Wigan Athletic travel to Arsenal on Monday on a euphoric high after two performances that have confounded their critics. There have been many among the Wigan Athletic faithful who have doubted the capability within Roberto Martinez’s squad. There was talk of several players not being up to Premier League standard. The last two games have proved that this is not the case. The display against Chelsea was excellent, being robbed of a deserved win by two offside goals. Latics were the better team on the day — hard to believe they could reach such a level after the frustrating season we have been through.
Wigan Athletic were also the better team at the DW Stadium on Wednesday and their performance was such that Manchester United rarely looked like scoring. The quality of Latics’ football in that game was way beyond anything we have seen from them before in the Premier League. The stats reveal Latics having 13 attempts on goal, Manchester United 9. Wigan Athletic had 55% of possession with 7 corners, compared with 3 from the visitors. Latics commited 8 fouls, United 14. One yellow card for Wigan two for United. As has become the Premier League norm when a little club plays a top four team, Latics had to deal with adverse refereeing decisions, which would have broken the backs of many teams. A rare headed goal from Victor Moses was disallowed by a linesman who focused on the protesting De Gea. Caldwell, stood in front of the Spaniard, did nothing against the rules but the goal was annulled. In the 60th minute Jonny Evans made a tackle that would have been a yellow card 99% of the time, but the referee decided it wasn’t. Maybe his decision was influenced by the yellow card he had given the same player earlier? It is not the first time Evans has escaped like this against Latics.
We have an appalling away record against Arsenal. It has been a history largely of capitulation. Arsenal have won 8 of their last 9 games and are in 3rd place. Can Wigan Athletic summon up the psychological and physical fortitude to make a go of it on Monday?
The matches against Chelsea and Man U must have taken their toll. Moreover they are almost certainly going to have an unsympathetic referee and a hostile crowd of 65,000 to deal with. The referee will be Andre Mariner, who famously allowed that Blackburn goal to stand after Morten Gamst Pedersen ran the ball in from a corner. If the goal hadn’t stood, by the way, we would have a 6-point cushion over Blackburn — all the difference in the world. Let’s be fair though – it is not only Latics who have suffered from refereeing decisions – other teams near the bottom of the table have to deal with the same thing. But sometimes one irrationally thinks that the Premier League does not want unglamorous clubs like Wigan Athletic in its ranks.
However, relegation continues to threaten. A good result at Arsenal would be a fantastic boost – a walloping could set us back to where we were before. Worse still would be injuries or suspensions. During Roberto Martinez’s reign he has never been afforded the opportunity to play a settled team, particularly in defence. Alcaraz, Caldwell and Figueroa have been superb over the past few games – to lose one of them would throw a spanner in the works that we don’t need. The defensive cohesion of a back three used to playing together is paramount. I hate to say it, but a damage limitation approach if things go awry against Arsenal might be the way to go. Particularly given the favorable results of direct rivals Blackburn and QPR yesterday.
On the team front it looks like Hugo Rodallega is going to miss out again through injury. Franco Di Santo was superb in his ball-holding skills against Man U but Rodallega remains the best goalscoring centre forward we have. Let’s hope he will be back soon. Having a settled team is a big plus for Latics. The question is whether they are going to have the collective energy and mental fortitude to make this an even contest. There were some severely tired legs towards the end of the Manchester United contest. We need to beware of the euphoria that has followed the defeat of the league champions, hope that we can continue with the positive approach that we have seen recently, but not be surprised if our players are not quite ready for a game against another top five team. Let’s hope for a good result against Arsenal but also look ahead at the remaining fixtures, which are more easily winnable. Let’s keep the faith!