Pre-Match Report

Premier League: Arsenal v Wigan - Preview

Emirates Stadium

By Richard Clarke

"What pleased me against Wolves is that we remained focused and serious even with a comfortable advantage over a team who fought very hard until the last second of the game," said Arsène Wenger.

"There was intelligence and maturity when we were 2-0 up after 10 minutes. We could easily have become a bit flashy and not respected the game.

"But we did not concede a goal and that was important," he added. "We know the goal difference can have a big impact at the end of the season."

It says something when a manager is just as happy about the 80 minutes in which his side did not concede than the 10-minute period in which they scored twice.

However that is where Arsenal are right now. They hold pretty much everything they can hope and expect this season. Now it is just a matter of not loosening their grip.

That five-point advantage over Tottenham and Newcastle will rise to eight if they beat Wigan at Emirates Stadium on Monday. And it will be 11, albeit temporarily, if they can do likewise to FA Cup finalists Chelsea on Saturday lunchtime.

That would leave them on 70 points in the table with three games left, a figure that would already usurp their 68 last season - but back then 72 had been good enough for second place.

As it is, they have 67 after 33 games - exactly the same figure as last term.

"That does not surprise me much," responded Wenger. "But it may surprise many other people. I looked at it again recently and in the first seven games we had lost four. Where we are today is a remarkable achievement and demands a remarkable spirit. Our run in the last 10 games has been excellent and I think our target now is to achieve better than last season.

"Finishing well is important for this season but also for next season. If you finish in a strong way [it is good] for the confidence and you go in with belief."

Wigan, however, are concluding their season in a similar way. On January 31, they were bottom of the table with 15 points. Since then they have more than doubled that tally and climbed out of the relegation places. They were worth much more than a 2-1 defeat at Chelsea two weeks ago and, on Wednesday, inflicted the first Premier League defeat on Manchester United in three months - restricting them to just one shot on target.

Manager Roberto Martinez has principles - on and off the field - to rival his opposite number on Monday. He reportedly turned down overtures from Aston Villa last summer to stay with the club that gave him his Premier League chance and has plotted his recent escape through brains and technique rather than brawn and bustle.

"He deserves big credit," said Wenger. "The first six months of this season were very bad but after that they recovered slowly. You could think at some stage that they were finished but they discovered a way to structure the team in a way that suits them now.”

The only advantage of Wigan's recent form is that it has signposted their threat. Last Wednesday, Wolves battled on creditably but the circumstances, quality finishing by Arsenal and their own lack of confidence conspired against them. As Wenger alluded, the visitors’ main danger came from themselves.

Everyone is aware that may not be the case at Emirates on Monday.

"Moses is a threat, Di Santos is a threat," Wenger began. “They are solid at the back now with three centre-backs and two protective midfielders in McCarthy and McArthur. Overall I believe they are a team who are well-balanced at the back with Boyce on one side and Figueroa on the other. [The latter] is dangerous going forward as well.

"If you look at the numbers they were really unlucky at Chelsea and they deserved the win against Manchester United. It is a good warning for us and I think it will help us to focus completely on this game because we know this is vital for us. Therefore we will prepare in accordance to that because we know Wigan are a dangerous team.

"I believe that sometimes these smaller teams play under pressure and suddenly when they play against the big teams have nothing to lose. They discover that they are better than they think they are because it allows them to play without any handbrake. Some of them discover then that they have quality.

“We have seen that with QPR recently, we see it with Wigan, especially in the games we expected them to lose. Suddenly it allows them just to focus on that performance."

As boring and repetitive as it may sound, Arsenal just have to do the same.

Emirates Stadium has been good to Wenger's men this season. The Liverpool loss was unfortunate and the Manchester United defeat, though unarguable, may have inspired better things. Apart from that, only Wolves and Fulham have ground out draws.

Now Wenger's men are left with a trio of games at their home ground - including -two in the next six days. If they win all three, no matter how they perform away, the chasers will have to be faultless for the remainder of the season to catch them.

The options for the opposition are running out, while Wenger's men have won nine of their last 10 games.

They are riding the crest of a wave. All they have to do to is retain their balance before the beach beckons in the middle of May.

Team news:

Arsenal: Gervinho (doubt - ankle), Gibbs (doubt - groin), Coquelin (hamstring), Mertesacker (ankle), Frimpong (knee), Wilshere (ankle)

Wigan: Rodallega (doubt – knee)

Match facts:

  • In their last six games against Wigan, Arsenal have kept four clean sheets and always scored two goals or more
  • Wigan’s only Premier League win over Arsenal, in May 2010, saw them score three goals in the last nine minutes to win 3-2
  • The last time Wigan failed to score in an away game was in their 5-0 defeat at Manchester United on Boxing Day
  • Arsenal have conceded just 12 goals at home this season in the Premier League. Only Manchester City (10) have let in fewer
  • Robin van Persie is three goals away from reaching 30 in the Premier League for Arsenal. Only Thierry Henry has achieved that in the past
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