Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Arsenal's Trip To Wigan Athletic Previewed.

Arsenal beat Chelsea 3-1 on Monday night to put themselves right back in the hunt for the Premier League title. With Man City winning yesterday afternoon to go to the top of the table temporarily, the emphasis was on the "Manure" trip to Birmingham as "Manure" looked to regain their position at the summit of the table. Lee Bowyer is a player and a man that I have no time for, but he managed to score a last minute equaliser for Birmingham to give Arsenal just a little more hope in their title challenge.

It means that "Manure" have only won one of their eight away league games so far this season. They may have had two games postponed due to the weather, but both of those games were away from home, and their away record is not that of champions. Luckily for them they have a great home record, and it alone is keeping them on top of the table. If that home record was to slip in any way their season would be in serious trouble.
It means that Arsenal can make it a three way tie on top of the table with a win tonight away to Wigan, and it's a game that they have to win for their fans after the debacle that was the same fixture last season. In that game Arsenal led 2-0 with 10 minutes remaining, and they ended up losing 3-2. It was one of my worst memories of last season, and it's not a feeling that I can ever get used to. The fact that something similar happened at home to The Spuds this season only makes it feel even worse.

The fact that Arsenal have a very tricky trip to Birmingham on Saturday is another cause for concern, but for the moment I will concentrate on the game against Wigan tonight. Wigan go into the game knowing that win or a draw will move them out of the relegation zone, as the bottom end of the table is very tight.  Having come from behind to beat Arsenal 3-2 towards the end of last season they will be hoping to repeat that performance tonight. That game last season more or less assured their Premier League survival for another season, and if they can get a win tonight it will be their second league victory in a row. At the wrong end of the table six points from two games can turn a poor season around, and they will be hoping that they can do just that tonight.

After defeating Chelsea on Monday night, and finally proving that they have the ability to turn over the top teams in the league Arsenal now need to get back to the bread and butter of Premier League life. Wigan try to play good football most of the time, and it means that Arsenal will find themselves in the unusual position of playing against a team who actually try to attack them. In the past teams have learned at their expense that it can be a very dangerous tactic to employ against Arsenal, but on the odd occasion that Arsenal aren't at their best it can lead to very poor results.

I can't imagine that the players will be anything but ready for this game, as they must be on a high after beating Chelsea. The big question for Arsene Wenger will be whether he retains most of the players that played in that game, or he decides to rest a few of them with such a hectic schedule coming up. He doesn't need to worry whether Cesc Fabregas is fit to play or not, as his captain is suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season against Chelsea. After that though he has a few decisions to make ahead of tonight's team selection.

The boss has previously stated that Johan Djourou is not being risked twice in a week, as he is still being eased back into action after missing a whole season through injury. If that is still the case I would expect to see Sebastien Squillaci come in for him, but I would expect the rest of the defence to remain unchanged. I can't see the sense in making too many changes to the defence after the strong performance they put in on Monday night.

In midfield I would love to see Samir Nasri given the creative role while Cesc is suspended, but I suspect that he will keep his wide position. Ideally Andrey Arshavin should play on the left with Nasri in behind whoever plays as the striker in my opinion. Both Jack Wilshere and Alex Song played very well on Monday night, and deserve to be retained, but I have a feeling that Denilson will take the place of one of them in order to try to keep the team fresh.

The biggest decision will probably be who plays the striking role, as Robin Van Persie started on Monday night, but he is probably not close enough to full fitness to start again so soon. If that is the case I expect to see Marouane Chamakh take that role, and hopefully the rest he has had over the last two and a half weeks will do him some good. I would be shocked if Theo Walcott didn't play after scoring one goal and making another against Chelsea. His goals and assists per minute played so far this season can compare with the very best, and a run in the team could do him and Arsenal a lot of good.

The players named above are more than good enough to go to Wigan and get a positive result to keep Arsenal's challenge to the two Manchester teams on line. A win would see them go into second place on goal difference, and a five goal win would see them take over at the top. I'm not expecting Arsenal to win by such a margain, but I am predicting a 3-1 win. If Arsenal manage to score three goals they will again be the leading scorers in the Premier League so far this season, and it's a mantle that they should always have. With the array of goalscoring ability available to Arsenal they should be scoring somewhere between 80 and 100 league goals every season in my opinion.

If Arsenal can match the level that they had against Chelsea they will be too good for Wigan, and the three points will be theirs. For me their biggest enemy will be a lack of urgency or even complacency. Thankfully they have only suffered from those problems at home this season, and their away form has been very good. As it stands only Man City have a better away record than Arsenal, but Arsenal can match City's record tonight with a win. I fully expect them to do just that, and I think that Walcott will get himself another goal along with Nasri bagging one. It's about time that an Arsenal defender got on the scoresheet too, and I have a funny feeling that one of the centre backs will do so tonight.

That's it for today.

Here's a look at Thierry Henry's hat trick in the last game ever at Highbury against Wigan.

See You Tomorrow.

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