11 April 2014

Match Preview: Wigan Athletic v. Arsenal, Wembley, April 12 12.07 (EST)

Rambo makes his long-anticipated return to
the starting line-up.
(CC Licence / Wikimedia)
Arsenal make the trip across North London to Wembley on Saturday for an FA Cup semi-final that will play a huge part in defining the Gunners' season. After suffering a dismal defeat to a surging Everton side at Goodison Park, Arsenal remain in fourth place in the league, though the Toffees have a game in hand and sit just one point behind. Really, the FA Cup has looked like Arsenal's saving grace for a while now, especially once the Gunners beat Everton in the quarter-finals, creating a favorable-looking final four which also features Wigan Athletic, Hull City and Sheffield United. Despite struggling recently, the Gunners remain the favorites to win the Cup, and doing so would put an end to a 9-year wait for a trophy and the media's obsession with that statistic.

Arsenal enter this match with a squad depleted by injuries; Wilshere, Koscielny, Walcott, Özil and Diaby are definitely out, and there are questions over the fitness of youngsters Gnabry and Miyaichi. Arsenal will also be without Mathieu Flamini, who is suspended for this fixture, but Arsène Wenger has confirmed that Aaron Ramsey will make his first start for the Club for nearly four months, which is music to the ears of Arsenal fans everywhere. Lukasz Fabianski's role as FA Cup keeper will continue, as Wenger has confirmed that he, too, will start at Wembley. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky and Gibbs will all undergo late fitness tests to determine their availability.

After winning last season's Cup, but still getting relegated from the Premier League and losing their manager to Everton, the Latics return to Wembley lying 5th in the Championship, comfortably in the play-off positions with 5 games remaining. Uwe Rösler, Roberto Martinez's replacement, has impressed fans and pundits alike in leading Wigan to Wembley for the second consecutive season, repeating Martinez's feat of beating Man City - a club he once starred for. Rösler actually went to Wembley last season as well, where his Brentford side lost the League 1 play-off final to Yeovil Town. However, since knocking Manchester City out in the last round, Wigan have struggled slightly, having only won 1 of their last 5 fixtures and this will also be the club's 55th match of this campaign.

Wigan also go in to the game without some of their key players; Chris McCann, Roger Espinoza, and Ben Watson - scorer of the winning goal in last season's final - are all out injured, while both Rob Kiernan and Martyn Waghorn are cup-tied. Wigan's loanees Josh McEachran, Nick Powell, Nicky Maynard and Jack Collison are all available for Rösler to choose from. The Latics manager chose to rest James Perch, Jordi Gomez and Calum McManaman in their last match - a 1-0 loss to Milwall - and all three could return on Saturday. The goalkeeper position is unclear, as Scott Carson started the match against Man City, but Rösler could choose to go with his usual number 1, Ali Al Habsi.

The match will be Arsenal and Wigan's first ever meeting in the FA Cup. The last time the two sides played, Arsenal beat Wigan 4-1, just after the Latics had beaten Man City in last season's final, a result that sealed their relegation to the Championship. The Gunners go in to the game having won 15 of the 20 fixtures between the two sides, with Wigan victors in 3.

Match facts:
  • The Handsome One has scored 5 goals in his last 5 FA Cup appearances.
  • Thomas Vermaelen has scored 4 goals in 4 starts against Wigan.
  • On four of the last five times that Sheffield United have reached the semis, Arsenal have gone on to lift the trophy.
  • The Latics are unbeaten in their last 12 FA Cup matches, winning 10 and drawing two.
  • Wigan midfielder Jordi Gomez has five goals and five assists in his last 10 FA Cup starts.

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