The way I see it – Arsenal v Wigan Athletic

Last updated : 11 February 2007 By Jason Hogan

It was on the eve of the Carling Cup semi against Tottenham at The Grove when I did my last article – and, after seeing the lads finish the job and book a place in the final at the expense of our poorer relations, I can tell you all that I have not been able to keep the grin off my face ever since.

In a time when it appears to be all the rage for faceless and invariably foreign multi-millionaires or billionaires to come in and take control of English clubs without anyone really knowing fully what their true agendas are, it's really gratifying to see that the Arsenal have identified the need to adopt a longer term in-house strategy in an attempt to remain competitive on the pitch rather than selling out to any Malcolm (Glazer), Roman (Abramovich) or Randy (Lerner).

Guys like Abramovich, Glazer and Lerner are not here for the love of the game; they're here because first and foremost they are hard nosed businessmen that have been initially seduced by the scent of a fast buck or rouble (delete as appropriate).

Will they all be over here 10 years from now? Will they still be here if, for some reason, the gravy train that is the Premiership suddenly grinds to a halt? And, if and when they do flounce off into the sunset in the future, what will be the state of the respective clubs they have left behind?

Any supporter of a club that has been taken over and also happens to care about the long term future of their football clubs surely must be asking themselves these are the sort of questions. Maybe there will come a day in the future when we Arsenal fans will be asking ourselves the same questions whilst being uncertain of the answers. But for now, as an Arsenal fan, I'm quite happy with the fact that questions such as those are not relevant to us.

At Arsenal, we may not be able to go out and buy ready made players with supposedly ready made reputations for tens of millions of pounds by the bulk load. But, unlike some other clubs at the present time, we are at least showing that we are prepared to give youth a chance.

I know there are always going to be clubs that are more fortunate or successful than others in this country. But that doesn't mean that football should be all about finding a gratuitous, financially driven quick fix as a route to success. Shouldn't it be more about bringing new young footballing talent through, developing them and educating them? They are the real future lifeblood of the game after all, not these faceless multi-millionaires or billionaires.

I would like to think that is what we have tried to do over the last few years at Arsenal. Everywhere you look there are young players that have given early exposure and the opportunity to play in environments that test their temperaments as well as their abilities as footballers.

Look at the run we have had to make it to the Carling Cup Final. The kids had to go to hostile venues like Goodison, Anfield and Shite Hart Lane not to mention the Hawthorns which is one of the most atmospheric arenas outside of the Premiership. None of those assignments were by any means easy on paper but the youngsters had the temperaments handled it and the ability to overcome most of those assignments at the first time of asking.

Oh, and just for the record and just for the Little Englanders out there, I couldn't give a toss about the fact that we are not exactly top heavy with English players within our squad. If they are good enough and they are willing to listen and learn, they will come through at Arsenal in their own good time, we won't have to pay massively over inflated prices for them and perhaps more importantly than that, they will probably be technically adept enough to play the Arsenal way.

Indeed, one person that may be on his way to joining the first team set up is young midfielder Mark Randall who at 17, has just been given his first pro contract at The Arsenal. With the kids we have representing England at all levels up to the Under-21's, I'm pretty confident that he will not be the last young Englishman to be granted professional status at the club in the coming years.

Now that we have made the Carling Cup final, how ironic it is that we will be up against the one "club" that has for three years been run on policies that contrast more widely with our own than virtually anyone else.

This is not the time to go into the ins and outs of the final itself, however. That can wait until nearer the time. But I will tell you all this for nothing in advance. Whatever happens on February 25th, I will be a very proud man.

Looking back briefly to the game against Boro at the Riverside, I thought that we definitely looked jaded and I think that contributed to what I though was a very ordinary display by us in general.

Although Tomas Rosicky and the ever reliable Kolo tried their best to inspire us on the day, I couldn't help feeling, certainly for the first hour or so, that it was a case of after the Lord Mayor's Show where we were concerned in the wake of events the previous Wednesday.

We didn't show any real concerted urgency until Senderos got sent off and we fell behind though I do have to give credit once again to the lads in that they refused to give in. I thought that a draw was a fair result in the sense that we didn't really do enough to win the game before Senderos went.

Was Phillipe unlucky to get sent off? Well, I would say yes and no. Whilst he was not exactly guilty of inflicting actual bodily harm on Yakubu, the fact is that strikers even as big, burly and strong as Yakubu are going to look to hit the deck in those situations the minute a defender so much as looks at them the wrong way never mind touches them.

However, I thought that the incident clearly happened outside the box and if the utterly incompetent Mike Reilly did his job properly he would have given the free kick and then sent Senderos off. The fact that he gave the penalty AND sent Senderos off was seriously harsh I felt in the circumstances.

Thankfully, we didn't let Boro's one man advantage handicap us and Henry eventually sprung into life long enough to latch on to a knockdown from Adebayor to secure us a point with an adroit finish.

Although we salvaged a point from our trip to the Riverside, it does mean that we have a little bit of work to do in order to get back on terms with Liverpool in third place. That mission starts on Sunday when Wigan come to The Grove.

It would be easy to put the fortunes of the Latics down to the old second season syndrome but I think the problems Paul Jewell and his team have had run a little deeper than that.

A fantastic first season in the Premiership wasn't enough to stop a whole host of players leaving the club in the summer for pastures new. The likes of Jason Roberts, Pascal Chimbonda and Damien Francis were influential players for them and the likes of Jimmy Bullard and Graham Kavanagh were nothing short of inspirational for them last season.

All of them left as well as one two others and Paul Jewell had to almost rebuild his squad. The fact that so many players have come and gone has had a serious destabilising effect on the club, so much so, that they up until last weekend they had suffered a club record nine straight defeats in the league.

The one thing that is definitely missing from the Wigan side this year is the ability to fuse together a passing game with a more direct game. There was more variety and more purpose to their play last year. Is it down to the personnel now not being as good as the personnel they had last year? Or, is it whether it's partly down to injuries and not having a settled side? From the outside looking in, I would say a bit of both.

That's not to say that the Arsenal have the right to underestimate The Latics. They have a lot of pace and power upfront at their disposal.

Henri Camara should be fit and available for the game. For me he is very similar to Yakubu in the sense that if he brings his A game then he can be a real handful for anyone.

Julius Aghahowa has recently joined the Latics from Shakhtar Donetsk. He was once heavily linked with us and again he is a very quick lad. The only disadvantage he has at the moment is that he has not played an awful lot of football particularly with the Ukrainian season finishing some time ago. But he has ability.

And then there is always much maligned Emile Heskey. He cannot be totally overlooked as a threat either. People may have said many a derogatory thing about him down the years but he has had his moments against in the past and again if he brings his A game then our defenders will not get a necessarily smooth ride.

The Latics should also not be underestimated at set pieces. People like Lee McCulloch, who is excellent in the air, will be dangerous in situations like that though I am personally thankful that Arjan De Zeuuw isn't fit enough to play because he is a real danger in those situations.

I guess this a fixture with a banana skin warning written all over it. The Latics will have nothing to lose, we will have everything to lose.

The one thing I will say is that I hope that young Cesc gets a chance to recharge his batteries a little. He needs a little break and bearing in mind that we have far bigger games ahead of us to play than Sunday's I hope that Arsene takes the chance to rest him.

Whether Cesc does play or not, I think that it will be one of those games where it's important that the Arsenal crowd play their part and don't get to anxious too quickly if we don't happen to be two or three up after 20 minutes.

The Latics may not be quite what they were last season but they very rarely go down without a fight. The Arsenal should not go into this game thinking that Wigan's attitude will be any different here.