Arsenal 4- 1 Wigan Match Analysis: Wenger Does His Homework on Martinez’s Stale Tactics

When most of London was expecting Wigan to pull off another one of their dramatic last gasp escapes from the clutches of relegation, Arsene Wenger’s men destroyed any such Latics dreams in an inspired 2nd half display at the Emirates. At the end of the night Roberto Martinez’s men became the first team to be relegated from the EPL after winning the FA Cup.

As expected Wenger did not make any substantial changes to his team that beat QPR; only change was Kieran Gibbs coming on for Monreal at left back. With Giroud still suspended, Podolski started upfront with Rosisky in the hole behind him.

Martinez surprised a few by naming the exact same squad that started at Wembley. This selection clearly showed that this was the Spaniard’s only fully fit XI, and he had prioritized the final against City over this game against Arsenal. Beausejour was still out with hamstring issues and this saw Espinoza starting at LWB. Again James McCarthur was shifted to RWB, as Martinez shifted emphasis from a 3-4-3 to a combination of 5-4-1 and 5-2-3.

The match on the whole was decided on how well Wenger had understood Martinez’s tactics from the City game. The Frenchman’s decision to concentrate his attacks on the width provided by Theo Walcott on the right proved to be effective, as 2 of the 4 Arsenal goals came via that route and the other 2 from routine set pieces.

Walcott’s wide positioning stretches the 5 man defence

Wenger’s tactic of bringing Walcott into every instance of play was visible right from the start. With the lively duo of Rosisky and Cazorla showing early signs of danger for Wigan, it was the presence of 2 energetic players on the right wing that was troubling Wigan the most.

Theo Walcott might have scored 21 times this season, but his insistence to drift central has left a lot of load on Sagna at right back. In fact this has been the most frequent route for oppositions to score against Arsenal. But here with Wigan playing with a back 5 containing 3 centre backs, the only way Arsenal were going to score was by stretching out play to the wings and hence creating a numerical imbalance in the centre. So despite all his usual frills, Walcott this time around understood the game play and stuck to his job of drawing out Scharner well.

While Walcott was able to pull out Scharner and Sagna more than occupied Espinoza on the flanks, Wigan were left with only Boyce and Alcaraz in the centre of defense. Also Alcaraz kept stepping out from the crowded backline so as to nip in a ball from Rosisky’s feet. So at times when Walcott had pulled out Scharner to the right, Boyce was the only available defender in the box with McCarthur now having to come all the way from RWB. One such early chance saw Santi Cazorla connect to Walcott’s cross, as Santi was free in the box against the lone figure of Boyce with McCarthur lagging behind.

Despite all these attempts of stretching out Wigan’s defence, Arsenal’s only goal of the first half came via a regular corner routine. All 3 of Wigan’s centre backs left Podolski free in the box and the German headed in easily to put Arsenal ahead. Scharner especially was really poor until this point of the match.


Walcott drifted towards the middle against QPR


Walcott remained wide and disciplined against Wigan.

Wigan’s wide forwards leave gap upfront, Maloney rather than McManaman utilizes it

Wigan’s tactics at Wembley might have wrong-footed City on that night, but Martinez’s insistence of using a similar routine here did not catch Wenger off guard. Kone again was told to play out wide from the left with McManaman on the right. This allowed Maloney to shift in to his preferred No.10 role and hereby also completing the midfield trio which was initially being occupied by only McCathney and Gomez.

Now this tactic at Wembley meant that Wigan’s 2 furthermost men:  Kone and McManaman were allowed to attack the centre backs from wide-out positions. This worked well against Kompany and Nastasic and this also allowed Maloney to add his creative presence around the very-mediocre Yaya Toure.

But the difference that crept up here against Arsenal was that Wigan’s other 2 midfielders: McCarthney and Gomez were pulled extremely deep and wide due to Cazorla and Rosisky’s movement and off the ball pressing. This made Maloney receive much fewer passes initially, and later-on to fall back much deeper in order to initiate the attacks. So Wigan were now a very flat midfield trio with 2 wide forwards. This resulted in absolutely so pressure on Koscienly as Kone on the left was only able to affect Mertersacker’s game at times.

Another failure of Martinez’s tactics here was that Callum McCallum was not able to get the better of his compatriot Kieran Gibbs. Clichy in a similar position was unable to handle McManaman at Wembley, but here Gibbs clearly under strict instructions did not make pre-calculated runs to intercept the balls played to McManaman. Rather Gibbs allowed the winger to receive balls at his feet and then closed him down with some good tackles and blocking of crosses. McManaman was fed a through ball behind Gibbs only on 1 occasion, but here Koscienly was able to easily clear away the cross due to Kone’s absence from the near post region.

Another aspect of not playing a regular striker was that there was no pressure on Arsenal’s deepest lying midfielder Arteta. Due to Kone’s absence on him, Arteta attacked freely and was the one usually responsible to find Walcott in wide positions. But with Maloney now shifting to a deeper central role, the Scotsman was given the freedom to run at Arteta due to all the free space left by Kone. Ramsey’s slippery display in the first half did Arteta no favors, and it was one such direct run by Maloney which led to Arteta’s foul and subsequent goal from the free kick. In the passage of this play and on plenty of occasions throughout the match, referee Mike Dean’s performance was nowhere near EPL standards. Wayward and inconsistent calls of handballs and fouls on a wet Emirates pitch left Wenger fuming at the break.

Forced substitutions and 2nd half goals

McManaman’s injury would have been a big blow to Wigan but the Englishman’s display on the night had not been hugely influential, and it also allowed Franco Di Santo to enter the fray. Di Santo scored 2 goals on his last visit to the Emirates and his presence saw Martinez shift to a clearer 5-3-2. Now with 2 normal strikers upfront and with Di Santo able to hold the long ball brilliantly against Koscienly, Kone was getting a chance to utilize Mertersacker’s lack of pace on the turn.

Koscienly quickly recovered from this temporary change in style and the Frenchman along with Gibbs continued to put in a man of the match performance.

Just like their initial attacks, Arsenal’s 2nd goal resulted by quick play down the wings. Again it was Wigan’s centre backs to blame here as none of them was positioned well enough to catch out Walcott’s electric run through the centre; Cazorla’s ball from the right was equally good on this occasion. Though the keeper Joel could have gone for the ball with his hands, again it was down to Scharner’s position that led to Walcott latching on to the cross.

Wenger was about to bring on Wilshere when Arsenal scored the 2nd goal, and the young Englishman came on subsequently along with Chamberlain. Arsenal had already scored their remaining 2 goals before this change, and again a huge blame goes to Wigan’s defensive line.

A routine free-kick from Szczesny was not handled by Alcaraz and again Scharner did not cover Podolski who lobbed in pass from Cazorla. The 4th goal came again from the wings as Ramsey on this occasion positioned himself behind McCarthur at RWB.

Wigan effectively lost all hope by the 75 minute half and the only sparks on the field was visible from a lively Chamberlain and a hungry Walcott. Martinez’s plight of going with the same team with similar style might have been due to injury woes in the squad, but the Spaniard was not entirely silent on the touchline. His strength at Wembley had been his fullbacks and again here he tried a few permutations involving them.

Martinez again lays emphasis on wing backs, Individual errors loose the game

The less attack-minded McCarthur was often seen high up the field in the first half. This was mainly due to Gibbs sticking on to McManaman closely and hence neglecting the RWB. But again the wing back was unable to make hay here due to the lack of targets in the centre.

A similar situation in the 2nd half saw Espinoza push up, and the Chilean full back found himself central in the box to play in McCathney on goal.

Another trait regarding the wing backs was that Wigan played consistently through their left, which has been a major stat of this season with 42% of their attacks coming from this flank. It was here again that Martinez missed Beausejour as Espinoza was often seen unable to reach the long pass played to him. This was mainly due to Walcott’s high up position on that flank which left Espinoza with more of a defensive role rather than surge forward in attack.


The first 20 minutes of the 2nd half defined Wigan’s season, as the Latics conceded 3 goals only due to mistakes at the back. As a unit Wigan have played some impressive stuff this season and did not deserve such a fate, but Martinez was unable to shut out teams due to individual errors at the back.

Arsenal are now on 70 points, 1 ahead of Spurs, and a victory against Newcastle on the final day would guarantee 4th place. With Chelsea on 72 points and a game against Everton as their last, 3rd spot also doesn’t look distant for the Gunners.

Flop of the match: Paul Scharner

Top of the match: Theo Walcott

 Abhay Raj contributes regularly to and edits The Rational Pie

1 Comment on "Arsenal 4- 1 Wigan Match Analysis: Wenger Does His Homework on Martinez’s Stale Tactics"

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  1. Edson says:

    Thorough analysis Abhay – while watching the match yesterday I noticed that Wigan really struggled to connect anything down their left hand side. Espinoza and Maloney missed far too many passes and the lack of concentration down that side really hurt Wigan in possession. Wigan didn’t really have to deal with an out and out wide guy against City at the weekend but did with Walcott and struggled. Great piece.

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