Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Arsenal's Premier League Game With Wigan Previewed

After the wins for both Chelsea and Spurs at the weekend Arsenal now know exactly what they have to do in their last two games. If they're going to finish in the top four they quite simply have to win at home to Wigan tonight and away to Newcastle next Sunday. If they win both of those games fourth place is guaranteed and third place is still a slight possibility.

Normally a home game against a team in the relegation zone would be seen as a home banker, but this game means an awful lot to Wigan too. They had the greatest day in the history of their club on Saturday when they beat City 1-0 to win the FA Cup, but they will be relegated unless they beat Arsenal. Their task is pretty much the same as Arsenal's as they need to win their last two games but their reward will be Premier League survival if they succeed. 

It should make for a fascinating game with both clubs having to win and both capable of playing some very good football. Wigan showed how good they can be in the cup final and thoroughly deserved their victory. Arsenal have been on a very good run of results recently but their performances have not been what they might have been in the last few weeks.

I watched Wigan win against City and as good as they were City also made it quite easy for them. City play in a similar fashion to Arsenal at times and I felt their mistake was a lack of intensity. Arsenal cannot approach this game in the same manner that City did or it will make Wigan's task much easier.

Arsenal need to start off at top speed and look to punish what has to be a tired Wigan team as early and as often as possible. The Wembley pitch is famous for it's ability to drain players energy and tire them out. If Arsenal can get a head of steam from early on Wigan's exertions and celebrations at the weekend might just get the better of them.

I don't expect much change in the Arsenal team with almost a full squad available to Arsene Wenger. With Olivier Giroud serving the last game of his suspension the chances are Lukas Podolski will again play the central striking role. I'd still love to see Santi Cazorla play in the role behind the striker but I expect him to be deployed wide on the left again.

The players are certainly good enough to get the result they need but with so much at stake there are bound to be nerves. The best way to calm those nerves is to score a few goals early on but if those goals don't come the players have to hold their nerve. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to keep playing football and Arsenal might need to show that courage as the game progresses.

It promises to be a nerve wracking night for Arsenal fans, and the memories of Wigan's win at Arsenal at this time last season won't help. They hit Arsenal on the break that night and somehow managed to hold on for a 2-1 win. Arsenal are a better team defensively this season though and despite their need for a win I don't expect them to be too open at the back.

There's plenty of time for them to get the goals they want and I don't think they will over commit players forward until late on if needed. Arsenal have scored plenty of important late goals this season as they grind teams down and wear them out. Even if Wigan manage to stay in the game I can't imagine their energy levels can match those of a team who haven't played in over a week. 

Hopefully the fans can get right behind the team and give the players the boost they need at times when there is a lull in the game. The Emirates can be a bit quiet at times but the players will need all the help they can get from the fans tonight. Man for man they are better players than Wigan but in a game with so much at stake for both teams it's not always easy to express that.

Wigan showed a great team spirit and togetherness on Saturday and they are past masters at getting out of tight spots at the end of the season. This could be their biggest challenge of all and it's up to Arsenal to make sure they lose it. I like to watch Wigan play and they are a far better team to watch than quite a few teams in the league, but there's no room for sympathy in football.

I think Arsenal are going to win and bring the battle for the Champions League places to the last day of the season. At that stage it's a matter of their nerve holding out for their trip to Newcastle, but at least Newcastle will have nothing to play for. It promises to be a very exciting end to the season and hopefully it will deliver the rewards that seemed so improbable for Arsenal not so long ago.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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