Preview by Numbers: Wigan Athletic v. Arsenal, FA Cup Semi-Final

Wembley Stadium, London
Saturday, April 12
12:07 p.m. EDT, 17:07 BST

  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Darren England
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 15 Arsenal wins, 3 Wigan wins, 2 draws
  • All-Time in the FA Cup: First meeting
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Tottenham Hotspur, 2-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Coventry City, 4-0
    • Fifth Round: Beat Liverpool, 2-1
    • Sixth Round: Beat Everton, 4-1
  • Wigan's Path Here
    • Third Round: Drew MK Dons, 3-3; won replay 3-1 after extra time
    • Fourth Round: Beat Crystal Palace, 2-1
    • Fifth Round: Beat Cardiff City, 2-1
    • Sixth Round: Beat Manchester City, 2-1
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: L-W-L-D-D-L
  • Wigan's Championship Form: W-L-D-D-W-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 13 C / 55 F
During the course of this week, I've mulled over a wide swath of options regarding what I could write in the opening section; ultimately, in light of all the negativity out there, I've decided it's best to keep in short and sweet:

Everything that has happened is in the past. Arsenal Football Club is 90 minutes away from a Cup Final. The boys deserve your undivided support for each and every one of those minutes. Forget what you think about the manager, or specific players, or the board, or anything.

90 minutes. Support the players. Wear your yellow ribbons. Come on you Gunners.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Koscielny (calf,) Ozil (hamstring,) Wilshere (foot,) Walcott (knee,) Ryo (ankle,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin,) Rosicky (thigh,) Gibbs (ankle)
Suspended: Flamini (first of two, accumulation)

Hey, so, that's 10 first team players out. Let's get on with this, then:

Three players are doubts and face late fitness tests: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with a groin problem, Tomas Rosicky with a thigh problem, and Kieran Gibbs with an ankle problem. The latter is particularly a concern because Nacho Monreal is only just barely recovered from a foot injury that has sidelined him much of this spring. Considering Aaron Ramsey is now available to start, losing the Ox and Rosicky shouldn't be that bad, but combining it with Mathieu Flamini's accumulation ban makes everything a little more uncomfortable.

As for those definitely out, Laurent Koscielny will be back, at the earliest, midweek against West Ham and Mesut Ozil will be back, at the earliest, next Saturday against Hull. Jack Wilshere has not yet returned to running and it's as you were with the rest of the list.

So, who will start? Lukasz Fabianski in goal, that's for sure. Without Koscielny and Gibbs, it would be the same back four as started against Everton last weekend, which may or may not be good, depending on whether your glass is half-full or half-empty. Aaron Ramsey is being penciled in to start, especially with Flamini banned. As for the forward four, that's where things get tricky, because it depends on who among the Ox, Rosicky, and even Serge Gnabry, who has had a knock recently, passes fit.

Up top, the question is, do you go with Olivier Giroud or Yaya Sanogo? The latter has gotten the nod in FA Cup ties and with Giroud woefully out of form, it would not be totally surprising to see the younger Frenchman get the start.

Predicted XI: Fabianski, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla, Gnabry, Podolski, Sanogo

Wigan Squad News

Out: Watson (broken leg,) McCann (knee)

Ben Watson, who scored the FA Cup winning goal last season in the final against Manchester City, is out for the season after breaking his tibia and fibula against Barnsley in February. Chris McCann is also out for the season after suffering a multiple kneecap fracture in the win over City in March.

Wigan will likely line-up in a conservative formation, as they did at the Etihad last month. Manager Uwe Rosler has said he's hoping to learn some lessons from the way former Wigan manager Roberto Martinez defeated Arsenal last weekend. With respect to their mentality, Rosler said, "there is a little bit of unrest [with Arsenal], expectation is sky high and the longer we are in the tie the more difficult it will be for Arsenal."

Ali Al-Habsi is a known quantity in goal for the Latics, from an Arsenal perspective. Wigan are more than capable of playing five along the backline, as they did for their recent win over Leeds. Jean Beausejour, the Chilean international, is available after serving an accumulation suspension, so he might be in line for a start. Beausejour came off the bench for Birmingham City the last time Arsenal played at Wembley Stadium...

Predicted XI: Al-Habsi, Perch, Boyce, Ramis, Barnett, Beausejour, McManaman, McArthur, McEachran, McGomez, McPowell

Current Form

Cup ties are often considered the kind of fixtures where "form goes out the window," but when your recent poor form is as much psychological as it is physical, it's hard to imagine Arsenal can just forget about how bad their results have been lately. Arsenal have gone four without a win for the second time this season; during the first such streak, they played three of the same opponents as during this current streak (Chelsea, Manchester City, and Everton.) Following that December "blip," as we called it then because Arsenal were still top of the league, Arsenal responded by winning seven on the bounce. They'll very likely have to do the same, or similar, now to have this season end positively.

As for a recap of Wigan's season, they are currently fifth in the Championship, six points clear of seventh place Brighton for a play-off spot with five league matches to play. Wigan were as low as 14th place on New Year's Day, but have since then, they have won 15 out of 24 matches across all competitions to salvage their season. Their 2-1 win over Manchester City in the sixth round came as part of eight match winning streak, which was snapped by Yeovil Town. The Latics have won just once in their last five games, which came last weekend against Leeds. They lost to Millwall in midweek (after resting eight starters,) but had previously lost to QPR and drawn Bolton and top of the table Leicester before the win over Leeds. While nothing should be taken away from Wigan for winning at the Etihad to advance to Wembley, Wigan's other FA Cup victories came over the likes of League One MK Dons and Premier League relegation threatened Crystal Palace and Cardiff City.

Match Facts

Arsenal know about Wigan's potential for late season magic just as much as Manchester City knows about their potential for FA Cup magic. Wigan have twice beaten Arsenal in mid-April in league fixtures while battling against relegation, first in 2010 when they scored three goals after the 80th minute to win 3-2 and again in 2012 when they scored twice in 94 seconds within the first eight minutes to win 2-1.

Arsenal beat Wigan in both league fixtures last year, relegating the Latics just days after their FA Cup Final victory. Arsenal won 1-0 on the strength of a dodgy penalty call at the DW Stadium shortly before Christmas, then won 4-1 at the Emirates in the season's penultimate game, with Lukas Podolski scoring twice.

These two sides have never met in the FA Cup, though they have met in the League Cup on three occasions: Wigan won the first, the two-legged semi-final in January of 2006, on away goals in the 119th minute; Arsenal won earlier round cup ties against Wigan in 2008 and 2010.

The Referee

The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Arsenal have seen Oliver three times this season, all for "big" matches, and have a record of one win (1-0 over Spurs in September) and two losses (1-0 at Old Trafford and 5-1 at Anfield.) Oliver has not worked a Wigan match yet this season; the Latics had a record of two wins in three matches with Oliver last year, including their FA Cup Semi-Final win against Millwall. Both of Wigan's wins with Oliver in the middle last year came in the FA Cup, though both were against Championship opponents (which is, of course, where Wigan is now); in addition to the Semi-Final win over Millwall, Wigan had beaten Middlesbrough in the fifth round with Oliver as the referee.

Oliver has risen through the ranks of Select Group officials rather quickly (he just turned 29 in February) and he has remarkably seemed not out of his depth at all this season.

Logic seems to dictate that it will be Mark Clattenburg to referee the final on May 18; you may not know this, but English referees may only take charge of one FA Cup Final in their career (it is considered the highest possible domestic honor,) which means it cannot be Mike Dean, Howard Webb, Chris Foy, Martin Atkinson, Phil Dowd, or Andre Marriner, all of whom has had their finals already.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Aston Villa; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Fulham v. Norwich City; Craven Cottage, London
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Cardiff City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Newcastle United; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Everton; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Tottenham Hotspur; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Sunday (early): Liverpool v. Manchester City; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Swansea City v. Chelsea; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Sunday (FA Cup Semi-Final): Hull City v. Sheffield United; Wembley Stadium, London
  • Out of Action: Manchester United and West Ham United