Wigan preview, Szczesny, diving

Morning all, a new week begins and begins with Arsenal looking to stretch their lead in third place to a healthy 8 points, despite the fact that T*ttenham will have a game in hand.

Starting with the team news and we’ve lost nobody since Wolves and there may be a couple of additions. Arsene says Gervinho is 80:20 to make the squad tonight while Kieran Gibbs is 50:50. Abou is Diaby: Diaby however and won’t feature this evening. He’ll return to first team training next week along with Francis Coquelin who really must have torn the ever-loving crap out of his hamstring. Laurent Koscielny remains suspended.

I imagine we’ll see Tomas Rosicky come back into the side and the manager then has to decide if he keeps Ramsey in and plays him on the left, continues with Yossi Benayoun or gives Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a run out. If it were up to me I think Yossi has contributed well in his last few games and if a guy’s in form it makes sense to pick him.

As for the game itself there’s little to say other than we have to maintain the attitude and work-rate we’ve shown and make sure we don’t take Wigan for granted due to their league position. I know we’ve had the recent kick in the arse from QPR to tell us that teams down there can prove difficult opponents, but Wigan’s win over United on Wednesday is further evidence of that.

It’s very tight down the bottom and every point matters so Wigan are going to give everything to get something from this game. How they approach it will be interesting though. Normally you might expect a team in their position to come and try and frustrate us, but I don’t think that’s necessarily their greatest strength. They like to attack and to pass the ball, so we might see a fairly open game which, if we’re switched on, would probably suit us quite well.

Beyond that it’s about avoiding complacency and mistakes. We’ve got goals in the side, Robin’s mini-drought is over whilst taking nothing for granted you have to expect this is a game from which we should be taking all three points.

In other news, Arsene Wenger has praised Wojciech Szczesny for his ‘improved focus’, saying:

The talent was always there but he is maturing quickly. Overall he has the basic talent to be a top-class keeper, how far he goes will depend on how much he wants to improve.

And it strikes me that SZCZ is the kind of character who really wants to be the best. I watched an interesting video profile of him a few weeks back in which he revealed that after every game he spoke with his father (himself a former goalkeeper of course) about his performance, what he did right, what he did wrong etc. I suspect it’s pretty unusual for a young player to be that analytical about the way they play but it can only be a good thing and speaks to how seriously he takes his job.

On the other side of the coin though, he’s a player with real character, something of an aura about him, and having been brought to the club at 15 has a real feel for the place and the fans. The latest proclamation that will fill the goodwill boxes is his desire to win trophies for Arsenal, expressed in a Szcztacular way:

Recently, one of the journalists asked me whether I have bigger ambitions than playing for the third place in the Premier League with Arsenal. God, sure I have! I look at the table and realise that is our maximum this year.

“It is seven years since Arsenal won something and it won’t change this season. But the next one? Who knows?

“I stand in front of a mirror and say to myself: ‘Damn, I’m interested in winning trophies only with Arsenal.’

It’s a wonderful image. Goalkeeper meets Taxi Driver. And despite a few difficult moments, and none of them that unexpected from a young keeper in what is essentially his first season, he’s done remarkably well. He provides a level of reassurance that we haven’t really enjoyed with our previous incumbents and adds real presence, which is something every keeper needs to be most effective. There’s no doubt he can improve but at just 21 he could be the man for years and years to come.

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger says divers should be punished to act as a deterrent, saying:

If an obvious dive is punished by a three-match ban, the players would not do it anymore. I would support it.

In principal I’d have no issue with it at all, but as long as the waters are muddied by those who suggest any contact at all merits a player going to ground it’s can of worms territory. If they are dealing with open and shut cases though, even those lightest on their feet would think twice before trying to con referees with their acting and cheating.

What’s most interesting to me, having seen Ashley Young cheat a penalty for United for the second week running, is how the idea that foreign players are the worst offenders is still perpetrated. It’s obvious that British players are far more inclined to go down these days. Young is a great example, while Gareth Bale comically admitted to diving but was let off the hook because he said he does it to avoid being kicked.

Imagine the furore if a foreign player admitted the same thing? The reason Bale dives isn’t to avoid contact, it’s to win free kicks and penalties and to have opponents punished by yellow or red cards. If you’re that afraid of being tackled then you shouldn’t be playing the game. That his admission was so glossed over while Sky Sports and their ilk went to town on Eduardo for his admittedly soft tumble against Celtic tells you so much about the way football reportage is slanted in England.

It’s worth noting too that Bale is the only player to have been booked twice this season for ‘simulation’ (the polite way of referring to diving), but it is still referred to as a foreign trait. Hardly the end of the world, I know, but irritating all the same. And if post-game video evidence helps cut it out of the game, or at least lessen its frequency, then I’m all for it.

Right, there’ll be full live blog coverage of the game later on, check back later for a post with all the info or bookmark the default live blog page. Betting is with Paddy Power who will give you up to £50 in a free bet if you register now.

And finally, if you’re having a pre/post game pint in The Tollington, they still have a few copies of So Paddy Got Up left, available behind the bar.

Have a good one.

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