WTTGT Writer: Matt Mace
When Arsenal travel to the DW Stadium for Saturday’s afternoon kick-off, many will be banking on an away win. Despite recent results against Wigan showing signs for concern (a 2-2 draw last year and a 3-2 defeat the year before that) have portrayed Arsenal’s struggles away from home in recent seasons. Yet whilst many Arsenal fans won’t be looking back on Wigan matches with overly fond memories, and nor will they be looking ahead to future fixtures with excitement; the Arsenal/Wigan clash has offered up some interesting back stories.
You shouldn’t look any further than the very last game at Arsenal’s old ground Highbury back in 2006. Currently lying in 5th place the Gunners needed to beat an unpredictable Wigan team and hope that Tottenham would slip up against West Ham, to ensure that they would qualify for the Champions League. Even with Spurs’ bizarre food poisoning scenario Arsenal almost failed to capitalise falling behind after goals from Paul Sharner and a beauty from David Thompson. Yet despite their efforts Wigan couldn’t spoil the party. The talismanic Thierry Henry stepped up to the mark to fire his 135th, 136th and 137th goal at Highbury. Running out 4-2 winners and the closing ceremonies that followed; few remember that Wigan probably a dodgy penalty decision or two from ruining Wenger’s top 4 record.
Just half a year before this Wigan had also highlighted Arsenal’s defensive frailties, albeit a weakened Arsenal team, as they knocked the Gunners out of the Carling Cup in dramatic fashion over the legs of the semi-final. Trailing 1-0 from the first leg Arsenal looked favourites to cement their place in the final after Henry gave them the lead. Yet Arsenal were unable to find away past Wigan goalkeeper Mike Pollitt who also saved a Jose Antonio Reyes penalty. Van Persie then slammed home a free-kick in exrtra-time only for Jason Roberts to send Arsenal crashing out on away goals in the 119th minute.
Yet it isn’t all doom and gloom for Arsenal when faced with the prospect of playing Wigan. Even though their 3-2 victory over Arsenal (coming from 2-0 down in the process) ultimately ended any title aspirations that Wenger and co. may have had; Wigan also inadvertently created one of the most deadly strikers in the world…Robin van Persie. The Dutch international had always showed ability and promise for Arsenal, yet it wasn’t until he bagged his first ever senior hat-trick against Wigan that the form we know and love him for came to light. Having only scored one goal from September to January in 2010, van Persie reignited his scoring touch in 2011. Goals against Birmingham and Leeds, as well as a brace against West Ham may have turned the Dutchman’s fortunes around but his hat-trick in the 3-0 win against Wigan in January has completely transformed the player. Since that game Robin has managed a further 31 goals taking his tally to 38 from 41 in 2011.
So there you have it when Wigan and Arsenal meet it can celebrate an end of an era, create a goal scoring machine or add end-of-game heartbreak; but all I’m hoping for on Saturday is another 3 points.
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