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Post-Wigan Ramblings and the Emirates Cup Returns

Emirates Cup

Yaaaaaaay. A trophy!

Arsenal’s mid-week resounding victory over Wigan saw the Gunners leapfrog their fierce rivals, Tottenham, into fourth place as well as condemning their visitors to relegation. In what would be highly regarded as a torrid campaign for Wigan Athletic, their eight-year adventure with the Premier League has come to an end, and according to chairman, Dave Whelan, the club’s gaffe, Roberto Martinez,  will remain at the helm of affairs in their bid to secure promotion back to the Premier League.

In the days of old, Paul Jewell’s Wigan Athletic side that gained promotion had a couple of household names that have found new employers ever since. Players like Pascal Chimbonda, Henri Camara, Leighton Baines, Jimmy Bullard, Hugo Rodallega and more recently, Victor Moses, have found new employers and haven’t been replaced with the required quality.

In as much as I was happy to see Wigan pile misery on Manchester City, I showed no remorse to them when they were thoroughly spanked by Arsenal, ultimately sealing their fate. They will definitely look back at that all-important home fixture against Swansea that they let off their grasp. I can only wish them all the best in their promotion bid next season.

At Arsenal, Arsene Wenger and some of his players have been in the news following their convincing win over Wigan. In his post-match interview, Wenger talked up his team’s performance, their consistency in the run-in, coping with tension and the extent of Mikel Arteta’s calf strain he developed late on.

The manager had brought Thomas Vermaelen on for Arteta but the likeliest player to replace the Spaniard if he can’t make the game would definitely be Jack Wilshere, a more natural replacement than the make-shift Vermaelen. Wilshere excelled admirably in the box-to-box role in the 2010/11 campaign, earning him the 2011 PFA Young Player of the Year award. However, Arsene Wenger has admitted that Wilshere has been using pain killers and he’s due for a surgery this summer.

Risking an injury-prone player like Wilshere could aggravate the injury, especially when Francis Coquelin or even The Verm could do a nice job there. Speculation is rife about Le Coq’s departure this summers as the youngster may seek to get first-team football elsewhere with Schalke 04 highly interested in his services.

Elsewhere, Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott also voiced their opinions in the wake of Arsenal’s victory over Wigan. Lil Gibbsy stated that his teammates showed good character while Walcott spoke about the team’s drive to get the final coveted Champions League spot with Tottenham on the prowl.

Still on European qualification, the FA has approved a potential playoff between Arsenal and Chelsea if both teams finish level on points with the same goal difference. Chelsea currently have 72 points amassed from 37 games with a goal difference of +35 while the Gunners have managed to notch up 70 points from 37 games with a goal difference of +34.

In essence, this means a playoff could occur between both sides if Chelsea fail to pick up maximum points against Everton in sixth place while the Gunners managed to ease past Newcastle with a solitary goal. That would be interesting.

With one more game left to play in the Premier League season, the Gunners would be hopeful to secure maximum points against Newcastle coupled with a bad result for Spurs against Sunderland that would  see the Gunners take the final European slot.

After taking a break due to last season’s summer Olympics, Arsenal’s preseason cup tournament, the Emirates Cup, is back in full flow with the Gunners hosting FC Porto, Napoli and Emmanuel Eboue’s current employers, Galatasaray. In the two day tournament, Arsenal would gear up to face Napoli and Galatasaray on the 3rd and 4th of August, 2013.

It would be nice seeing our favorite African cult hero, Farmer Emmanuel Eboue, and I’m positive that he’ll get a good reception from the Emirates faithful. He rose to the limelight at such an early age, displacing Lauren from the team but the arrival of Sagna saw him moved further up the pitch, a failed experiment if you ask me.

Notwithstanding, Eboue was a lovable fellow in North London and I particularly enjoyed his penchant for strange goal celebrations, whether he scored them or his teammate did.

AdeMumu 6 Rams 2


Teams will be awarded three points for a win and one point for a draw. The competition also rewards attacking play, with teams being awarded one point for each goal they score. In addition, shots on target will be taken into account and will be used to decide the tournament winners if teams are level on points and goal difference, with the winning team being presented with the Emirates Cup trophy after the second match on Sunday, August 4.

The current holders of the competition are the New York Red Bulls, and it would be nice to see some Emirates Cup action before the Community Shield encounter between Manchester United and Wigan.

That’s yer lot for today.


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Arsenal 4 Wigan 1: Euro-Bound Gunners Condemn Latics to Relegation

Lukas Podolski celebrates with Per Mertesacker

Finally, some form in just the right game…

The final outcome was bluntly simple for both sides – win or bust!

On the Blue corner stood a team that was threading on relegation waters with an outside chance of surviving the drop despite enjoying a night in the spotlight following their impressive win over Manchester City in the FA Cup final, which ultimately cost Roberto Mancini his job. On the Red corner stood a team that had its eyes firmly fixed on a Champions League berth, as wins from its rivals over the weekend turned out to be an eye opener.

As expected, Wigan arrived at the Emirates with the same set of heroes that triumphed in Wembley and Arsenal featured the same XI that secured that nervy win over Queens Park Rangers 10 days ago with the only exception being Kieran Gibbs’ return to first team action at the expense of Nacho Monreal.

Arsenal began the game with more urgency with Theo Walcott using his pace to evade Espinoza on the right before lofting a cross that was nodded narrowly wide by Santi Cazorla. The heavy downpour was incessant but it wasn’t going to disrupt one hell of a footballing night.

With just 10 minutes on the clock, Santi Cazorla swung in a corner and some trademark horrendous Wigan defending paved the way for Lukas Podolski to nod the ball home at point blank range.

Mikel Arteta intercepted the ball superbly before instigating an attack in an unorthodox quickfire fashion from those his aging legs. After teeing up Podolski, the German drilled the ball into Wigan’s danger area but there was no Gunner in the box to exert the damage. Bacary Sagna made a foray forward and after some intricate Arsenal interplay, he fired a tame shot that skewed wide with Gibbs making a futile effort to dispatch the ball goalwards.

Wigan threatened Arsenal with an over the top ball that caused Wojciech Szczesny problems but Laurent Koscielny was on hand to make a superb clearance. His introduction to the team in the skipper’s stead has improved Arsenal’s defense and the results on the pitch have proved that fact.

Callum McManaman got in behind Gibbs and fired a low drive into the heart of Arsenal’s defense but Kos the Boss popped up with the goods yet again, making another vital interception. The French defender was the quickest to react to another Cazorla corner but his effort wasn’t far off the mark.

Cazorla continued to pull the strings in midfield, cushioning an inch-perfect through ball to Walcott that matched the finish but the assistant referee’s flag spared Wigan’s blushes. Just when it seemed as if the Gunners were going to go into the break with a well-deserved lead, Arteta conceded a soft free kick at the edge of the area. Shaun Maloney stepped up with a precise shot that rattled Szczesny’s net, despite the fact that he got a hand to it.

Both teams knew that a draw would have been ineffectual so they had to go for broke, and in quite surprising fashion, it was Wigan Athletic that almost opened the scoring the start of the second half when Arouna Kone’s shot was blocked bravely by Szczesny. Kone and Maloney were in the thick of things again, as they connected with James McArthur that rifled a shot through Szczesny’s legs. However, the assistant referee made a right offside call.

Walcott was having a stormer on the right and made mince meat out of Espinoza before swinging a cross that was fired goalwards by Cazorla, forcing Wigan’s goalie, Joel, to make a fine save. Cazorla had a second bite of the cherry but Joel coupled with some last-ditch Wigan defending blocked the ball and it fell kindly to Rosicky whose shot was blasted wide.

McManaman was one of Wigan’s bright sparks in the first half but he suffered an injury and was replaced by Franco di Santo. Walcott continued to terrorize the Wigan rearguard down the right and he lofted another cross that was controlled by Gibbs. After dallying on the ball, he dinked a cross for Podolski but his header was easy pickings for Joel.

Rosicky exploited Walcott’s blistering pace with a carefully-weighted through ball and the winger bore down on goal with Podolski making up ground to expect a cut back. Walcott fired the shot straight at the goalie albeit from an acute angle much to the disgust of Podolski.

After constant pressing and probing, Arsenal finally got a deserved lead when Sagna located Cazorla on the right hand side. The diminutive magician drilled the ball into the area and it was nicked in by Walcott for his 21st goal of the campaign. Wigan launched a counter attack harboring plans of an equalizer but with Kone beating Arteta for pace, Gibbs made a vital block before Walcott mopped things up.

Moments later, it was Route One stuff from Arsenal as Szczesny’s punt was intercepted by Aldonin Alcaraz to the path of Cazorla that nodded an intelligent pass to Podolski. Joel rushed on to protect his goal but the German Machine lobbed the goalie to make it 3-1. While the Gunners were basking in the euphoria of some breathing space, Cazorla split the Wigan defense open with a pass to Ramsey. After darting unmarked into the danger area, Ramsey finished aplomb with a blasted effort that slammed the roof of the net.

In eight minutes, the Gunners had smashed in three goals. Magical stuff.

Arsene Wenger made some routine substitutions with Jack Wilshere and the Ox coming on for Rosicky and Podolski. By leaving the pitch for the 22nd time this season, Podolski created a new record as Arsenal’s most substituted player in a single campaign, surpassing a record held by Freddie Ljungberg…Meanwhile, Frank Lampard broke the record for…

Late on there was a concern for Arsenal as Arteta was withdrawn for what seemed like an injury and was replaced by Thomas Vermaelen that went straight into the defensive midfield position. Interesting.

Depending on the extent of Arteta’s injury, the Verm might be experimented there but I’m in no position to make such conclusions.

The ref’s final whistle was like music to the ears of Arsenal, Sunderland and Aston Villa fans, as the result was enough for them to be where they had hoped to be. However, it signaled the end of an eight-year adventure for Wigan Athletic and their FA Cup-winning manager, Roberto Martinez, that could be tempted to jump ship to Everton.

Arsene Wenger spoke about his team’s performance, Wigan’s relegation, the extent of Arteta’s injury and many more in his post-match interview. This victory has sent Arsenal back to fourth place with some false hopes of even leapfrogging Chelsea to third place which will be dependent on their result in David Moyes’ final game as Everton’s manager.

Tottenham will be hoping for the Gunners to slip up on the final day but they’ll have to come through the energetic Paolo di Canio and his Black Cat Army. Arsenal did him a massive favor yesterday by condemning Wigan to relegation.

I certainly wouldn’t mind if he returns the favor.


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Wigan Preview: Facing a Date with Destiny

Wigan’s last visit doesn’t bring fond memories

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.


Yaaaay for winning. It’s time to be relegated -____-

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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