Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wigan vs. Arsenal: Match Preview

Arsenal travel to the JJB Stadium this Sunday to face off against relegation-threatened Wigan. Steve Bruce's Latics, who are currently 14th in the Premier League, would consider any point(s) taken from their clash against the league leaders a good haul, but will face an uphill battle against the impressive Gunners. Arsenal currently sit at the top of the Premier League table, one point ahead of last season's champions, Manchester United.

Wigan are on a run of decent home form, having won their last two home games against West Ham and whipping boys Derby, after losing 2-1 to Everton and Chelsea. The Latics also held Manchester City to a goalless draw last week, although they lost to Sunderland last month.

Arsenal's recent league form is nothing spectacular, with draws against Aston Villa and Birmingham narrowing the Gunners' buffer at the top of the table to a solitary point. The Gunners have won only one of their last five games, defeating AC Milan midweek after drawing with Birmingham, Villa, and Milan, and losing to Manchester United in the FA Cup.

The Gunners will be high on morale after defeating European champions Milan in the Champions League, becoming the first English side to defeat the Italian giants at the San Siro in European competition. An impressive showing from all of Arsenal's young stars in Italy was capped by a superb solo goal from Cesc Fabregas and a stoppage-time second from Emmanuel Adebayor.

The Arsenal squad will also be boosted by the returns of Robin van Persie, Tomas Rosicky, and Kolo Toure; all of whom could feature against Wigan. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will still be without Johan Djourou, Alex Song, and Eduardo.

Only two Wigan players, Ryan Taylor and Erik Hagen, are injury doubts, although both could feature against the mighty Gunners.

Manuel Almunia will start in goal for the Gunners behind a fairly solid back four of Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, Philippe Senderos, and Gael Clichy. Although Kolo Toure may be fit in time for the clash, Wenger is unlikely to risk starting the Ivorian against team with as little goalscoring threat as Wigan.

Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas, and Alex Hleb are all likely to start in midfield although the final spot (or two spots, depending on Wenger's formation) is less easy to decide. Emmanuel Eboue or Theo Walcott could be played on the right or left wings respectively, with Alex Hleb playing as a second striker behind Emmanuel Adebayor. Alternatively, Tomas Rosicky, if fully fit, could feature in place of either Walcott or Eboue.

If Robin van Persie is fit, Arsene Wenger will likely play his team in a 4-4-2 leaving out either Eboue or Walcott and moving Hleb out to one of the wings. Van Persie is unlikely to start, though, as he is most likely not yet match fit. Emmanuel Adebayor is a sure starter up front, and Wenger may even play him alongside Nicklas Bendtner against a Wigan squad which lacks in firepower.

Arsenal defeated Wigan 2-0 earlier in the season, and should do even better this time around. Full of confidence, the Gunners will be expected to rout the Latics. I predict a 3-0 win for the visitors.