Arsenal vs. Wigan Athletic: 5 Keys to a Gunners Victory
Wigan Athletic's current form has to ensure that the Gunners do not overlook the relegation-threatened club. Arsenal's own form has been excellent, and they will need to maintain their high level of performance in order to tighten their grip on third place.
Wigan's victory over Liverpool at Anfield and 1-0 triumph over Manchester United, proves they are capable of producing an unlikely upset. Arsene Wenger's team must dominate possession against a Latics side well capable of passing the ball around with their own brand of flair.
Youngster Victor Moses and mercurial veteran forward Shaun Maloney pose the biggest threat to the Gunners. Stifling their movements must be a priority for the Arsenal midfield and back line.
Here are the five things Arsenal need to get right to avoid a home slip up and the loss of precious points.
1. Press James McCarthy in Midfield
Wigan's recent run of good win has been inspired by the assured passing of young midfielder James McCarthy. Arsenal must press and harass McCarthy whenever he is in possession.
Along with fellow Glasgow native James McArthur, McCarthy has dictated the flow of Wigan's matches with a heady mix of assurance in possession and tenacity out of it. Alex Song and Mikel Arteta must assert themselves early, in order to seize control of the midfield.
Both have been outstanding at times during this campaign, with Arteta in particular making a strong case to be considered the signing of the season. The cerebral Spaniard must distribute the ball quickly and ensure the pace of Arsenal's passing and movement remains high.
2. Target Emerson Boyce
Arsenal should focus the efforts of their attacks at right back Emerson Boyce. The Gunners can regularly get the best of Boyce with pacy and subtle movement.
How successful they are in this area will largely be determined by who Arsene Wenger selects to play the left berth in his front three. Yossi Benayoun has performed very well in recent weeks, and the Israeli schemer makes the kind of intelligent runs that can force Boyce out of position.
However, this could be the game for disappointing Ivory Coast forward Gervinho to attempt to regain his best form. The ex-Lille star has the pace and trickery to pose a direct threat to Boyce.
Gervinho's ability to dance his way past the suspect Latics defender could well be Arsenal's quickest route to a goal.
3. Double Up on Victor Moses
It will probably take the attentions of two players to nullify the threat posed by wide forward Victor Moses. The Wigan youngster is one of the best young talents in the EPL, and Arsenal will need to stay smart and disciplined against him.
Santos will need to be decisive with his decision-making and timing. Moses is too powerful and quick on the turn to press, so Santos should give him a cushion and keep him out wide.
Whoever plays at left forward for Arsenal should be charged with applying pressure to Moses at close quarters, further up the pitch.
4. Run the Game Through Tomas Rosicky
Arsenal need to let Tomas Rosicky run the passing play and must get the Czech playmaker on the ball early and as often as possible. Rosicky is in superb form at the moment and can play a vital role in supplying Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott with scoring opportunities.
When Rosicky first started to show signs of a career revival, this author had to shout down the cynic inside that found the timing of negotiations regarding a new contract, more than a coincidence.
However, Rosicky has signed his new deal and continues to excel as the most advanced member of the Gunners' midfield trio. Technically refined, quick thinking and active, Rosicky has made this crucial position his own.
His best quality is the direct manner in which he plays. Rosicky always looks to move the ball forward. This ensures Arsenal don't play into the hands of ultra-defensive teams and simply pass the ball from side to side, without any real progress.
More of the same will be needed to try and create an early advantage and carry the fight to a Wigan team desperate for Premier League survival.
5. Stick Close to Shaun Maloney
Arsenal need to stick close to skillful forward Shaun Maloney and track his movement carefully. The 29-year-old former Glasgow Celtic prodigy is a valuable source of creativity for Roberto Martinez's team.
Gunners defenders should press Maloney when he is on the ball and force him to play with his back to goal. Maloney cannot be allowed to work on the turn and slide passes through to fellow forwards Moses and Franco Di Santo.
Maloney possesses an accurate shot and is a threat when drifting in from wide areas around the box. Staying close and preventing a clear sight of goal will be vital.
Arsenal Cannot Afford Another Blip in the Hunt for Automatic Qualification
The Gunners need to maintain their current good run and avoid the kind of blip which saw their winning sequence interrupted by a 2-1 defeat away to Queens Park Rangers.
Arsenal must not make the mistake of overlooking another team embroiled in a fight against relegation. Wenger's team hold only a five point lead over fifth placed Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United in fourth.
The Gunners must keep collecting maximum points to guarantee automatic qualification for next season's UEFA Champions League. The games are running out for Arsenal's rivals, so another win will leave the Gunners fate in their own hands.