* in an effort to mix things up a bit, we’ve invited a couple Arsenal supporters to contribute a match preview from their point of view. For a traditional preview from Jakarta Jack of the Amigos, please click here.
It’s been a crazy week for the Gunners; two big wins, both could have been by more but somehow made my breakfast come up. In my time as an Arsenal supporter I feel there has been a transformation in how I perceive not only the club but also football in general. Even in the days of the untouchables season or in the run to the Champions League final, I have never hyper-focused on an end of a season in this way, match-to-match. In the aftermath of the Gunners hammering of the mercenaries in baby blue, I stopped singing long enough to return my shirt to my torso and thought to myself, “Wait, who are we playing next?” I got the same feeling after the lackluster pounding of Wolves. Maybe this is a new feeling because third has never meant so much, maybe I was younger, more fearless, or maybe we had the likes of certain Henrys, Bergkamps, Pires’, and Campbells’ to carry us through? But who is up now? Oh right, Wigan.
I have always been a fan of Wigan. Or least, lets put it this way: I have always been a fan of the Roberto Martinez’s Wigan. With all the Hughes’, Pardews’ and Rednapp’s to occupy the hate compartment in my brain, why take anything out on a man with so much swagger? Look at this season alone. The January Beasejour move and the resurgences of Maloney, Moses, Alcaraz. It’s a fun team for the neutral. However, neutral the Lactics are not this Monday. You don’t have to be a seasoned Gunner to say this season has had its hills, valleys, and that crazy pit in return of the Jedi. We are undoubtedly playing the best we have all season, and in my opinion the best in sometime.
If Wigan’s game plan is to do exactly as they did against Chelsea and United one could hardly argue. Or should they? Or January blips against Fulham and Swansea showed our vulnerability — which also showed against Wolves last week: a lack of attacking cohesion and killer instinct to finish the opposition off early. Against United and Chelsea, the Latics brought the game to them. They will probably need to adopt a more patient tactic against Arsenal. Every associated with Arsenal is expecting a win on Monday. It will be important for Wigan to show Arsenal respect, while also frustrating them.
I would love to “dance with Koscielny” on Monday but because he couldn’t wait six hours to commit a late tackle, it will be the one and only Johan Djourou starting alongside the Verminator. I think many Gunners would rather see videos of him learning how to not ball-watch than discussing who has the best music taste in the squad, and touring the locker room. But enough of that — the doc has told me to be less negative — and I promised. He is growing and has much to prove and could be a weak spot for the Gunners. He lacks confidence and gets skittish on the ball, though his defending is improving. Second, and perhaps more obvious, is the Brazilian-ness of our Brazilian left back. Andre Santos can’t defend. He doesn’t want to. But he does bring a great attacking presence and threat. The Lactics should look to play crosses deep to that left of the penalty area as Santos has had trouble finding his positioning in those situations. Kevin Doyle for Wolves showed this before a marvelous save by Szczesny on Wednesday. Wigan will need to be patient and take their chances when presented because if they do try to play Arsenal straight up, and the game becomes open, RVP will slice into them faster than a Mitt Romney speech at Berkeley.
There’s no hiding it. Robin Van Persie is the lifeblood of this club at the moment. It will take constant concentration of the Caldwell-Alcaraz-Figueroa axis to deal with the clever Dutchman. He loses his mark so effortlessly and it only takes once. I can praise RVP all day…maybe the rest of my life, but there is more to this club on Monday. One notable contributor to the recent form is the resurgence of Tomas Rosicky. Tommy was flawless against Spurs, a maniac against Milan, and an absolute handful for City. He showed up Na$ri and tirelessly kept the Gunners high pressure on the City defense. Rosicky unfortunately did not play against Wolves, and I see that as a much needed rest, a chance for Ramsey to get his confidence back in a central role, and the Welsh captain did everything needed to beat a poor Wolves side. Gunners will be hoping to see Rosicky in that advanced central midfield role Monday. With likes of Gervihno to possibly return for a start on the left and Walcott to keep his place on the right, the Lactics will have their hands full.
The partnership of Song and Arteta has been a true stroke of genius by Arsene Wenger. However, with Song’s recent run of assists and wandering higher up the pitch it’s obvious the baby-dreaded monster sometimes gets caught out. This was evident against QPR when there was no cover for (as Arseblog.com so rightly puts it) “Bambi on Ice” Thomas Vermaelen. Don’t get me wrong — his vision and precision for a defensive midfielder is sublime but his offensive play and awful backheels can land the squad in awkward positions. Arteta has also been a rock the squad so badly needed this season. Yes his hair is immaculate, but this can hardly be the account for his vision and rocket of a right boot. He is a very consistent footballer and for the exception of the City and Villa strikes he remains the silent hero connecting the team one guapo pass at a time. Song and Arteta are the backbone of the system and if Wigan are to break and if there is a gorgeous hair magnet attached to Al Habsi, Wigan could have a chance. Arsenal will be focused on moving the ball quickly and precisely, tiring the Lactics.
It would be silly for one to say that I wasn’t the slightest jealous Balotelli got to touch Song’s leg, however violent it may have been (maybe that’s all it was, just a friendly gesture), but even more inane is to say Wigan does not have a chance on Monday. They will indeed be up for the challenge. Losses to Blackburn and QPR will lift the Lactics. The Gunners will need to keep the mindset they had against Milan and City. Not be complacent, and do what they do best: attack, attack, attack until it is said and done. In the meantime, a weekend of FA Cup derbies to get us through. There truly just isn’t enough beer.
* you can follow Tony on Twitter at whitethrash3
Wigan at home has been a positive fixture for Arsenal over the last few years. This year’s meeting is more interesting than years past, however, because A) both teams are at their most confident and are playing their best football of the season; and B) unlike many clubs in the EPL at the moment, both have something vital to play for. From an Arsenal perspective, there is reason to be confident. As I mentioned, Arse are playing very well as of late. While the continued excellence of RVP, the outstanding play of Szczesny, the resurrection of Tomas Rosicky’s ghost, and the solidity of the Song-Arteta midfield axis have all contributed to this run of form, I see the biggest difference coming in two areas. First, goals are starting to come from people other than RVP. As great as he’s been, it seemed like he was papering over the cracks for much of the year as no one else could find the net. Now that goals are beginning to come from Walcott, Arteta, and random defenders as well, we seem much more resilient to a bad day for RVP. Second and most important, the back four are playing well together and have become a solid unit. The individual players have been good enough all year, but the unit did not begin to play well together until recently, which I think has coincided with the outstanding run.
This leads back to the match because there seems to be a good chance that Gibbs will miss out, which I think would be our main area of concern. Andre Santos is a strange player, in that he is a defender who seems to have little experience defending. If Santos plays, Wigan’s recently-excellent wing play could exploit this, and I think we could see lots of crosses coming in from Arsenal’s left (and “lots of crosses” often leads to “lots of goals and poor defending”). Still, I think Arsenal should have enough to get by Wigan tomorrow. As the Amigos mention in their preview, Wigan should be more fatigued than Arsenal. Also, Wigan’s confidence will likely lead to them playing more open football, leaving space for Arsenal to play in. Typically Arsenal can out-attack attack-minded teams from lower down the table. Besides, Wigan can’t possibly beat Arsenal, Man United, and Chelsea (by rights) in a row can they?