Wigan Preview: Tough Test Awaits Arsenal
Arsenal welcome Wigan Athletic to the Emirates this evening, with the hosts trying to consolidate third place and the visitors looking to pull clear of the drop-zone.
The Latics have been sensational in recent weeks and the Gunners have been warned against complacency in the reversal at QPR, so I expect a competitive match with some good attacking football from both sides.
In team news, Kieran Gibbs and Gervinho return to the squad at the expense of Squillaci and Park. Although Gibbs is 50:50 for the game, so Andre Santos may retain his place at left back. For the Latics, there are no fresh injury concerns. Hugo Rodallega is close to returning from his knee injury but may not be ready for this game.
In the reverse fixture in early December, Arsenal ran out comfortable 4-0 winners. Wigan is a much changed side from that day and only five of the players that began that game are likely to be in the starting line-up tonight.
Since their 2-1 win over Bolton in February, Roberto Martinez has persisted with an attacking Barca-style 3-4-3 formation. Although it did not produce the results initially, a bit of tinkering with players has seen them put in some very impressive performances lately. They have beaten Liverpool, Stoke and Manchester United in three of their last four matches and were extremely unlucky to lose to Chelsea.
Wigan’s starting XI should remain unchanged:
Al Habsi / Alcarez – Caldwell – Figueroa / Boyce – McCarthy – McArthur – Beausejour / Moses – Di Santo – Maloney
The 3-4-3 is difficult to implement requiring high energy levels all over the pitch in addition to mobile forwards who can interchange. Although the Latics do not boss possession against top-half sides, they have successfully disrupted their opponents attacking threat and always look dangerous with three tricky forwards up front. At the moment, Wigan have the right players in the right positions to effectively play this system and it’s yielding results.
For Roberto Martinez, it will be a difficult choice. Until now, the Latics have been looking up the table in trying to extricate themselves from the relegation zone. With the last few results, they have given themselves a massive chance of staying up. Martinez has already indicated that he is worried by the in-form Gunners. If there is one team that can benefit from a 3-4-3 that is not working right, it is Arsenal with their quick movement on and off the ball. Should he continue with the system that has brought them back in the reckoning to stay up or should he be more cautious and try to frustate Arsenal with a traditional 4-4-2?
In my opinion, he will go for it. Unlike previous seasons, Arsenal have found ways to break down stubborn defenses and score winning goals late on in matches. I think Martinez will think his best chance will be to outscore, not contain us. It should make for a rip-roaring game.
For Arsene Wenger, it presents an interesting challenge. Playing 4-3-3 would make it 3 v 4 in the middle, so I think he will opt for a 4-4-2. When Arsenal have played this formation, we have deployed two deep lying midfielders (Song & Arteta) and two creative players either side of them (Rosicky & Ramsey). This would match the Wigan four in the middle but with a 3-man attack up upfront, Arsenal’s full backs will not be able to bomb down the flanks that freely.
This is a little radical for Arsenal, but we may line up in a diamond formation in the middle of the park. It seems to be the most effective strategy to combat a 3-4-3, especially for a team like Arsenal that like to pass the ball and are not effective with the direct over-the-top-ball approach. It will provide space for the full backs to overlap and provide more attacking impetus.
My Arsenal starting XI would be:
Szczesny / Santos – Vermaelen – Djourou – Sagna / Song – Arteta – Rosicky – Ramsey / Walcott – Van Persie
In this scenario, Song would be at the bottom tip of the diamond in front of the centre-halves and Ramsey would be at the top behind Walcott and RvP, with Arteta and Rosicky either side.
Arteta and Song might even interchange roles as the game progresses as they have a good understanding between themselves.
The obvious question is why play Ramsey when Benayoun has been in good form recently? This is a possibility but if Yossi starts, I would expect him to be on the opposite side of Arteta with Rosicky then occupying the tip of the diamond.
To counter the pressing tactics of the visitors, Arsenal will need to create passing triangles and move the ball even faster than we normally do. Playing at the Emirates helps, as the surface is conducive to quick passing. High pressing tactics work well when you win the ball often, but can take a physical and mental toll if you are running around chasing shadows for long periods. In order to do this, Arsenal will need to match the energy levels of Wigan, with players continually moving around to receive the ball from the pressurised ball carrier.
Whichever formation and whatever personnel are used, I think we can be certain that Wigan will work their socks off. Arsenal will have to match their endeavor to take points from this match.
This one could go either way but I think we’ll be up for it tonight. My score prediction is 3-1 to the Arsenal.
Enjoy the game. Be back with the review tomorrow. Ciao.