Friday, January 27, 2023

Wigan preview: Gunners must make this Wembley part 1

Right then, here we go.

FA Cup semi-final day and it’s Wigan. Leaving aside the fact the semi-final should never, ever take place at Wembley, it’s a great chance for us to reach the final. Almost everything you read – whether it’s from fans or players – says that we shouldn’t underestimate Wigan, but that we should also have enough to do what’s necessary today.

Most people saw what they did in the last round against Man City and you have to respect that, and the fact they’re holders of cup in the first place, but this is a Championship side taking on a team that has been top of the Premier League for longer than anyone else this season.

Even if we are somewhat in the doldrums in terms of confidence and belief, if you can’t get yourself up for a cup semi-final, especially knowing how much is at stake for the club as a whole, then you’d really have to worry. Wigan have nothing to lose, we’ve got it all to lose, but that’s what comes with being a big club. It’s part and parcel of life as top player and they have to deal with that today.

It does appear as if there’s some good news about the team as the ‘doubtful’ trio of Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gibbs all took part in training yesterday. Assuming they’re all ready for today, I’d go with the following team:

Fabianski* – Sagna – Mertesacker – Vermaelen – Gibbs – Arteta – Ramsey – Rosicky – Cazorla – Oxlade-Chamberlain – Giroud

I’d play Rosicky on the left hand side to provide proper cover to Gibbs, and the manager has form with this. He’s used him, like he used an on-loan Benayoun, in this position in big games. It means Cazorla has the freedom to operate behind the striker, while Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right gives us directness and pace. Maybe not as much as Walcott, but still enough to cause them problems.

It’s also important that there’s a bit more rigidity in terms of our positions when we don’t have the ball. Against Everton it really wasn’t clear who was playing on the right at times, which allowed Baines the space to set up their first goal. We can’t allow that kind of uncertainty again today. Even if the Ox doesn’t make the starting line-up (and for me the only reason would be because of his injury), that shape is going to be important whoever plays there.

I’ve seen some people suggest Sanogo should start over Giroud, but that’s too much of a risk for me. You’re asking a kid who has never scored a goal to carry that burden in a game with this amount of pressure. Too much. I have my issues with Giroud, as many of you do, but ultimately he’s scored 19 goals this season, has three in the FA Cup too, and is the best option we’ve got there.

I’ve marked Fabianski with a * because although he’ll play I’m not 100% sure why. I know he hasn’t let us down at all, and his performances in the cup have been excellent, but there’s a reason why Szczesny is the number 1 keeper at the club. He plays week in, week out for good reason. If it’s down to a promise the manager made, or something similar, then that’s not really a good enough motive to play a guy who hasn’t exactly had much in the way of match practice this season.

I just think that in your big games you play your best players and this concept of a cup keeper is understandable to a point, but can be counter-productive too. For example, do you think if we went back to play Everton again that Martinez would choose that hapless flapper again? I don’t think so. But, maybe Wenger views Fabianski as some kind of good luck charm, and maybe after everything else that’s gone on we need a bit of that.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain spoke yesterday about the cup, and like others said it would be a good building block for us. Win that one trophy, get the ‘Not won a trophy for X’ off our backs, and there’s sense to that. He also said:

It is a lot easier said than done, but we are in a ­position where we can make that happen, in a position where it is our responsibility to take that opportunity.

And I like that he’s used the word responsibility, because from this position that’s exactly what it is. Leaving aside the vagaries of sport which we all know/love, with the teams left in the cup this season it would be catastrophic not to go on and lift the trophy. They know how much it means in so many ways, and and if we were outsiders looking at a tournament with Liverpool or Man City or Chelsea with Wigan, then Hull or Sheffield United in their way, we wouldn’t think of them as anything other than overwhelming favourites.

And that’s the position we’re in. It’s also why I’m worried, because of the expectation and pressure that comes with it, but as I said above, that’s something you have to deal with when you’re at a club like Arsenal. Despite the injuries and the recent difficulties in terms of our form, we have to remember that we’re not as bad as everyone likes to make out.

We’re not as good as we’d hoped, but we’re not a rubbish team by any means. You don’t top the league for so long without quality, you don’t beat Liverpool, Dortmund and smaller teams like Sp*rs by accident, and to get to this point we’ve beaten that lot, Liverpool (under seriously intense pressure, remember), and Everton (who we know are a fine side), so we have to take confidence from that.

The majority of Wembley will be decked out in red and white today, it shouldn’t feel too much like an away game, and there’s enough experience in this team to do what needs to be done. We need to let go of the pressure of the occasion and just perform.

Do that, and we’ll go through.

If, for some reason, you can’t see the game later, we will have full live blog coverage for you. Just check back later for a post with all the details, or bookmark our default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

Now a day that is going to draaaag until the kick off this evening. Not much to do but wait though.

Come on you reds.

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