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Wigan v Arsenal: Gunners look to regroup after disappointing week

RVP returnBy Jonny Payne

Arsenal take on Wigan tomorrow knowing that the Premier League title is now surely out of their grasp.

After bowing out of the Champions League to Barcelona eleven days ago, Arsenal’s depleted squad travelled to White Hart Lane in midweek knowing only a win would do if they were to remain in contention for the Premier League title.

A 2-1 defeat to their local rivals, however, means that the title is now realistically out of reach once more with the Gunners now six points behind Chelsea with four matches remaining.

Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, refuses to give up on the title, however, and insists his team will be focussed on winning the next four fixtures.

“It’s more hope than a realistic view but anyway let’s finish as strong and as well as we can,” said the Frenchman.

Wenger added: “The morale is of course down because we lost a game that we couldn’t afford to lose, but our job is to focus on the next game and finish the season as well as we can and gain as many points as we can. That’s our target and we want to show we can respond on Sunday.”

It looks an uphill struggle to catch Chelsea. The team from Stamford Bridge have two tough matches at Tottenham and Liverpool, but they have a far superior goal difference – so effectively they are seven points ahead of The Gunners – and two winnable home matches against Stoke and Wigan.

If Arsenal fail to catch Chelsea, it will be the fifth consecutive year without a trophy, but Wenger is optimistic going into next season.

“I believe overall this team has gained a lot of credit and from my opinion they have done extremely well until now, so it is important that they do not now have a negative vibe from our season. Our season will be judged on how well we finish and that is why we play a vital game on Sunday,” he said.

With Champions League qualification all but secure, all Arsenal seemingly have to play for is to pip Manchester United to second spot.

Robin van Persie, the one shining light from Wednesday’s defeat may again play a part in tomorrow’s match. The Dutchman showed he has not lost any of his quality in his 20-minute cameo appearance at White Hart Lane, twice coming close to scoring. But for Tottenham’s flying goalkeeper, Heurelho Gomes, van Persie would have been the hero.

Wenger said: “You could see that you miss these players when he came on. He has not kicked a ball for five months, it was not even realistic to put him on the bench at the start, but we have so many injuries – he has shown how much we’ve missed him.”

The Dutchman may remain on the bench though, with the Arsenal manager unwilling to gamble on a player who has been out for five months, and who also has a terrible injury record.

“We have to see how he responds,” Wenger said. “He had very tight muscles everywhere because he had not played at all so we have to see if we go for the gamble or not. If he feels physically alright he will start, but if there is a little gamble we will not take him because he’s been out for such a long time.”

Wembley’s pitch has been a major talking point this week, but Wenger believes there will be no problems with the playing surface at Wigan’s DW Stadium. It is also used for Rugby League matches, but remains in good condition.

Wenger said: “That is one of the aspects that I’m keen to see, they say it’s better so we’ll see. Wigan try to play football so it’s in their interest to have a good pitch. I believe that the Premier League has to create a criteria committee where the pitch is part of a required level. If you want to be the best league in the world we need the best pitches in the world.”

With more injuries piling up ahead of the match, though, the trip to Wigan will be harder than first expected as Wenger may have little choice but to field some of his fringe players.

With Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas out for the rest of the season – and Alex Song also sidelined with a knee injury – Sol Campbell and Mikael Silvestre will be expected to start at the back.

Wenger has hinted that defensive reinforcements will be brought in during the summer so it will be another chance for the veterans to impress.

Densilon is also struggling to be fit meaning that Craig Eastmond could be handed only his second Premier League start in the defensive midfield berth.

Theo Walcott may get another chance to impress England manager, Fabio Capello ahead of his preliminary World Cup squad announcement in three-weeks time.

Andrey Arshavin is still not fit to return and he joins fellow absentees Cesc Fabregas, Johann Djourou and Kieran Gibbs on the sidelines who will are out for the season.

Wigan, with their forward-thinking young manager Roberto Martinez, are arguably the most inconsistent team in the league. Commendably they try to play an attractive style of football when an often more effective defensive approach is taken by their rivals in the lower reaches of the top flight.

Despite their lowly placing just above the relegation places, Wigan have a number of key threats as Chelsea found out earlier this season during their 3-1 defeat. Hugo Rodallega, their nine-goal striker, has been linked with a £10 million move to Arsenal this summer, and his pace and power may trouble Arsenal’s ageing centre-backs, while Charles N’Zogbia and Maynor Figueroa have also impressed.

Possible Arsenal Team:


Sagna    Campbell    Silvestre     Clichy


Diaby           Nasri

Walcott                                         Rosicky


Subs: Fabianski, Traore, Merida, Eduardo, Vela, van Persie, Eboue

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