Arsenal Vs Wigan Athletic: To The Brink

Good morning to you, tonight sees us take on one of the Premier League’s most adept team of survivors. Wigan Athletic have for years, specialised in last-gasp escapes from the clutches of relegation, and this year looks like it will be no different for them. Throughout the season, they’ve been written off and it’s been generally accepted that this, finally, is the year Wigan go down. However once again they’ve fought back in the closing games of the season and now have it very much in their own hands to avoid the drop.

They even managed an unprecedented victory over Manchester United in midweek last week. Wigan had previously lost every single match they’d ever played against United without exception, indeed I was at one of them. A friend of mine is a Wigan fan and he won an executive box for the 2006 Carling Cup final so he got to take twelve mates to the final, and along we went to see Wigan play in their first major final (I was still smarting from our rather painful elimination at the hands of Wigan in the semi-final), and they got absolutely tonked 4-0. Not that we minded too much of course, as we were in the midst of knocking back some very nice complimentary food and crucially a good deal of complimentary beer as well. In fact, if you’re reading James, cheers once again for an awesome day!

Over the years I think I’ve probably seen us play Wigan live more than any other team, and aside from those Carling Cup encounters (I was at the JJB, excuse me, the DW Stadium to see us lose the first leg 1-0 in possibly the worst game of football ever played. The most interesting thing that happened the whole 90 minutes was the power going out midway through the second half) we’ve had the measure of them at home particularly. Last time was, I think, the season before last and we won by a good scoreline and Wigan brought so few fans down for the game that a couple of them had chants directed at them individually. I’d be delighted to see us get three points in those sorts of circumstances again tonight.

For us this game is a real opportunity. To my mind, a win moves us to the brink of Champions League qualification. Win this game and then surely a win over Chelsea would finish it as a contest, or at least as a question as to whether we’ll be playing in Europe’s top competition next season. The players have got to be right up for it, and much like the Wolves game last week, there can be no taking Wigan for granted. It’s not a good time of season to be playing a team in the relegation picture, as we saw a couple of weeks ago against QPR, those teams are down there scrapping for survival and that can make them dangerous, especially if our own attitude is not spot on.

Once again, we’re talking about the need for a professional performance which gets the job done. Against Wolves last week, rather than press on and try to knock more goals past Wolves after going 2-0 up we took our foot off the gas and simply controlled possession. I’ve got no problem with that, we’ve got a massive game on Saturday after all and if we can get a commanding lead on the board and hold on to it tonight then that will be quite satisfactory. 

In terms of team news, question marks exist over the returns of Gervinho and Kieran Gibbs however I suspect that neither would have started tonight anyway. I think we’ll go with something more or less unchanged from the Wolves game, with Yossi Benayoun to keep his place. He has been a worthwhile acquisition this season in my book, he’s come in to big games and simply stuck to his task precisely and worked really hard and that’s a valuable, if basic trait for a player. He’s the sort of experience that we’ve lacked over the last few years when we had senior players like Silvestre and Arshavin (Who? I hear you say). 

We’ve got to be on our toes tonight. Wigan might be down the bottom of the league but they’ve won three of their last four games, and have lost only two of their last ten games. Their tails are up and they’ll be dreaming of another great escape. Points are precious at this stage of the season and both teams need them tonight. Robin Van Persie is only three goals away from equalising with Thierry Henry for the club record for number of league goals scored in a season. Tonight would be a good night for a hat-trick.

So that will do it for today, whatever you’re doing for the game, enjoy and I’ll return soon.

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  • jamrockrover  On 16/04/2012 at 2:34 pm

    I would imagine Rosicky might return in place of Ramsey but otherwise it should be the same team that beat Wolves.

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