum for long periods of time. An inspired 3-1 victory against Chelsea led the North London fans to believe their team would be a big force to reckon with now, but they were brought back to earth by an ordinary draw at the DW Stadium, where Arsenal failed to defend a one-goal lead. This was followed by a lucky draw against Leeds United and a ragged performance against lowly Ipswich Town, who managed to notch a 1-0 win over their esteemed opponent in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final. However, with Van Persie back to his best and the team securing convincing victories in the last two games, there can be no excuses for not grabbing all three points from this fixture.

Wigan are perhaps the most unpredictable team in the Premier League. On their day, they can raise their game and secure the desired result, even against the top teams; this would be followed by abject displays in the next few encounters, and then the cycle repeats itself. They were lacking in firepower and were naïve in defense in the previous league game against Fulham, allowing Andrew Johnson to equalize for the Cottagers in the 85th minute. With Cleverley and Moses ruled out with injuries, the Wigan forward line looks considerably weak, and the burden on Rodallega’s shoulders is increasing. The Latics will come into this game looking for a result, which could lift them out of the relegation zone.

“Even my side’s unpredictable form is a mystery to me!”

Team News and Tactical Brief

Arsenal

The Gunners have been blowing hot and cold in the last two weeks, but their results have clearly highlighted the best formation available to Wenger. Van Persie, Nasri, Walcott and Fabregas together have the potency and ammunition to wreak havoc on any defense, as evinced by the games against Chelsea, Birmingham and West Ham. However, Nasri has been nursing an ankle injury for a while, and also played 80 minutes in the midweek game against Leeds, so he might be benched for this game. Djourou has been a monster in defense, but  Squillaci’s injury and Vermaelen’s delayed return has forced Wenger to play the big Swiss for five consecutive games; with a new center-back yet to be signed, Djourou will have to feature in the line-up alongside Koscielny. Almunia and Diaby continues to remain on the sidelines.

Wigan are a team who don’t tend to sit back, which would make it slightly easier for the likes of Walcott to slip past the defense. However, they play a combined effort in pressing the opponent in the midfield, and Song and Wilshere will be called upon to keep Arsenal in control and allow Fabregas to roam freely. N’Zogbia has been a thorn in the flesh of Arsenal’s defense, and his quick runs and mazy dribbles down the right have always bamboozled Clichy in the last two games; the French left back will have to keep a tight rein on the winger.  Djourou and Koscielny will need to deal with Rodallega, while Sagna and Clichy will have to restrict crosses from the wings. Van Persie is in great form at the moment, and will be certain to play a key role in this game.

Probable Starting XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Wilshere, Song, Cesc, Walcott, Arshavin, van Persie

Wigan Athletic

Martinez will miss the services of Cleverley and Moses, who have been Wigan’s most creative outlets, as well as Chris Kirkland between the posts. However, on-loan keeper Al-Habsi has been doing a reasonable job between the sticks, and Wigan still have some decent players capable of changing the course of the game.

Rodallega, N’Zogbia and Diame will be the key players for the Latics, with Diame entrusted with the task of marking out Cesc Fabregas. With Theo Walcott and possibly Arshavin on the wings, and a resurgent van Persie prowling in the box, Wigan’s defense will have to ensure there are no slip ups for the entire duration of the game, if they hope to come away with a  positive result. Ben Watson and Hendry Thomas will be engaged in a midfield tussle with Song and Wilshere, while Figueroa and N’Zogbia will attempt to take on Arsenal’s fullbacks and deliver crosses for Rodallega. If Wigan can manage to prevent the home team from running away with the game in the first sixty minutes, they would have a shouting chance to gain something from the match.

Probable Starting XI: Al-Habsi, Stam, G.Caldwell, Alcaraz, Gohouri, Diame, Watson, Thomas,Figueroa, N’Zogbia, Rodallega

Football Fans Know Better

Key Facts

  1. Wigan have won 1 and lost 8 of their last 11 League games against Arsenal
  2. Arsenal have maintained a clean sheet in the last 5 games against Wigan at the Emirates.
  3. 32% of the goals conceded by Arsenal have been headers, the highest this season.
  4. Arshavin has scored in both his league appearances against Wigan.

TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR

Robin van Persie (Arsenal)

Van the Man!

The Dutchman has shown glimpses of his class and ability in the last few games for the Gunners, scoring three goals and providing an assist in the last two games. However, what stands out is the different attacking dimension that he adds to the side, which was missing during his absence in the initial stages of the League. Although Chamakh has done a good job upfront in the games he started, the Moroccon can never come close to the calibre of the Dutch star.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

Arsenal 2-0 Wigan

The Gunners will not be complacent this time around. Djourou and Koscielny have been solid in the central defense of late, while the attacking players are bound to give Arsenal a chance to increase their goals tally in the league.

TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST

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