Pre-Match Report

Arsenal v Wigan Athletic - Match preview

Emirates Stadium

By Richard Clarke at London Colney

If the Premier League title is won in the mind as much as on the pitch then, according to Arsène Wenger, Arsenal have a great chance.

A pessimist would look at the table right now and suggest it is all in the hands of leaders Manchester United. They are ahead of their City rivals on goal difference with two games in hand. Meanwhile third-place Arsenal are two points behind having played one match more.

But it is not just the maths, it is the relentless inevitability with which Sir Alex Ferguson's side have gone about their business this season. They have scrapped and scraped their way into a dominant position without ever really showing the authority of previous years. Right now the prevailing view is that they will have too much experience, determination and sheer force of will for their rivals.

As you might expect, Wenger disagrees.

The Frenchman has put his side into one of its best positions in years. They retain an interest in all four competitions after beating off the lively challenge of Leeds on Wednesday night's FA Cup Third Round replay and, next week, will reach their first Final in four seasons if they can overturn a 1-0 deficit against Ipswich in the Carling Cup.

In between, they entertain Wigan on Saturday.

Roberto Martinez's side are the last Premier League team to breach the Arsenal defence. It came in the final stages of the clash at the DW Stadium on December 29 when the visitors were leading 2-1 and the home side were down to ten-men.

Had they held on, Wenger's men would be top right now.

The manager knows they cannot be so wasteful at Emirates Stadium - and this is where that mentality comes in.

"We have shown since the start of the season that we can beat everybody," he said. "And now we are getting stronger and stronger.

"We have a stronger belief than at the start of the season and our togetherness is better too. I believe there is more to come out from this team and I personally am convinced we will be stronger and stronger.

"Remember this team have grown up together - there is a natural understanding. There is a strong bond, I feel, because most of these players have been here since they were 15 or 16 years-old and they are hungry for success. They want to show they can do it.

"On the mental front, I have no problems. For us it is just important to show we have the mental resources to focus every three days now.

"If you look at the table, we are in a strong position. We have 16 games to go for us, nine at home and seven away. We know our home form can make a huge impact on our success and that's why, if it's Wigan or anybody else, we want the three points at home.

"Since the start of the season we have learned that there is no room for taking anybody lightly because everybody can beat everybody in this League."

Marouane Chamakh (knee) and Denilson (hip) have brushed off the most minor of knocks. It means Wenger can choose from the same squad that won so well at Elland Road in midweek. Abou Diaby (calf) and Sebastien Squillaci (hamstring) are being lined up for next weekend's FA Cup tie against Huddersfield.

Robin van Persie's late goal on Wednesday, on top of two at Upton Park last Saturday, put pressure on Wenger to start him.

"I think he is 95 per cent there now," said the manager. "He showed that in the last game at West Ham. When he came on at Leeds you saw that he is sharp so I am quite confident that he is there."

Wigan are third from bottom and have a famously poor record against Arsenal. Last season's never-to-be-forgotten 3-2 comeback at the DW Stadium is their only victory in 11 Premier League meetings between the two sides. Wenger's men have won eight, including all five on home soil.

Martinez's men are the current draw specialists in the top flight - five of their last seven games have ended level. A tally of 19 goals may make theirs the poorest attack in the top-flight but Hugo Rodellega and, before he was sent off, Charles N'Zogbia caused Arsenal significant defensive problems four weeks ago.

This time last season, Wenger's side were better off - leading the Premier League with five more points to their name. But the manager argues his side are in a superior position now.

"We had a good chance three years ago but, apart from that, this is the closest we have been [in the title race] for a long time," said the 61-year-old.

"We are in a period where we want to show we can get our best out in every single game. When you play so many games, that is not easy, but we are motivated to give our best in all the competitions that is for sure.

"What can we win? We are not in a position to say that. We are just in a situation where we want to give our best and after that we will see where we end up. But it is mid-January and we are still in all four competitions so let's go for it.

"But any victory on Saturday will be a fantastic result for us."

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