The outcome of few, if any, matches in the Premier League this season has or will come close to matching the dramatic consequences of Arsenal’s hosting of Wigan Athletic on Tuesday. While the Championship playoff final to decide which club gets promoted to the Premier League is famed for being the richest game of the season, the clash at the Emirates is not all that far behind.
With one match of the campaign to go after tonight, both sides realistically need three points to maintain their chance of achieving their primary objectives this season.
For Arsenal, anything other than a victory would mean they go into the final match of the season relying on their local rivals to falter in order for Arsene Wenger’s side to avoid failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 16 years. The financial implications of such a disappointment would be significant and it may severely impede their summer recruitment plans.
“We are at home and of course we want to take advantage of that,” Wenger said. “We are on a remarkable run. We have been hugely consistent and we are in a position where our destiny depends on us and we now want to finish the job.”
But the ramifications of the match for Arsenal’s opponents is no less significant. Failure to get a victory at Arsenal would all-but bring an end to Wigan’s eight-year stay in the Premier League. There have been several great escapes in that time and many expected a similar pattern to unveil itself is this campaign, but a 3-2 defeat at home to Swansea City last week has left Roberto Martinez’s side on the precipice.
Of course, since that last Premier League outing, Wigan have picked up the first major piece of silverware in their history when they beat Manchester City to win the FA Cup in thrilling circumstances on Saturday.
While that moment will live long in the memory, to many the remaining two league games of the season are the real cup finals. Martinez, though, has rejected suggestions that the FA Cup win could distract from the task of trying to secure safety.
“We need to take into this game that feeling of immense pride from Saturday’s achievement at Wembley Stadium,” he said, according to Wigan Athletic’s official website.
“Winning the cup will take the club onto a completely different level in terms of how we are perceived from the outside and will give us good focus for the final two games in the league.
Neither side has any new injury worries going into the match. Arsenal have goalkeeper Lukasz Fabiasnki and left-back Kieran Gibbs available after injury, but Olivier Giroud serves the final match of his three-match suspension. Jack Wilshere will continue to have his ankle problem managed ahead of minor surgery at the end of the season. Wigan could have Jean Beausejour back in action, but defenders Maynor Figueroa, Ivan Ramis and Ronnie Stam remain on the injury list.
D: Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal
M: Ramsey, Arteta
Walcott, Rosicky, Cazorla
D: Boyce, Alcaraz, Scharner
M: McArthur, McCarthy, Gomez, Espinoza
F: McManaman, Kone, Maloney
Prediction: Wigan were excellent in the FA Cup final as Martinez won the tactical battle by packing the midfield and surprising many by playing midfielder James McArthur as a right wing-back. There will be much interest to see if the Spaniard goes with the same lineup against Arsenal. Wigan’s gifted and pacey front three will also look to exploit Arsenal’s back line and, in particular, Per Mertesacker, who can often be caught out on the turn.
It remains to be seen, though, what impact the euphoria of the weekend will have on the Wigan players. Arsenal have been impressively consistent against lower-ranked teams in the Premier League this season, especially of late. If Wenger’s side play to their potential then they should have too much for a Wigan side that has shown plenty of vulnerability defensively, but anything less and the Latics could yet keep hopes alive of another great escape.
Arsenal 2-1 Wigan
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel. A delayed online stream will be available later in the day on Fox Soccer 2Go.