How Arsenal Will Line Up Against Wigan Athletic

Charlie MelmanCorrespondent IIApril 11, 2014

Arsenal's Lukas Podolski celebrates after scoring a goal against Wigan Athletic during their English Premier League soccer match at Arsenal's Emirates stadium in London, Tuesday, May  14, 2013. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Alastair Grant

Arsenal have the chance to massively boost their confidence and improve the mood of the fans with an FA Cup semifinal match against Wigan Athletic at Wembley.

On paper, as the cliché goes, Arsenal look like heavy favorites to progress to the final and eventually claim their first trophy in nine years. The Gunners simply must take down Wigan, who are currently in fifth place in the Championship, and either Sheffield Wednesday or Hull City next.

But Wigan are once again proving to be the Cinderella story of the competition. Their confidence probably cannot be any higher after slaying mighty Manchester City for the second year in a row, this time at their Etihad Stadium fortress.

Arsenal, meanwhile, can hardly be more downtrodden. Much has been said and written about the mental block that seems to be fueling the club's dramatic recent collapse, and perhaps there is something to the speculation. The Gunners are still very good, even with all their injuries, but they flounder under any sort of pressure.

And despite their numerical advantage in support at Wembley, Arsenal will be under boatloads of pressure to deliver a tangible reward to their fans in what has become an enormously disappointing season.

This is a plausible lineup for Arsene Wenger to field in order to deal with that expectation and take care of Wigan like Arsenal should.


The manager is severely hamstrung by an amazing injury list that includes some of the club's best players. Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Theo Walcott are all still out, while Kieran Gibbs, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain face late fitness tests, according to Wenger.

That leaves him with very few options, but he can still make a few choices.

Lukasz Fabianski, for example, will be preferred to Wojciech Szczesny in goal since the former Pole has turned in stellar performances this season as Arsenal's cup goalkeeper. Szczesny might feel slightly aggrieved at missing out, but Arsenal will not lose much in terms of quality.

FILE PHOTO - EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF TWO IMAGES - Image Numbers 460527551 (L) and 477574919) In this composite image a comparison has been made between Arsene Wenger (R) the Manager of Arsenal and Uwe Rosler ,Wigan manager prior to the FA Cup Semi Fina
Getty Images/Getty Images

The back four basically picks itself. Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker are Arsenal's only two fit centre-backs, Nacho Monreal is the only fit left-back and Bacary Sagna is still vastly superior to Carl Jenkinson.

Since Mathieu Flamini is suspended, Wenger has almost equally few options in midfield. Aaron Ramsey has finally returned, though, and Wenger said that the Welshman is certain to start.

That essentially leaves only two other men to fill the other two positions in the center of the pitch. Mikel Arteta has had a very lackluster season but should still be effective against lower-league opposition, and Kim Kallstrom was very effective in his brief cameo against Swansea recently.

It's actually a fairly balanced and experienced midfield, though not anywhere close to the best possible trio Wenger could field if all his players were fit.

Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain could play in the middle or on the wings, but I will assume that they will not be fit to start (Wenger said the odds of each doing so is "50-50").

That leaves Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Serge Gnabry as options on the flanks.

While Gnabry seems capable of handling opposition like Wigan and has impressed on each of his appearances this season, Wenger will probably not risk playing an 18-year-old in a crucial semifinal.

Podolski, then, will likely occupy his usual spot on the left flank, while Cazorla will shift over to the right side, which is slightly unnatural for him. But he will spend much of his time cutting inside to support the midfield anyway and is one of the most ambidextrous players in the world.

Olivier Giroud will probably get the nod at striker due to his experiential advantage over Yaya Sanogo, leaving the French youngster (who has still never scored a goal for Arsenal) on the bench as a late-game weapon.

Who will occupy the other six spots on the sideline is anyone's guess.