Arsenal v Wigan: Tactical Preview

WIGAN, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03: Mikel Arteta of Arsenal scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Arsenal at the DW Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Wigan, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Wigan are looking to achieve their customary late-season run to save themselves from relegation to the Championship for the 5th year out of 6. A large part of that has been Roberto Martinez's switch to a back 3/5 variant that has seen Wigan not only become more solid at the back, conceding just 9 goals in their last 10 games, but has also seen them get the best out of their most dangerous attacking player, Victor Moses.

The System

For a large part of this campaign, Roberto Martinez has had his team deployed in a 3-4-3 that becomes 5-4-1 when defending. He played this system when Arsenal visited back in December, a game that Arsenal had difficulty in breaking Wigan down until a long-shot from Mikel Arteta and a headed goal from a corner by Thomas Vermaelen saw Wigan broken, with Arsenal scoring two more in the second half. His team, though, has gotten used to playing 3-4-3, and are coming off a fully deserved 1-0 victory over Manchester United. Martinez likes his team to keep the ball on the ground, and Wigan play a short passing game, averaging the 8th most possession in the Premier League.

Of Wigan's two wing backs, Jean Beausejour is the more natural attacking player, as he's also been a pretty good winger. Emerson Boyce is a converted centre back, and thus isn't the most natural attacking player, but with Victor Moses on the right hand side, Wigan get width from his attacking runs. On the left side, Shaun Maloney likes to cut in and create from inside, giving Beausejour space to overlap. Franco di Santos is alright at holding the ball up, while the McCarhury duo of Wigan's central midfield alternate between holding and making attacking forays. Wigan could play Mohamed Diame, a more physical player, in midfield, but likely won't. In attack, Maynor Figueroa either steps forward into the midfield or shifts to left back, creating some sort of 4-5-1, while in defence, Beausejour and Boyce drop back to form a 5-4-1, and Wigan tend to drop deep though they can apply pressure.

Keys To Beating Wigan

Arsenal are likely to have more possession in Wigan; in their last two games, United and Chelsea have had more possession despite Wigan being the better team. With 3 in midfield against Wigan's 2, one of Alex Song, Mikel Arteta or Tomas Rosicky is going to get time and space on the ball. If they can get in between the lines, they can create, or spread the ball quickly into wide areas. One way of beating a back 5 is by creating overlaps in wide areas, and neither Maloney nor Moses are the best defenders, so the runs of Arsenal's full backs, presumably Bacary Sagna and Andre Santos, will be important. Out of Wigan's two wingbacks, Beausejour is the weaker defensively, and Arsenal, being biased towards the right hand side, will likely look to exploit that weakness. If Theo Walcott or Bacary Sagna (or both) can isolate Beausejour, they can get behind him and create chances; likewise, if Arsenal play quickly on the counter attack they can exploit the left hand side, with Figueroa trying to do two defensive duties at once.

Defensively, Arsenal's midfield will be crucial against Wigan. As said earlier, Maloney likes to come inside and create, giving Beausejour space to overlap. Because of this, Alex Song or Mikel Arteta should take care of Maloney when he comes inside, leaving Sagna to try and prevent Beausejour from delivering crosses. On the right hand side, Arsenal's left back will want to prevent Victor Moses, the second-best dribbler in the Premier League, from beating them and getting to the byline to pull the ball back. Pressing will also be crucial. Despite being a passing side, two of Wigan's centre backs, Figueroa and Antolin Alcaraz, are poor passers, with passing ratios under 80%. Gary Caldwell can also be clumsy, and if Arsenal press up, with the wide forwards or one of the midfielders coming inside to press and the full backs getting tighter to Wigan's wide players, Arsenal can win the ball back in good areas and counter quickly. They can also stop Wigan from building attacks and stop counter attacks if they press as well as they did against City, Tottenham and AC Milan.

Wigan present a unique (at least to the Premier League) threat of wing backs and wide forwards in a 3-4-3 system. Despite this, and despite their strong defensive record as of late, Arsenal should be able to beat the Latics, if they press as a unit and isolate Wigan's defensive players. Arsenal will monopolise possession, but it will be important that they move the ball quickly; if too slow, they can allow Wigan to get into a solid defensive shape and frustrate them. Arsene Wenger doesn't seem to be taking Wigan likely, and, after a recent loss to QPR, nor do Arsenal's players. With that in mind, Arsenal should press and be the dynamic side that they have been at home.

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