With just four points from the opening six matches, this is Wigan Athletic’s worst start to a Premier League season. There was a win at Southampton, a home draw with Stoke, losses at home to Chelsea and Fulham and losses away at Manchester United and Sunderland. Despite our pre-season optimism, Latics are back in the dog fight zone, needing to scrap it out yet again. Where do we go from here? Is it time for the team that beat Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United within the space of a few weeks to be dismantled and rebuilt?
We started the season with optimism largely because of the fantastic achievements of the “great escape team”, but also because it looked like we had more strength in depth than ever before. Two excellent performances in the League Cup attest to that, with the “fringe” players staking their claims, although they have not yet come into fruition. Interesting to note how Liverpool have been bold enough to bring in exciting, if unproven, youngsters to arrest the lack of performance by too many of their senior professionals. Their 5-2 win at Norwich this weekend attests to the virtue of trying something new if the formula is not working.
So is it time for fresh blood to be brought in or should Martinez stick with those players who performed miracles in keeping us up last season? So far Martinez has shown loyalty to those players, following the maxim of “Don’t break up a winning team”.
Callum McManaman first made an appearance in the Premier League under Steve Bruce in May 2009, as a substitute against Portsmouth. Since then he has been started in cup ties but has been limited to a handful of substitute appearances in the Premier League. Throughout his time at Wigan he has been the outstanding performer for the reserve team and did well on loan at Blackpool in first part of last season. He has been capped four times for England at under 20 level. He showed us his excellent technique with a beautifully taken goal in the recent League Cup game at Nottingham Forest. It was the kind of finishing rarely seen from a Wigan Athletic player in recent years. Mauro Boselli has scored three opportunist goals in the League Cup, his second against West Ham showing a touch of class and arrogance. Eager to keep himself sharp he asked the manager to give him a couple games for the under 21 team, first scoring a late equalizer and then a winner. Ryo Miyaichi is an exciting young player, with electrifying pace. All three have been limited to substitute appearances so far. Ronnie Stam is an excellent attacking wing back, if not as strong defensively as Emmerson Boyce. He has not even been appearing on the bench. All these players merit strong consideration for a place in the starting lineup.
So is it time for a real shake-up – to bring in fresh blood who can energise the team? Martinez’ approach over these years has tended to be cautious, packing the midfield when the team is not doing well. On Saturday Wigan Athletic played with a lone centre forward: a conservative line-up. Jordi Gomez was once again chosen to play in the nominal right wing position. Far too often Gomez is played in a wide role that does not suit his game. He usually ends up either turning inside or passing the ball backwards. More on that here. To be frank, I think it is unfair on Gomez to have him play wide on the right. A couple of years ago we would regularly see Hugo Rodallega being played wide on the left, a position for which he was unsuited. Rodallega was a central striker, never a winger. The end result was a loss of form by the player.
To be fair on Martinez there have been injury problems that have disrupted the rhythm of his first choice lineup. Antolin Alcaraz has only played twice, while Jean Beausejour and James McArthur have struggled to reach full fitness. Alcaraz’s absence was crucial in last season’s poor start as well. The Paraguayan is not only a good defender, but his understanding with the other centre backs is not to be under estimated. Add to that the absence of Franco Di Santo, a bright light at the beginning of the season, missing the Fulham and West Ham matches, coming on as a substitute on Saturday. Moreover there has been a dip in form by senior professionals, Gary Caldwell and Emmerson Boyce. Neither has performed anywhere near the levels they displayed near the end of last season. Arouna Kone has come in and showed his willingness to make a success of that difficult lone centre forward position. He has scored two goals so far and got into good positions on other occasions, if some of his finishing has been disappointing. Ivan Ramis is gradually settling in to the centre of defence after a nightmare start in the opening game against Chelsea. His terrific goal at West Ham last week will surely boost his confidence.
Martinez has a dilemma. He has players knocking on the door who merit an opportunity. On the other hand he does not want to tamper with what had been a winning formula. Having Alcaraz, Beausejour and McArthur fully fit again would certainly help matters. However, underperforming players need to get the message that they are not automatically selected. A shake-up, even if it is a little one, might benefit the team.