Premier League Tactical Preview: Arsenal v Wigan



Tuesday's game between Arsenal and Wigan has on an even greater significance after the weekend games. Chelsea's win against Villa means that the west London club have all but secured a top-four finish, and as such Arsenal cannot afford a slip-up with Spurs lurking. Wigan, who go into this tie buoyed by their FA Cup victory over Manchester City, will likely need to win their two remaining games to ensure survival, given their goal difference. Arsenal are overwhelming favourites at 1.30, whilst Wigan are outsiders at 10.00.


Probable line-ups

Roberto Martinez should name an unchanged team given the quality of the performance at Wembley, meaning Man of the Match Callum McManaman will get the nod on the right of the attack.


Arsenal's options are limited in the absence of Olivier Giroud, so Lukas Podolski will continue up top. Nacho Monreal will also play at left-back in the absence of Kieran Gibbs.


Wigan's use of width

Wigan are often able to overload the flanks, with full-backs as well as wide men charging forward. Against Man City they did this to great effect, especially through the young and energetic McManaman down the right. It was also he who tormented Gael Clichy and got Pablo Zabaleta sent off with a run through the middle.

We can expect Wigan to attack Arsenal's flanks, especially considering the Gunners' full-backs have looked less than certain at some times this season. Bacary Sagna, for example, was very nervy when his side played Manchester United two weeks ago, giving away a penalty and having a poor game. Against QPR, meanwhile, Monreal was run ragged by Andros Townsend.

Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla tend to not give their full-backs a great deal of cover, which means that McManaman and Shaun Maloney can really get in behind Arsenal's back four if they get good support from their own full-backs. As we can see below from Walcott's heat map against QPR (below), he spends most of his time in advanced positions and often came into the centre to support Podolski, as he did for his goal.


This means that there can be a lot of space in behind him. If Wigan can exploit this, they could also reduce his threat going in the other direction.


The midfield battle

Arsenal like to control possession in the middle of the park, particularly with Mikel Arteta at the base of the midfield. Arteta is the link man, who brings other more attacking players into the game. Wigan also enjoy a lot of possession, particularly through Jordi Gomez and James McCarthy, as was the case in the FA Cup final. McCarthy enjoyed a 93% pass accuracy in that game, while Gomez completed 63 passes, making him Wigan's top passer of the ball.

Attack is their best form of defence for Wigan, who are very porous at the back and can be exposed by quick counter-attacks. Their inclination to pass the ball out from the back actually led to them going 1-0 down against Spurs two weeks ago, when Gareth Bale was alert to an under-hit back pass.

We should be in for a fascinating battle of wits in the midfield, as neither side is particularly aggressive. The ball-winning prowess of McCarthy (who averages 2.7 tackles and 1.9 interceptions per league game) could be key.


Conclusion

Arsenal will be expected to win given that they are at home and Wigan might be feeling the effects of their FA Cup victory. But Wigan do pose a genuine threat, especially down the flanks where we might see some two-against-one scenarios that could leave Arsenal's full-backs exposed. For the neutral, the midfield battle will be fascinating as both sides will try to get hold of the ball. The outcome of this tie will have huge ramifications for the Champions League race and for the relegation battle as neither side can afford a slip-up. With both teams desperate for the three points, we should see an exciting, open match.

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