Monday, 16 April 2012

Arsenal's Premier League Game With Wigan Previewed

Arsenal managed to put the recent blip with QPR behind them by bouncing back to beat Manchester City and Wolves in the space of a few days. They have now won nine of their last 10 games in the league, and have some daylight between themselves and the other teams chasing for third place. With none of those teams playing this week Arsenal have the opportunity to widen the gap by beating Wigan tonight.

The team should be fairly similar to the one which beat Wolves with one possible exception. I think Tomas Rosicky will return to play a creative role in midfield at the expense of Aaron Ramsey. Rosicky didn't play against Wolves, but he probably needed a rest after starting so many games in recent months.

Rosicky has been in great form during that time, and the team has really benefited from his exertions. He finally looks like the player Arsenal signed almost six years ago, and hopefully he can continue that form into next season. I know he has had an awful time with injuries during his time at Arsenal, but six years is still a long time to wait for a player to show why he was signed in the first place.

Kieran Gibbs will probably be fit again, but I expect Andre Santos to keep his place at left back. It looks like Arsene Wenger considers the players to be fairly equal, and whoever has the shirt will probably hold it. Gibbs has done well since his return from injury, but now Santos has his chance to shine thanks to Gibbs having to limp off against Manchester City last week.

The battle between the two of them can only be good for the team in my opinion, and hopefully it can improve both players overall. I would imagine Santos will now be the first choice left-back for the rest of the season unless he performs badly, or picks up an injury.

With Laurent Koscielny still suspended Johan Djourou will again play  alongside Thomas Vermaelen in the centre of the Arsenal defence. Djourou hasn't always looked particularly secure when he has played this season, but he was excellent last season until he picked up an injury against United in the FA Cup. No matter how well he might play tonight I cannot see him retaining his place for Saturday's game at home to Chelsea.

The only other decision Wenger has to make is who to include on the left side of his attacking trio. Yossi Benayoun has done very well there in the last few games, and I think he will probably get the nod yet again. Ramsey will hope to play I'm sure, and Gervinho looks like he might be ready to return from injury too.

It means Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will again be on the bench despite how much talent and potential he has. I have no doubt that Wenger is slowly introducing him into the team, but it must be frustrating for him to be on the bench unless others are injured. I wonder if he is being used so sparingly to ensure he doesn't go to Euro 2012 with England this summer.

Wigan got a very good result at home to United last Wednesday night, and they have now won three of their last four Premier League games. Their only setback in those four games was their defeat at Chelsea, but that was thanks to inept refereeing more than anything else. They have shown more than enough in those games to deserve to stay up this season, and Arsenal have to take them very seriously tonight.

The results against City and especially Wolves would seem to show Arsenal have learned from the mistakes they made against QPR. The players were always going to be up for the game against City, but they almost managed a comfortable win away to the bottom club in the league by beating Wolves. Any complacency in that game could have proved costly, but Arsenal were always in control and should have won by more than three goals.

Arsenal have come out of the blocks at top speed in their last two games, and I expect more of the same tonight. The possibility of opening up an eight point lead over Spurs and Newcastle, and a 10 point lead over Chelsea is one Arsenal cannot afford to miss out on. They will have played a game more than those clubs, but points in the bag area lot better than games in hand.

There are so few games left now that a lead of those proportions would be almost too much for the following pack to overhaul. It's vital for the players to concentrate from the first minute to the last, and take every chance they can to make Wigan suffer. It would be great if Arsenal can tie up third spot before traveling to West Brom for their final game of the season.

If Arsenal can win their last five games they will finish on 79 points, and that would be an impressive haul from such an eventful season. Even four wins would see them average two points a game for the season, and that's always what I consider to be the bare minimum requirement. Any team that averages more than two points a game over a season usually puts in a real challenge for the title too.

If Arsenal can do what is expected of them tonight they play again next Saturday at home to Chelsea in another must win game. It's hardly fair on Chelsea to have played their FA Cup semi final against Spurs yesterday evening, and to have to play at home to Barcelona in the last four of the Champions League on Wednesday night. The considerations of television have certainly made Chelsea's  task harder, but as an Arsenal fan I'm not complaining.

A win tonight and then another win against Chelsea would probably be enough for Arsenal to seal third place, but Saturday's game must be put out of the players minds. I thought one of the reasons they were so poor against QPR was because the players may have been thinking of their upcoming game against City. The fans have been told that the lessons were learned from that game, and the players have the opportunity to show how well they were learned tonight.

Despite Wigan looking impressive recently they are no match for an Arsenal team in full flow. I'm predicting a 2-0 win for Arsenal with Robin van Persie again getting his name on the scoresheet. He needs to get three goals in the remaining five games to reach 30 league goals for the season, and I sincerely hope he manages the feat.

It's at the stage of the season where a win is all important for Arsenal, and I don't really care how they get it. Much has been made of refereeing decisions which have cost teams goals or not in recent weeks, but Arsenal are due a few decisions in their favour in my opinion. They have conceded three penalties this season to dives which Ashley Young would have been proud of, and surely these things are meant to balance out over a season.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that Arsenal players should dive, but I wouldn't be unhappy if the referees got a call or two wrong in their favour either. it's not only teams that are looking to retain their league title taht need all the help they can get from friendly referees. Seriously though I'll be perfectly happy if the officials do their job properly tonight, and get their calls right too.

I'm sure the crowd will be right behind the team tonight, as there always seems to be a better atmosphere at night games. I'm not sure why that is, but hopefully it will help to spur the players on to yet another win. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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