Saturday, 12 April 2014

Arsenal's FA Cup Semi Final With Wigan Previewed

It's been a very bad couple of months for Arsenal as their title challenge has disintegrated and they exited the Champions Lesgue in the last 16 yet again. All the while though they have steadily progressed through the rounds in the FA Cup as the other big teams have fallen by the wayside. Arsenal have actually put paid to the chances of three of the top six in the league with home victories over Spurs, Liverpool and Everton as well as a home win against League One side Coventry.

You could say the draw has been kind to Arsenal with home games and it's hard to argue with that considering their current away form. With the semi final bring played at Wembley there is a chance for Arsenal to win the trophy without ever leaving London. To do that they need to beat the current holders Wigan and them advance to a final against either Hull or Sheffield United.

Arsenal are overwhelming favourites to win the trophy and rightly so, but Wigan will be no pushover. They were deserving winners of the trophy against big spending City last season and knocked the same team out away from home in the last round too. They were of course relegated last season as well as winning the cup and they're currently occupying one of the play off spots in the Championship.

Their season didn't get off to a great start, but they have looked like a different team since Uwe Rosler took over as their manager. They charged up the league and look likely to make the promotion play offs and they have put up a fantastic defence of the trophy they won last season. I have no doubt they will do everything they can to make things tough for Arsenal and they will think Arsenal are there for the taking.

In team news there will be late fitness tests for Kieran Gibbs, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and there are no players returning from injury either. Mathieu Flamini won't be available after picking up his tenth yellow card of the season and I think he misses the league game at home to West Ham on Tuesday night too. The squad strength is being tested to it's limit at the moment and it's a test Arsenal are failing.

There are still some very good players available though and I expect to see a team not too far from the one which put on such a poor performance at Everton last Sunday. A lot of those players probably deserve to be dropped after that performance but there are few options to replace them and Arsene Wenger isn't known for dropping players either. I hope those players will have used the last week to reflect on that performance and will be determined to do an awful lot better.

I doubt if there will be any changes in defence unless Gibbs is fit to return, but Lukasz Fabianski will play in goal as usual in the FA Cup. He has done very well in his few chances this season and he should have no trouble finding a new club when his contract expires this summer. It will be a real poser for the boss if Arsenal make it to the final to decide who plays in goal.

In midfield Aaron Ramsey will come back into the team for his first start of the year after recovering from injury. He looked sharp when he came on against Everton towards the end last week and his absence has been one of the reasons for Arsenal's demise over the last few months. Up until his injury Ramsey had been the best player in the league this season and his return is very welcome. 

With Flamini out I imagine Mikel Arteta will play despite looking tired and off his game for quite a while now. Hopefully he can get his game together again and put in the type of performance the team needs. After those two players the fitness tests will have a bearing on which players get to play and which ones don't.

Kim Kallstrom hasn't really had a chance since he recovered from the injury he had when he joined on loan in the January transfer window. He's a player with plenty of experience and he's a pretty good player too, but I just don't know if he will get a chance. I suspect both Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky will play as long as Rosicky is fit to take his place in the team. 

I really hope Chamberlain can play because he is the only player who offers real pace in the team and his inclusion will make things an awful lot harder for Wigan. If he plays they will not be able to hold a high line without allowing room for him to exploit with his pace and Arsenal will have more space to play in if he does play. This Arsenal team needs players with pace in it and has suffered with Theo Walcott injured, but Chamberlain could be the answer to their problems. If he does play it has to be in a wide role where he can get in behind Wigan and hopefully he will have his shooting boots on if he gets chances. 

Without Chamberlain the team is going to be very similar to last week and it's hard to imagine they won't have the same pedestrian approach to the game. Ramsey will hopefully make a difference but he can't do it all and he needs the players who have under performed recently to step up to the plate too. They are all very good players but they need to show just how good they are and can be.

I expect Olivier Giroud to start in attack despite looking tired and off his game for far too long now. The lack of striking options has been a real problem this season and there is no real alternative to Giroud in the squad. There's always a chance Yaya Sanogo will get a game ahead of Giroud, but I doubt it with so much at stake.

There's no doubt that this Arsenal team are better than Wigan player for player, but they have failed to live up to expectations in the last two months in particular. The prize on offer is a place in the FA Cup final next month and a chance to end Arsenal's nine year wait for a trophy.

The team will have a huge Arsenal crowd behind them with up to 60,000 of their fans in the stadium. Those fans will be right behind the team and I expect to see and hear them raising the Wembley roof. If there's something which might just set the team up for their last five league games it could be the prospect of another trip to Webley in mid May.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.


  1. Wenger is on shaky ground.Believe me,Wigan will go for Arsenal's throats from the ko or play anti soccer to stifle the gunners passing game.If the gunners play the passing game similar to the games they have lost by big margins,Wigan will hit on the break .If they score ,blame. nobody but Wenger.
    His style is too predictable. I want the gunners to run at the Wigan defenders with the ball similar to what Lukaku did.If not,don't be surprised they lose.

  2. When plan a doesn't work,plan b must come in or even plan c. Wenge r is too rigid and refuse s to change his game plan and that is why Arsenal are losing games .You contrast him with other managers and tactically he has fallen behind.
    Wenger must make the gunners difficult to beat and carry on from there. If he is too focussed on the attack at the expense of the defence, expect Arsenal to decline faster.