Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side travel north to take on Wigan in the Premier League on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Paul Kendrick for their views.
In a league fixated on four-man defences, Roberto Martinez’s Wigan provide a very different test with an unusual 3-4-3 formation. They are flexible enough to play intelligently on the break, or showcase controlled possession football.
Wigan’s 2-1 win at the Emirates in April was a classic away performance: Franco Di Santo and Jordi Gomez scored early goals, and then Wigan were content to sit back and defend for the remainder of the game.
The back three became a back five, and Martinez’s side always had covering defenders - Robin van Persie drew defenders out of position, but gaps never opened up.
Therefore, it’s vital that Arsenal don’t allow Wigan to take an early lead, or else the game will become a frustrating ‘attack versus defence’ exercise.
As it happens, Wigan are likely to be more proactive in front of their own supporters - they’ve averaged 58 per cent of possession in their home league fixtures in 2012/13, and an open game would suit Arsenal.
Arsenal must take advantage of their extra numbers in the centre of midfield. As Monday’s 5-2 win over Reading demonstrated, teams featuring only two central midfielders become outnumbered by Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla. Swift, smooth passing will break through Wigan’s midfield and get Arsenal into the final third readily - the task is then to penetrate the back three.
The danger area is on the flanks. Wigan’s front three spread across the pitch, but the wide players - probably Aroune Kone and Jordi Gomez - drift inside, dragging the full backs narrow. Then, the wing backs Ronnie Stam and Jean Beausejour maintain the width by sprinting forward into crossing positions.
Therefore, it’s absolutely vital that Arsenal’s wide players remain disciplined, and track them, or else Wigan will cause Arsenal significant problems.
PAUL KENDRICK, WIGAN OBSERVER
Wigan are very much up against it at the moment in terms of injuries. There’s almost a full-strength side out of action. That gives a chance for others to come in, but against a team like Arsenal, you want everyone fit and playing well, especially with Arsenal coming back into form against Reading. I think it will be a tough afternoon for Wigan.
It’s hard to talk about Wigan without mentioning injuries. There are four centre halves injured at the moment, so they’ve been forced to use midfielders and full backs there. They’re hoping to have one or two players back on Saturday and it’s important to look at the recent results with those injury problems in mind.
James McCarthy has impressed this season and has a 50/50 chance of playing after getting injured against Norwich. I think in a regular week, they’d be erring on the side of caution, but with the injury situation, he may be forced into action. He’s a key player.
In recent years you could have looked at Charles N’Zogbia and Victor Moses as stand-out players but I think Martinez has created the nucleus of a cracking squad now. Wigan have a strong team mentality, and when they play as they did at the Emirates last season, they’re a team to be reckoned with.
I would imagine that Arsenal will play through the middle and hope the likes of Walcott will be able to get some joy.
I think, with the current injury situation, there aren’t too many Wigan fans that wouldn’t take a point. I think it will be 1-1.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 21 Dec 2012