Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Wigan preview + thoughts on Wenger’s thoughts about January

Right then, back to Premier League action today with a trip to Wigan.

It would be fair to say that our last two trips to this ground have been less than fruitful. Last season 10 man Wigan came from behind to force a draw (was it a Squillaci own goal or a Fabianski flap? Either way it wasn’t pretty). And the season before that Arsenal led 2-0 at half-time, treated the game like some kind of testimonial and allowed Wigan to score three times in the last 15 minutes to win the game.

It was, even in comparison to some of the poor results we’ve had before and since, something of a nadir for Arsene Wenger’s teams. Laughing and giggling and jokingly slapping Sylvester on the head after he’d scored as if the game didn’t mean anything. Our chances of winning the title that season were remote but it was still a vague possibility and to see us capitulate that way was pretty shocking.

So, after a week in which our momentum has been slightly halted by a draw with Fulham and a midweek defeat in the Carling Cup, it’s time to get going again and to exorcise some of the demons of the last couple of seasons. We’ll welcome back most of the big guns for this one and if I had to guess at the team it’d be: SZCZ – Koscielny – Mertesacker – Vermaelen – Santos – Song – Arteta – Ramsey – Gervinho – Walcott – van Persie

Pretty much the first choice XI with the injuries we have at the moment and it’s a team, if it works hard and takes the chances it’s bound to create against a fairly porous Wigan defence, that is more than capable of taking the three points. Roberto Martinez is a manager who likes his teams to play football and while I think they’ll certainly be organised, the idea of ‘parking the bus’ is so unnatural to him that if he tries it Wigan are likely to suffer.

I can’t see them defending as well as Fulham did last weekend, for example, and really this is one of those classic Arsene Wenger games where the approach of the opposition isn’t that important. Once we focus on our own game and play well I think we’ll win. Looking at the teams around us I don’t see any of them dropping points – I mean there’s simply no chance that Bolton can get any kind of result away at Sp*rs – and with our start to the season our margin for error is more or less non-existant.

But with a front three that will really trouble the Wigan defence (am hoping Gervinho might find a pair of shooting boots today), a quality trio in midfield and a team which is, despite the little hiccup in the last week, confident and on a decent run, anything less than victory today would be a disappointment. With all due respect to the home side this is a game that any team with ambitions of a top four finish should be looking to win.

In other news we’ve got our first bit of transfer guff from the manager who was asked about the possibility of buying in January. With the clamour for a striker growing, the manager was his usual, frustratingly obtuse self when talking about it, saying:

At the moment, I do nothing in January. I have a big squad, but if you knock at my door and say ‘I have a fantastic player for you’, I will not turn it down.

Which happens all the time, does it not? One moment you’re sitting there watching Countdown, the next there’s a fella at the door with a quality striker under his arm. Sigh. Robin van Persie is amazing but he cannot play every game. Chamakh is off the ACN but Arsene believes he’s still got options:

If we have no injuries, we should get away with it because we have Oxlade-Chamberlain, who can play there, Park, Arshavin and Van Persie. So we still have offensive players, but we could be a bit short if we have an injury.

If you might allow me to dissect that. ‘If we have no injuries’ – heh and while things have improved does the fact we’re forced to keep van Persie on the brink of the fabled red zone not mean an injury is more likely? ‘we have Oxlade-Chamberlain’ – indeed we do, and what a prospect he is. However, he’s played just 1 Premier League game in his entire career and that was when he was chucked on, rather unfairly, at Old Trafford that dark day. Now we’re expecting him to fill in for van Persie? ‘Park’ – yet to play 1 minute of Premier League football. ‘Arshavin’ – 1 goal in his last 22 Premier League appearances.

But yes, we have van Persie and as long as we do the need for another striker is certainly lessened. However, it would seem to me that for a club like Arsenal, with money in the bank, still playing catch-up and fighting (hard and well, I’ll point out) for a top four spot, not to invest in an area of team which obviously needs it then it’d be a huge gamble. Yet this is quite typical of Arsene. We nearly always find ourselves in this position.How often in the last few years have we said ‘If we could just buy X in January we’d be all right’?

And X has equalled goalkeeper, centre-half, defensive midfielder and now it equals striker. Now, some seasons down the line, the signing of Arshavin is one that you wouldn’t necessarily say has been a success overall, but perhaps Arsene would be wise to recall the impact and influence he had on our season when he arrived late that January. You can never have too many good players and it’d be no shame to admit that we could improve on our striking options without too much difficulty.

Chamakh is struggling, no doubt about it, and the manager even talks about how it’d be difficult to loan him out because of the ACN. What we ought not to forget, however, is that Arsene saw we needed a striker during the summer and of all the players available to him he signed Park from Monaco. Why him? Why sign a guy who, a good three months after arriving at the club, still isn’t trusted enough to play in the Premier League. And I’m not being critical of the player – even if he did look a bit out of his depth to me during the Carling Cup game – but trying to understand the decision to sign him in the first place.

Maybe he’ll come good, maybe with more time to adapt and get used to English football and the way we play he might become a useful part of the squad, but at the moment he’s not. And when you have an asset as precious as Robin van Persie you really should do as much as possible to protect it. I don’t just mean from injury either – remember, Robin has a big, big decision to make next summer which will be heavily influenced by the state of the team and where we’ve finished in the league.

If investment in the squad increases our chances of finishing in the top four, perhaps winning the cup, which is enough for van Persie to decide to stay and sign a new deal, then surely it’s worth far more than persevering with players who just aren’t doing the business for whatever reason. Anyway, this is a bit like picking at barely healed scab to find what’s underneath is oozing pus, so let’s hope that common sense prevails in January.

And that’s just about that. As usual there’ll be full live blog coverage of the game later on. You can follow the game with up to the second text commentary right here. As well as that you can get up to a £50 free bet with Paddy Power. My couple of quid is going on Andre Santos (likened to Roberto Carlos by RVP) for first goal at 18/1

Click here to register with Paddy Power.

Right then, time to consume bacon and coffee. Until later.

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