Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side welcome Wigan Athletic to Emirates Stadium on Tuesday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Paul Kendrick for their views.
Wigan Athletic produced an excellent counter-attacking performance to triumph 2-1 at the Emirates last April, with Roberto Martinez’s unusual 3-4-2-1 system becoming a more counter-attacking 5-4-1, as the Latics’ wing backs and wide midfelders both dropped behind the ball.
Although Martinez has continued with a three-man defence for the majority of this season, the novelty has worn off and opponents have become wise to Wigan’s game plan.
In recent weeks Martinez has suffered from a succession of disruptive injuries at the back, and his shortage of centre backs means he’s been forced to revert to a four-man defence.
"Up front, Martinez’s front three are impressively balanced - Arouna Kone has been one of the signings of the season, and makes constant runs into the channels beyond the opposition defence, testing the pace of the centre backs"
However, his side still plays in a style more suitable for a back three. Even if Wigan start with a four-man defence on paper, the full backs, Emmerson Boyce and Jean Beausejour (or Roger Espinoza) play extraordinarily high up the pitch, while the holding midfielder - Ben Watson played that role against Swansea last week - stays in an extremely deep position, as a forward-playing sweeper ahead of two centre backs.
It’s an unusual system, and while Wigan attack in great numbers, they can be vulnerable on the counter-attack in wide areas.
Wigan do offer a significant attacking threat, however. Up front, Martinez’s front three are impressively balanced - Arouna Kone has been one of the signings of the season, and makes constant runs into the channels beyond the opposition defence, testing the pace of the centre backs.
On the right, young winger Callum McManaman stays high and wide, stretching the play and trying to dribble past the opposition left back, but left-sided Shaun Maloney strays from the touchline into central playmaking roles.
Maloney is Wigan’s chief creator, while Beausejour is a highly energetic left wing back – so Wigan focus their passing down that flank.
That could cause Arsenal problems on Tuesday: Bacary Sagna will be dragged inside by Maloney, which could leave Walcott forced to track back defensively to cover the flank.
It’s important to test Wigan on the break, however, which means Walcott will want to remain in a position to counter-attack quickly - this could be the game’s key battle.
PAUL KENDRICK, WIGAN OBSERVER
If winning the first major trophy in the club's history doesn't get you on a high, nothing well. It's going to be a big challenge but Wigan proved against Man City that when they are on their game and are really up for it, they can match the best. They are going to have to be at their best against Arsenal who of course really need to win as well.
Obviously there will be tired bodies but they've just got to put that to the back of their minds and use the experience and euphoria and try and build on it. There are two games left. Roberto Martinez has said that if they do suffer relegation, it will take the shine off the cup final so they've just got to try and stay up in these last two games and really make it a season to remember.
"[Wigan will] take the game to Arsenal. That may lead to gaps appearing at the back but a draw is no good for Wigan"
Callum McManaman was kind of on the fringes at the start of the season but he's used the FA Cup as a way to get himself into the team and he's stayed there for the Premier League matches. He's Wigan's form player at the moment and you could see on Saturday what a great attacking threat he is. Hopefully he can remain on his game. He'll be key if Wigan are to get anything tonight.
Wigan have been to Arsenal before and won which should give them confidence. You don't go in with any sort of tangible reward from last season but they will certainly remember what it was like to win last season. The fans will believe they can do it again too.
It's exactly the same scenario as last year. Wigan had to win. A lot of teams go to Arsenal and try to contain them and nick one on the break but they were straight into their stride and I think that's the way it will go tonight. They won't die wondering. They'll take the game to Arsenal. That may lead to gaps appearing at the back but a draw is no good for Wigan. You'd probably take a point on most visits to Arsenal but that won't be good enough on Tuesday night. I expect it to be an end-to-end game with plenty of goals.
I think Wigan will win 2-1 - hopefully that comes true!
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