Have Wigan Athletic got enough in the tank to beat the drop again?


I had the rare good fortune of being able to attend a Premier League game last weekend. I, fervent follower of League One fodder, acquired tickets for my brother and I to attend the Wigan Athletic-Arsenal fixture at the DW Stadium, in the away end.

It was half what I expected, half anti-climax. Excellent periods of possession football, decent passing, woeful finishing. The only differences between the sides were a contentious penalty and Arsenal’s marginally extra quality in the final third. Conclusions from the game are as follows: Wigan may not have enough in the tank to stave off relegation once again and Arsenal, despite still being an excellent footballing side, lack a ruthless streak.

I say they lack a ruthless streak, writing this six days after they tanked Reading to the tune of five goals to two. To be more precise, they display a ruthless streak but it’s quite infrequently, which must be very frustrating for the Gunners faithful, as well as boss Arsene Wenger. Wigan, on the other hand, play lovely, passing football and credit must go to Martinez in trying to get his players to express themselves; to go out and entertain.

Unfortunately, their play in the final third is lacking immensely and it was frequently evident on a rain-soaked afternoon in Lancashire. There are technically sound players in that side – James McCarthy, Ben Watson, Shaun Maloney – but there’s nobody to supply the goals. Arouna Kone works tirelessly and has bags of pace but he’s no finisher, as exemplified in the first half when he sprinted away from Arsenal’s backline only to pull his shot well wide in the end.

The win for Arsenal, their third in a row, propelled them to third place (for 24 hours or so) in a congested section of the table (four teams on 30 points). After rumours of a club struggling, some cries of Wenger out, they’re quietly putting a run together and on Saturday displayed a certain resilience when protecting their lead that folk don’t often associate with Arsenal sides. Wigan suffered their sixth defeat in their last eight outings and enter the Christmas period in a very familiar position, mired in the bottom three.

They’ve proved wrong all the naysayers in the past, no more so than last season when a fine run of results at the end of the campaign propelled them to safety. I feel there’s only so long they can do this, though. You can’t imagine the plucky Spaniard Martinez will have much of a kitty to play with come the January transfer window.

Wenger will be simply happy that five players (Wilshere, Jenkinson, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey) have committed their long-term futures to the club and still buy into his methods. He will be hopeful that Theo Walcott will follow suit, particularly after employing him in a central striker role at the DW, one which the 23-year old has long since coveted.

Each Arsenal supporter was rewarded with a £10 gift voucher upon entry through the turnstiles at the stadium on Saturday, oh how they wish the team could reward them with a top four finish come May. If their current form continues and Wenger buys in January – buys big – I see no reason why that can’t be the case. But with Everton, West Brom and Spurs all jostling for the same position, competition has never been more fierce. Wigan can take hope from the way they play their football, some teams will fall at their hands – lesser sides. Sadly though, their lack of a clinical edge will most likely ensure a difficult second half of the season.

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