Pre-Match Report

Premier League: Wigan v Arsenal - Preview

JJB Stadium

By Richard Clarke

Arsène Wenger has a ten-minute cure for any post-Chelsea complacency.

If his Arsenal side look like they have bought into the hype from that potentially season-shaping win on Monday, then the manager can always just pop in a DVD marked “Wigan (a) 09/10” and fast forward to the final stages.

Wenger’s men went to the DW Stadium last April clinging onto the last vestiges of their title bid. Although Tottenham had just beaten them at White Hart Lane, Harry Redknapp’s side then turned over leaders Chelsea the following Saturday. It opened up a glimpse of a chance the next day.

Goals in each half seemed to have restored Arsenal’s poise and some of their pride. But in the 80th minute, Ben Watson reduced the arrears and suddenly the visitors seemed fragile.

Then, in the 88th, Titus Bramble equalised.

And, quite incredibly, in injury time Charles N’Zogbia curled home a winner.

Basically, think Tottenham last month and condense it into a quarter of the time.

And the memory provides a powerful grounding ahead of a game Arsenal are fully expected to win. Not that Wenger needs any reminding.

“I have avoided watching it again,” he admitted to “But I don’t need to watch it, the feeling is still in my head.

“I will never forget this game because we were 2-0 up and we lost 3-2 in the final part of a game we controlled.”

Manchester United’s draw at Birmingham on Tuesday means Arsenal can go level on points with the joint-leaders if they win at the DW Stadium. But they will need to win by five clear goals to sit on top of the table at the New Year.

This game is the 19th of Arsenal’s Premier League season; the halfway point of the campaign. If they win, Wenger’s men will have averaged two points per match in the first half. Surely the eventual champions will need to have a better second half.

For the Frenchman, that is precisely why Monday’s win over Chelsea was more than just three points. But only victories at places like Wigan will prove him right.

“Chelsea was big because of the table but also because of the future of the team,” said Wenger. “It was a big psychological hurdle.

“We hope we can move on and become even stronger. It keeps us in touch with the top teams and it can strengthen the belief that we will have a word to say in this title race. Let’s see if we can turn up on Wednesday night now - that will be very useful.”

There were no immediate injuries reported in the aftermath of Monday’s game. Cesc Fabregas was withdrawn late on because the captain was “a bit tired and he gave a lot”.

Either way, he misses the Wigan game after picking up his fifth booking of the season on Monday.

Wenger added: “We will have to rotate some players but fortunately we have some fresh ones available.”

Arsenal’s bench was made up of full internationals on Monday including the likes of Marouane Chamakh, Andrey Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky. It would be no surprise if the six outfield players all start on Wednesday.

This is one of the most intense few days of Arsenal's season and, in that time, Birmingham have already shown they can take points off title-chasers.

Arsenal go to St Andrews on Saturday then Manchester City, the other joint-leaders, visit Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

It all makes Wigan very much the game in between.

That victory last season was their first in ten Premier League games against Arsenal. Of their other nine, Wenger’s team have won eight and drawn the other. Indeed, Wigan have lost 35 of their 43 League games against the Big Four since they reached the top flight.

This season Roberto Martinez has fashioned a capable yet inconsistent side. Since losing to Arsenal in the Carling Cup Quarter-Final they have drawn at home to Stoke, picked up another point at Everton and won 2-1 at Wolves. It is perhaps their best mini-run of the campaign and yet they are still in the drop zone.

They are also unbeaten in five games at home but, at the same time, have scored the least and conceded the most on their own territory.

Away from home Arsenal have conceded the least and only Manchester City have scored more. Until recently their road form was holding up their title challenge. In the next few days, it needs to drive it forward.

“It’s a big game,” said Wenger. “You never go to Wigan and take easy points.

“Let’s hope the Chelsea game has a positive psychological influence on the Wigan game.

“We must use our fresh players because it’s just 48 hours afterwards. Wigan have a longer recovery. That’s why we have as well mentally to be prepared to go there and give absolutely everything.

“As we know, the most consistent team will make it. We had a great game against Chelsea and we need to have a great one on Wednesday as well.”

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