They were the two Jimmy Macs – James McArthur and James McCarthy – in the engine room of Roberto Martinez’s midfield. It could be difficult guessing Bob’s starting lineups, but the Jimmy Macs always seemed to be there. Together with Shaun Maloney they could compete on an even keel with the likes of Gerrard, Lampard and Scholes. They were the ones who underpinned Wigan Athletic’s famous victories against giants like Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United.
Both had started at Hamilton Academicals in the second tier of Scottish football. Both Glaswegians and both part of the Accies side that won the Scottish First Division in 2007-08. The younger Jimmy Mac – McCarthy – was first to join Latics in summer of 2009, to be followed by ‘Auld Mac’ a year later. James McCarthy made 120 appearances for Latics before he moved to Everton early this season. James McArthur has made 116 up to this point.
Given his wealth of Premier League experience McArthur was expected to be a major force in the Championship division. His early performances under new manager Owen Coyle were disappointing, his partner McCarthy’s departure not helping. Some even suggested McArthur would never be the same without the younger Mac. But then again not many players reached optimum levels under Coyle’s slack regime. However, Coyle clearly recognized McArthur’s talent and leadership qualities, giving him brief captaincy duties for the first time in the absence of Emmerson Boyce.
The arrival of new manager Uwe Rosler signaled a change in tactical approach. Coyle’s long ball tactics had not suited the skilful McArthur and he soon made an impact upon his new manager. He formed a formidable midfield trio with Chris McCann and Ben Watson that was to prove crucial in Latics’ revival. Sadly both McCann and Watson were to pick up long term injuries and since then McArthur has had a variety of players accompanying him in midfield. Nevertheless he has kept up his excellent form.
However, Auld Mac has become more and more influential in that midfield engine room. He has become the fulcrum around whom things happen, a complete midfield player. Despite already having played 45 games this season he was full of energy and drive in an outstanding display in the draw with champions-elect Leicester City on Wednesday.
McArthur was once described as a tough tackler with creative spark. But he has become much more than that. He has become the midfield general who sets the example to his teammates in terms of his commitment and dedication to the Wigan Athletic cause. He will always be remembered as being part of the team that beat Manchester City to win the FA Cup last May. He had a wonderful game as a makeshift wing back.
If there is one area in which McArthur needs to improve it is in scoring more goals. However, when he does get them they tend to be good ones. That rocket shot at Huddersfield last season and the amazing chip over the Northern Ireland goalkeeper are as good as you will see.
Auld Mac is not so old. In fact he is only 26 and still has not reached his peak. He has taken his game to a higher level and many would view the underrated Scot as Latics’ player of the season at this point. It is ironic that when he is showing possibly the best form of his career he is not making the first choice line-up for his country. Granted he has dropped down a division, but are the current starters for the Scotland team really better than him?
James McArthur is a quality footballer with a great attitude. He can help take Wigan Athletic into the play-offs and beyond.
At 26 he has still not reached his peak. Latics supporters will hope he will stay at the club for years to come.