Auld Mac getting better and better – a look at James McArthur

 

The Jimmy Macs - McArthur left with McCarthy.  Photo courtesy of the Daily Record

The Jimmy Macs – McArthur (left) with McCarthy.
Photo courtesy of the Daily Record

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.

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McCarthy out, Powell and Shotton in

It seemed inevitable that James McCarthy would leave Wigan Athletic and Everton were always going to be the clear favourites to secure his services. Once Everton could confirm the sale of Marouane Fellaini to Manchester United they were going to have the funds to pay Latics the kind of asking price that Dave Whelan demanded. Although not at his best this season, McCarthy will be sorely missed by Latics.

For some time we have been waiting for Owen Coyle to sign another experienced defender and a forward capable of scoring goals. Coyle left it late, but managed to go some way towards providing what was needed through loan signings.

Latics’ interest in 19 year old Manchester United youngster, Nick Powell, had been broadcast in the media for some weeks. It was therefore no surprise when the loan deal was completed on the last day of the transfer window. However, the name of Liverpool’s Andre Wisdom had also been banded about the media, but a deal did not materialize. Wisdom would have fitted the defensive bill through his ability to play at full back or in the centre of defence.

Unable or unwilling to sign Wisdom, Coyle made an eleventh hour move to sign Ryan Shotton from Stoke on a one year loan deal. Shotton is a more experienced player than Wisdom and can also play in any slot in the back four.

Many Latics fans had questioned the need for the signing of an attacking midfield player like Powell, given the presence of playmakers Shaun Maloney and Jordi Gomez in the squad. Even with the departure of McCarthy, Coyle was still going to have a wealth of quality midfield players at his beckoning.

There is no doubt that Powell can score goals, including spectacular ones. At Crewe he had played in a more forward role, scoring 16 goals. On Powell’s  arrival last summer Sir Alex Ferguson stated that  “We see him as a central midfield player. Crewe played him as a forward in behind the striker, but I asked a question of [Alex director of football] Dario Gradi as to whether he thought central midfield was his position. That’s what he thinks, and Nick thinks that’s his position too, so we’re all in accord on that.”

Grant Holt’s injury leaves Latics stretched, with only Marc-Antoine Fortune available to fill the central striker role. It could be that Powell will be asked to step into that position sooner rather than later. Powell is clearly a fine young player and could make a major impact on Latics season, providing he can avoid the injury problems he had at Manchester last season.

The signing of the 24 year old Shotton is going to give Wigan much more defensive cover. The 6’3” Shotton has been used as a full back or midfield player by Stoke, although his natural position is in the centre of defence. He provides cover for Emmerson Boyce at right back. Although the captain remains a fine player he is now 33 and is going to find it difficult to get through a long season without some breaks. Shotton is not a cultured attacking full back like Boyce, but he will add defensive solidity. Shotton took over the long throw-in role from Rory Delap at Stoke and it might well be a ploy that Coyle will favour.

Coyle has now recruited 12 new players since his arrival in July. Both Powell and Shotton on one year loan deals are good signings with the view of getting Latics back to the Premier League.

It is the lack of a third specialist central striker that is the concern, but that might happen when the transfer window reopens in January. Given the audacious attempt to lure Jordan Rhodes from Blackburn it appears that Whelan is willing to pay what is needed to get another top class striker.

Coyle has once again done a good job in the transfer market.

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A breath of fresh air from Coyle

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Owen Coyle – a breath of fresh air

What a breath of fresh air Owen Coyle has brought to Wigan. Like him or loathe him he cannot be criticized for sitting on his backside and waiting for things to happen. Within the place of week he has signed two new players who look like a really good fit for the club. At a time of doom and gloom, when it looked like the heart was being ripped out if the club, he has come in and his positive outlook has already started to lift our spirits.

Wigan Athletic were stuck in limbo during the ”Will he stay or will he go “ saga with Roberto Martinez. Worse was to follow -even before the charismatic Spaniard had been unveiled as Everton manager – there were stories about him raiding his old club for playing and backroom staff. It seemed like he was going to be the main destroyer of the infrastructure he himself had painstakenly built in his four years at Wigan.

Reports suggest that Martinez is coming back from vacation and is ready to start forming his backroom staff at Everton. Graeme Jones is a probable departure to Goodison, but we will have to wait and see if Graham Barrow and other coaches and backroom staff will go too. Once again we seem to be waiting for Martinez and it is not an ideal situation for Coyle to come into as new manager.

At this stage it looks like each of James McCarthy and Arouna Kone already has a foot out of the door. However, there have been reports saying that Callum McManaman wants to stay and that could be of huge importance for a promotion push. Championship defences will not relish the prospect of dealing with McManaman’s speed, trickery and directness on one flank and the dangerous, curving crosses coming in from Jean Beausejour on the other.

There has been much said about Latics allowing players to run down their contracts over the past couple of years. Maynor Figueroa has already gone to Hull, Roman Golobart to Cologne and it looks odds-on that Antolin Alcaraz will go to Everton.

Figueroa was a real stalwart for Latics and will be missed. He has been reunited with Steve Bruce, the manager who brought him to Wigan.

Golobart was being carefully nurtured by Martinez and it looked like he might be a key player for the coming season. However, there were question marks whether he had the pace needed in the Premier League.

Alcaraz had three topsy turvy years at Wigan. In his first season he started in 34 Premier League games, but injuries hampered him after that. He made 25 league starts in his second season, but only 8 last year. Ironically his best performances came near the end of his time at Wigan, when he looked a class act.

However, freedom of contract is a double-edged sword and Latics are using it to their own advantage. Both Chris McCann and Stephen Crainey are highly experienced and capable Championship level players, who have also played in the Premier League. The signing of the 22 year old Thomas Rogne is being processed  – he would be one for the future and the 6’4” Norwegian would provide height and power that the Latics centre of defence has been lacking.

Coyle recently stated that he needed at least six new signings, but that looks like a conservative figure. It could be that he is looking at youngsters like Lee Nicholls, Jordan Mustoe, Eduard Campabadal, Daniel Redmond and Nouha Dicko stepping up to the plate, although we await confirmation on those who were at the end of previous contracts.

If Coyle can avoid a firesale and only McCarthy and Kone depart he will have a strong squad. However, he is going to have to get out the cheque book to sign those kinds of quality players who can add something special. Signing some of the best of the Championship’s younger players would appear to be the way to go forward. Latics have already been linked with two 25 year olds –  Derby County full back John Brayford and Bristol City winger Albert Adomah. However, if Kone were to go he would be hard to replace and it would be Coyle’s greatest challenge.

Coyne has inherited the backbone of a team that – with a few key additions and a minimum of departures – would be quite capable of pushing for promotion. His critical signings may be yet to come.

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No need for a fire sale, Dave

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Just over four years ago a Wigan Athletic team that was to finish in 11th place in the Premier League was gradually dismantled. The books were not being balanced, so the prized assets were cashed in and the wage bill slashed.

In the January transfer window Wilson Palacios left for Tottenham and Emile Heskey for Aston Villa for good money.  At the end of the season Antonio Valencia was sold to Manchester United for serious cash, but then Lee Cattermole followed Steve Bruce to Sunderland at a discount fee. Michael Brown was to start a couple of league games under the new manager before being released to join Portsmouth.

Roberto Martinez started his reign at Wigan under a blanket of austerity. It was to continue for his four year tenure at the club.

Will the same happen again? Are we going to see another fire sale and the selling of prized assets?

We are told that the club is in a good state financially and does not need to sell off its assets. Players had it written in their contracts that were the club to be relegated their salaries would be adjusted accordingly. Given the considerable  parachute payments due to be received would it be possible for Latics to keep all their players who remain under contract and challenge for an immediate  return to the Premier League?

Dave Whelan has consistently said that he will not stand in the way of a player who wants to go to a big club, providing the price is right. The joint sales of Palacios and Valencia in 2009 realised somewhere in the region of £30 million. Do Latics have assets of that kind of stature in the current squad?

James McCarthy stands out as Wigan’s most prized asset. Although only 22 years old he has made over 100 Premier League appearances and is a complete player, with a good temperament. There is already a lot of big club interest in him and Latics might well benefit from a bidding war between them. A fee in excess of £15 million is realistic.

Callum McManaman caught the eyes of the big clubs near the end of the season with some dynamic displays. However, he remains unproven over a Premier League season and has suffered a serious injury. Latics would be wise to hang on to him for the moment. He will be a handful for Championship defenders and could develop into a top player over the coming season. If he continues to progress he is going to be worth big money a year from now. However, if a ridiculous offer were to come in over the next couple of months he might well be released.

Arouna Kone is an excellent centre forward who scored 11 goals and made 5 assists in his first Premier League season. It is rumoured that Swansea are willing to pay £5 million for him. It is not big money for a player of his quality, but he is 29 years old and that is a factor. Kone has a release clause in his contract that sets a £6.5 million maximum fee. Kone could terrorise teams in the Championship and one hopes that Latics will be loath to let him go for a relatively small financial gain.

The press continues to buzz about Latics players who want to stay in the Premier League, with its inflated salaries. However, those same players signed contracts with the relegation clause included.

This columnist urges Dave Whelan to send an unequivocal message to those players that they are expected to stay and get the club back into the Premier League. Only if a ridiculously high offer comes in should it be considered.

Players like Ali Al Habsi, Shaun Maloney, Ben Watson and James McArthur will not fetch the same level of transfer fee of those players aforementioned. To let them go for a few million would be a backwards step. They are the kinds of players who could form the backbone of a promotion-winning team.

Let’s have no fire sale at Wigan!

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NORWICH 2 WIGAN ATHLETIC 1

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Hoolahan2

In stoppage time Arouna Kone looked odds-on to net the equalizer, after being put through by a great flick by Franco Di Santo. It might have helped Wigan get a result they would have scarcely deserved following a lacklustre performance. In the event Kone was blocked by a great tackle by Sebastian Bassong, who together with his central defensive partner, Michael Turner, had blunted so many Wigan attacks.

Norwich are a pretty ordinary team, but they have been in a good run of form and have that kind of self confidence and belief that Wigan lack. Once again the Wigan defence gifted the opposition their goals. An error by Boyce enabled the excellent Hoolahan to put through the predominantly right footed left winger, Pilkington. Al Habsi will be kicking himself for not stopping Pilkington’s left footed shot. Norwich had been easily the better team in the first half.

Wigan lost  James McCarthy to an ankle injury after a nasty tackle from midfield enforcer Bradley Johnson, with David Jones replacing him at half time. A second change made during the interval was to take off the ineffective Gomez and replace him with Maloney. The diminutive Scot was to make a difference with a rasping shot in the 61st minute to bring Wigan level. For a little while the roles were reversed and Wigan looked the better team.  However, poor defending allowed Norwich back in the game. Wes Hoolahan is 5 ft 5 inches tall,  but nevertheless managed to outjump Maynor Figueroa and the Wigan defence to put the  ball in the net, after Pilkington had too easily found his way past Boyce to put over  a right footed cross.

The Good

A cracking goal from Shaun Maloney. Arouna Kone adapted well to the Di Santo role, using his dribbling abilities to run at the opposing defence. It was good to see Mauro Boselli given a chance after being left out in the cold so long, although he looked rusty and was taken off after 72 minutes. .

The Bad

The lack of defensive cohesion is costing Wigan dearly. It would be unfair  to point the finger at individuals who have operated in the back three this season. However, it has been that lack of cohesion that has led to soft goals being gifted to opponents. The back three that was the fulcrum for Wigan’s revival last season – Alcaraz, Caldwell and Figueroa –  has not played together this season.

Wigan’s injury woes continue with James McCarthy (ankle ligament) and Adrian Lopez (hamstring) set to miss the upcoming matches.

Player Ratings

Ali Al Habsi: 7 – made some outstanding saves, but should have done better with opening goal and later fluffed a cross that should have led to another Pilkington goal. Not at his brilliant best, but still Wigan’s best player on the day.

Ronnie Stam: 5 – disappointing. His crosses were not up to his usual standard.

Emmerson Boyce: 5 – had problems dealing with Pilkington. Disappointing.

Adrian Lopez: 5  – pacy and committed, but lacks aerial presence. Together with Figueroa should have cut out Norwich’s second goal. Pulled a hamstring in added on time.

Maynor Figueroa: 5 – unimpressive. He has played too much football over the past year and needs a break. However, he is not going to get one until Wigan’s injury woes subside.

Jean Beausejour: 4 – out of touch.

James McCarthy: 6 – fine until crocked by injury in first half. Went off at half time.

James McArthur: 6 – tried hard, but it was not his best day.

Jordi Gomez: 4– ineffective and lightweight. Taken off at half time.

 Mauro Boselli: 4.5 – could not get into the game. Taken off in 72 minutes.

Arouna Kone: 6 – looked lively in this more “roaming role”. Not afraid to take on defenders. Got another assist with his cut back to Maloney for Wigan’s goal.

Substitutes

David Jones: 5 – hard working, but passing too predictable. Lacking spark.

Shaun Maloney: 6 – his goal revealed his excellent technique. Worked hard to get Wigan moving, but to no avail. Why wasn’t he on from the start?

Franco Di Santo: – came on for Boselli. Put a lovely pass through for Kone in the dying moments.