EPL Preview: Wigan Athletic at Arsenal

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This is it.

The whole season comes down to this one game.

Win and the fight continues for one last game. Lose, or even tie, and Wigan’s great escape becomes impossible (almost).

For the last three EPL seasons, Wigan Athletic have defied the odds and fought back late in campaigns to secure their status amongst England’s elite.

But their task this afternoon seems daunting. A trip to the Emirates Stadium in London is their date with destiny. But they face an Arsenal side who are chasing Champions League qualification and desperately need a win.

So, Wigan need to emulate their incredible display in Saturday’s shock FA Cup final win against Manchester City — which coincidentally occurred just a few miles away from the Emirates at Wembley Stadium in North London — to have any chance of securing a vital three points against the Gunners.

The history books do not favor a win for the Latics. They have lost 9 of their 10 trips to Arsenal, but the only victory did come last season, as Wigan won 2-1 in April 2012 and stayed up. A good omen?

However Arsenal are in sensational form of late, winning six of their last eight and drawing the other two. They are the form team in the league and have won all five fixtures against the current bottom three this season.

And if it is goals you are after, then the Emirate Stadium is the place to be. 65 goals have been scored there this season, more than any other EPL venue. How about this stat, Wigan are the only team to have picked up more points away (18) than at home (17) this season.

We are in for a cracker this afternoon, with EPL survival and Champions League places on the line. Fans of Wigan and Arsenal might not have many nails left by the end of the game. But either way, we will be closer to finding out the fate of both clubs. Another cup final, of sorts, will kick off in North London this afternoon. Miss it at your peril.

What they’re saying…

Arsenal

Arsene Wenger: “Both teams have to go for it, it’s a huge game for both of us. We have been very consistent, we’ve been on a remarkable run and our destiny is in our hands. Two months ago our destiny was not in our own hands. Today it is. So let’s finish the job.”

Mikel Arteta: “I think we have to forget a little bit the external part of what the game means and just focus on the good things and the things that we did right on the pitch. When you’re thinking about other things, you can’t really focus on what you’re doing. For Wigan it’s going to be a tough game mentally as well. You want to try to get the positive energy out of it, not to get yourself restricted and play with a bit of fear. That’s the wrong way.”

Wigan Athletic

Roberto Martinez: “We need to take into this game that feeling of immense pride from Saturday’s achievement at Wembley Stadium. Winning the cup will take the club onto a completely different level in terms of how we are perceived from the outside and will give us good focus for the final two games in the league. We achieved what we did at The Emirates last season in pretty much the same way we did what we did against Manchester City at the weekend, so it’s good to have some close reference before Tuesday’s game. We have to show immense levels of concentration and discipline in defence, as well as strength and confidence in attack. That will lead to a complete performance, which would seem impossible if we hadn’t done what we did last weekend, so we’re capable of repeating it again.”

Prediction: My head has to rule my heart. As much as I’d like to see Wigan win and keep their survival bid going until the final day of the season, I think winning at the Emirates is just too big of a task. Arsenal have been in great form over the past few months and need a win to climb one point clear of North London rivals Spurs for the final UCL spot, and keep their destiny in their own hands. Even with Olivier Giroud suspended, the Gunners have too much firepower for Wigan’s defense. A 3-1 win for Arsenal will send Wigan down.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.