Wigan Preview: Facing a Date with Destiny
12 months ago, Wigan visited the Emirates Stadium staring relegation in the face but they came out victorious after two early goals that were enough to hand them maximum points, despite Thomas Vermaelen’s glancing header that offered Arsenal a glimmer of hope that fateful night.
With 21 points from their last eight games, Wigan secured their top flight status in a mazy run that saw them defeat Arsenal as well as Liverpool, Manchester United and Newcastle. 12 months on, the Latics are in familiar territory but their situation became very precarious when they failed to get any points at home to a Swansea side already sure of their Premier League status next season.
The FA Cup final provided a welcome distraction and even if their victory was unexpected, it was thoroughly deserved from a side that gave those wealthy mercenaries a run for their money (wrong choice of words yah?). While AVB, Adebayor and everyone associated are hoping for the Gunners to slip up, Wigan’s manager, Roberto Martinez, has declared that he’s not taking anything for granted.
With just 35 points from 36 games, it wouldn’t hurt to say that Wigan deserves to be where they are at the moment, fighting for their Premier League lives and they will give the historians something new to record if they manage to plummet into the depths of npower Championship football after tonight’s game with either a loss or a draw. No team has ever won the FA Cup and suffered relegation in the same campaign – none I can think of though.
Unlike Arsenal that had the luxury of getting some well-deserved rest for 10 days, Wigan arrive in the Emirates on the back of an exhilarating and enthralling encounter against last season’s defending Premier League champions, leaving them in a heavily depleted state. They have their injury woes as well with their key wingbacks suffering injuries that will certainly be beneficial to Arsenal’s cause, as make-shift wingbacks took to the pitch against Manchester City in Wembley.
Arsenal on the other hand has been in a rich vein of form since that disappointing defeat to Tottenham in White Hart Lane and they are currently the second best team in the League in terms of form, with four wins and two draws from their last six games. Arsene Wenger commended Wigan for their performance in the final but he knows that his team’s destiny is in their own hands and if they fail to secure a victory tonight, they only have themselves to blame.
Arsenal’s recent performances haven’t been too encouraging but they have been getting vital results that has kept them at arm’s length from their fierce North London rivals, Tottenham. The Gunners know that two victories on the bounce will all but secure their Champions League berth, irrespective of the outcome of Tottenham’s final encounter with Sunderland.
If Chelsea get a favorable result against Everton, they will be assured of their third place finish, condemning either Arsenal or Tottenham to fourth place. Funnily enough, that has been the trend for Arsenal since 2007 – the Gunners have been alternating between third and fourth annually and after ending the last campaign in third, it’s probably going to be a fourth place finish this time, provided we celebrate St. Totteringham’s Day.
The same manager that regarded a fourth placed finish as a trophy a few seasons ago has come to say that fourth place isn’t good enough for this team anymore,
“Last year we made 70 points and finished third. “This year, we can make 73 points and finish fourth so what you want to do is have a consistency and fight for the Premier League.“What I said is [finishing fourth is] the minimum required. You could see that when Chelsea’s Champions League position was under threat, they came out quickly and said ‘no, what is most important for us is to be in the Champions League next year.’
“It is difficult to achieve but we have done it over the years. Is it enough? No. We want more. But this year, Manchester United was above everybody else.”
It’s really surprising to see how things have panned out for Arsenal in recent times. There was a time when an unknown French manager arrived in the shores of England and took the league by storm, winning the Premier League title in his first full season. After his arch-rival won it for three years in a row, this manager tweaked and optimized his squad to reclaim the crown from the Scot along with a FA Cup as well. The Scot got his revenge the next campaign but the Class of 04′ were in a world of their own.
Since then, it has been a couple of near misses (like the 2007/08 campaign) and crashing out in grand style (2010/11 campaign) despite being in a good position to fully concentrate on the league with Man Utd having commitments elsewhere. At this point in time, a fourth place finish will be good enough but serious work has to be done in the summer. One step at a time.
To team news, Lukasz Fabianski has finally returned from his rib injury and he’s available for contention. This could potentially be his last home game at the Emirates, if he manages to displace Wojciech Szczesny, which I doubt judging from his lack of match fitness and Szczesny’s improved form since his return to first team action.
Kieran Gibbs is also available for selection but in a such a game where Arsenal has to equally balance its attacking and defending effectively, I’ll give Nacho Monreal the nod. I don’t see Thomas Vermaelen breaking into the team so the Mertesielny combo will be in action. Bacary Sagna will complete the rearguard.
In midfield, I expect Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta to playing in the holding roles, but I believe that Jack Wilshere would be called in Tomas Rosicky’s stead. With Giroud still out suspended, Lukas Podolski would get another run-out and Arsene Wenger has finally revealed why he always substitutes the German. Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla will provide width down the flanks.
Wigan are to relegation what Arsenal are to Champions League qualification. Written off at the start of the season, they always find a way to achieve their goal. These two sides meeting each other means that something is likely to finally give. Expect a tight first half with both side attacking with care given the high stakes and for the game to burst to life in the second period with both stepping it up in search of a winner. Arsenal’s superior quality, combined with Wigan’s depleted defence, may therefore be the decisive factor.
Arsenal 2-1 Wigan. – David Gold of Inside Futbol
I’m with Mr. Gold on this one, an Arsenal win all the way.
It’s time to face a date with destiny.
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