By Declan Taylor
It is less than four weeks since Wigan Athletic were put to the sword by Arsenal's Carling Cup kids at Emirates Stadium, but things will be quite different this time around.
The Arsenal XI that takes to the field on Saturday will be vastly different to November’s 3-0 victors, but things have changed at the JJB Stadium since that disappointing Fourth-Round exit too.
On November 11, the Latics were just three points off the foot of the table after just one in six games but a solid yet unspectacular string of results has catapulted Steve Bruce’s side to the relative safety of 11th.
We spoke to Paul Kendrick of the Wigan Observer about Saturday’s encounter, that Carling Cup humbling and the role of one-time Arsenal trialist, Wilson Palacios, in the Wigan ranks.
THE STORY SO FAR
“The Carling Cup game really was a great performance. I think Wigan are anxious to forget that night. When they looked at the Arsenal team sheet, hopes were very high and they thought maybe this could be the year to repeat the Carling Cup final from a couple of years ago. They never really got going and didn’t give a good account of themselves. The Arsenal kids were absolutely brilliant from 1-11. To be honest they embarrassed a first-choice Wigan team it has to be said. I think we can totally disregard that though. If there were a few players retaining their positions you could say it was a factor but in all likelihood it will be a completely different Arsenal team on Saturday. It is a positive from Wigan's point of view, and they can start with a clean slate.
“The mood’s very good at the moment. In October they went through a terrible run and lost all four games but November was a completely different story. They have played five, winning three and drawing two, and the only downside was the cup game against Arsenal. They are really riding the crest of a wave at the moment, two massive victories in the space of a week against Everton and West Brom have lifted them from third bottom to the relative safety of 11th. They will be heading to the Emirates in relatively good spirits and reasonably confident of giving a good account of themselves.”
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
“Personally I am very confident that they will stay away from relegation. If you look at the Wigan team, it is not a relegation team. There are some top quality players there, obviously Emile Heskey and Amr Zaki who get all the headlines, Wilson Palacios and Luis Antonio Valencia in the midfield are terrific players, and the defence is very solid as well. They don’t often get the plaudits but the likes of Paul Scharner, Titus Bramble and Emmerson Boyce are the unsung heroes of the team. Then there is Chris Kirkland who, on his day, is one of the best keepers in the league. Wigan don’t have a great reputation among those who don’t see them very often but if you sit down and look at the players that Wigan can put out, they are a very decent team. I think they will stay up comfortably.
“Wigan are no different to a number of clubs in that area of the league; it is just safety that they’re after. At the beginning of the season Steve Bruce set the team a target of 38 points – a point a game – then they will try to get to 40. Once they survive, that is done and dusted and they will just try and improve on last season, that was the formula for last season and I think they will be trying that again. They would settle for 11th now but they are only four points off relegation so they can’t afford to be thinking that they’re safe just yet.”
THE ONE TO WATCH
“Wilson Palacios is getting on very well. He is one of Wigan’s most consistent performers I would say. He hasn’t actually scored yet but that is one aspect of his game that he probably has to work on. He is a very good tackler who links the play very well and very rarely gives the ball away. Probably one of Steve Bruce’s finest hours in the transfer market.
“It is very difficult to compare him to anyone as he is quite a unique player. He doesn’t get forward as much as he would like to and he hasn’t got a particularly great shot but his overall presence is what does it. He is just in there, in that midfield, winning the ball, passing it around and keeping possession. He is crucial to everything that Wigan do.”
MAN OF THE MOMENT
“With Zaki moving out of the team it has allowed an opportunity for Henri Camara who has been on fire in the last couple of games. He was brilliant at Newcastle, came up with the winner against Everton last Monday and then scored again against West Brom at the weekend. He is definitely the man in form and it doesn’t look as if Wigan have missed Zaki in the last two or three games because of Camara’s form.
“He is settled now. To be honest he hasn’t had much of a chance this season because of Heskey and Zaki’s good form. He fell out of favour with the previous regime and was loaned out to West Ham and, after speaking to him a couple of weeks ago, he said that he was very unhappy with his spell at West Ham because he didn’t feel like he ever got a decent run in the team. He was injured a lot at Upton Park too. He is coming to the end of his contract and he is fighting for a new deal, Bruce hasn’t offered him a new contract yet but if he continues in his current vein it would be hard for Bruce not to give him another year, maybe two.”
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
“It is very difficult down there. There are obviously different divisions within the Premier League; the top-four big guns, then there are a few teams like Tottenham and Aston Villa who ought to be up there pushing the top sides and then pretty much the rest of the division. Wigan are right in the middle of them. I think if you were to give Steve Bruce a point before the game, he would snatch your hand off, no two ways about it. But given the fact that Arsenal have struggled against Hull City and Stoke they will have to be on guard because Wigan do possess match-winners as we have mentioned. If Arsenal don’t bring their ‘A-game’ on Saturday, there may be a shock.”
“It is not in Wigan’s nature to go out and stifle teams - as you saw at the Emirates in the Carling Cup. A couple of weeks before that game they went to Liverpool and got absolutely mugged. They thoroughly deserved to be 2-1 up and it was only when Wigan went down to 10 men that Liverpool actually came on and won the game. You won’t see a defensive formation from Wigan, he will probably play two up front as he did in the Carling Cup. The fans demand to see attacking football and Steve Bruce is an attacking coach by nature and one thing you won’t see is Wigan packing men behind the ball and going for a 0-0, it is just not in their nature.
“When you see teams like Hull going to Emirates Stadium and getting a result, it gives faith to all the other clubs in that situation. Who, at the start of the season, would have given Hull a shot of winning there? Or even managing a draw? It just shows what the little clubs can do and it shows how tight the Premier League is getting. “Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 6 Dec 2008