Wigan Preview: Once You Get One, You’ll Get…
According to Sir Alex Ferguson, Wigan will leave The Emirates with all three points if they score. His sagacity knew no bounds as he proffered the view that Wigan’s performance last week in defeating United would have seen them comfortably in mid-table had they been able to reach that level every week. They have not hence their annual relegation battle.
I have nothing against Wigan, indeed there is much to admire in their fight to retain Premier League status and Roberto Martinez’s stubborn refusal to stoop to an overly-physical game to achieve that end. Quite why he is a rarity amongst managers in those circumstances remains a mystery; how many teams actually stay up using the long ball rather than playing football? The balance is probably equal.
Alas the generosity that Sir Alex extends cannot be matched here. With Harry Redknapp doing all that he can to prove his England credentials – contentious goal conceded, team in white collapsing in a hapless mess – Arsenal need to increase the psychological pressure on Spurs. This is not lost on Tomas Rosicky, who refuses to allow over-confidence to set in,
We have a great chance to stay in [third] position, but now we have to make sure of it. That starts against Wigan on Monday – and make no mistake, it’s a very big game for us.
The Czech is well aware of the dangers that relegation-embattled teams pose; QPR proved an insurmountable obstacle recently and historically, struggling sides have made Arsenal work hard in previous seasons. There is a confidence about the squad at the moment which suggests they are more than capable of making these tasks less arduous than it might previously have been.
Roberto Martinez, taking time out from soft-soaping the officials, recognised the improvement in Arsenal,
If there were 15 games left and not five you would consider Arsenal as a team who can win the title
The Spaniard has more faith in the squad than some of Arsenal’s own supporters. Yet he has well-founded grounds for concern in his pandering to official egos, emphasised by the outrageous theatrics of Ashley Young yesterday. The awarding of the penalty was even more baffling than the goal given to Chelsea. By any stretch of the imagination, Young’s fall was unnatural in the way his legs and arms splayed and this highlights a deeper-seated problem – in officiating, not in the bone structure of the United winger.
In recent weeks it is more apparent that referees are not necessarily the biggest problem in the technology debate, more that they are lacking in support from their Assistants on the line. In certain situations you can understand – and have sympathy with – those deemed to be the eyes either side of the pitch. How offside is decided in borderline cases involves a substantial amount of guesswork hence the apparent increase in late flags. The speed of the game necessitates some change to the offside law to accommodate this.
Yet in the case of Young against both QPR and Villa, it is inconceivable that neither of the Assistants or the Fourth Official, saw the exaggeration in the player’s fall but none had the courage to intervene. If they did then the referees in choosing to ignore such opinion reveal their dictatorial mindset on the pitch; if they do not trust their closest advisors then they would be better running for high office in football than a match.
Diving is of course a raw nerve with Arsenal. Robert Pires is our most celebrated culprit and was castigated nearly a decade ago for the ease of his loss of footing. The Frenchman quickly learned and enhanced his reputation with this redemption. And this is before we consider our Brazilian Croat whose career was effectively ended by ill-founded and scurrilous Uefa claims backed by the media.
Why bring up nationalities? It has been long held that foreign players were the biggest source of this cheating yet English football through the years has had its fair share of players who fall to earth all too quickly. Indeed, the most recent culprits in the Premier League tend to be natives: Rooney, Gerrard, Young to name but three. All England interationals, all escaping the wider mauling that has been heaped on Arsenal players by the insidious Fleet Street xenophobia.
Arsène’s punishment of a mandatory three match ban might work in deterring all but the most determined charlatans. The issue has always been clouded by the issue of intent. In the case of Young, the intent to exaggerate is not hard to distinguish but faced with a robust challenge – or an opponents body shape that indicates an incoming assault – many players will take evasive action not to deceive deliberately but to mitigate injury. Those are the cases where matters can look worse and be misinterpreted. In our judgemental world, these require judicious management.
Back to tonight. There is little justification for significantly changing the line-up that won at Molineux. Indeed, I find the rationale for more than one adjustment hard to understand. Aaron Ramsey is being hung out to dry in some quarters, the scapegoat for no apparent reason. It is not for that reason I would drop him to the bench, just that Tomas Rosicky may be able to produce more guile on a night where a strong defensive blanket will be operated by the visitors.
That leaves the line-up,
Szczesny; Sagna, Djourou, Vermaelen, Santos; Song, Arteta, Rosicky; Walcott, van Persie, Benayoun
Johan Djourou is another maligned player for Arsenal yet no credit is given when clean sheets are achieved with the Swiss international starting, as have occurred in his last two appearances; both coincidentally 3 – 0 wins for Arsenal. It seems that they are achieved in spite of him rather than recognising his contribution.
Not that it matters what such minorities think. Three points is all that is required tonight and a deflected goal in the last minute will achieve that as much as a low swerving shot from the edge of the area.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.