PREVIEW: Arsenal v Bolton Wanderers, FA Cup 4th Round
The second part of the Cup trilogy brings Arsenal’s current bogey team to The Emirates for the first time. Not sure why Bolton are proving difficult to beat in recent seasons but we have only won one of the last seven against them. Whilst the away games have been particularly difficult, last seasons encounter at Highbury was equally painful with what felt like a lifetime’s wait before Gilberto equalised Nolan’s early strike.
Bolton have been talking themselves up in the press about this record, normally such bragging brings about a huge fall back to Earth so lets hope that this afternoon’s match is exactly that for them. I am not expecting them to come down and play an open attractive game, more likely that they will be turning up to perform the same defensive duties as many have done so far this season. An early Arsenal goal will change that philosophy otherwise I fear it could be a long and hard afternoon, particular as Bolton come into the game on the back of what can only be described as a “good gubbing” at The Riverside last weekend.
Team news is that the XI virtually picks itself. Arsene has already stated his intention that the starting line-up will be close to that of one which would turn out for a Premiership match with the only real change to that type of line-up being the resting of Jens Lehmann; Manuel Almunia continuing in goal. And given the run of matches that we are currently in, this is no bad idea anyway. It cannot be easy for the Spaniard to come in at the drop of a hat after a few matches on the bench so anything that helps shake any “ring rust” off is useful.
Injuries mean that the back four is down to bare bones again with Djourou and Eboue to miss out today but expected to be fit for Wednesday and, according to the official website, no return date set for William Gallas. The comments made by Arsene are revealing as to why it has taken so long for Gallas to recover,
“The biggest problem is to fight his impatience. He has had two setbacks because he tried to rush back. And I feel we are guilty of helping him to rush back. I will take the needed time now. My biggest worry after such a long injury is that he needs to be really ready. He should be back in two to three weeks but I still would not like to put any set time on it.”
By the looks of things, Gallas will be missing until at least the PSV games so that will mean he has missed a third of a season already but if that is what it takes to get him fit then so be it. The Frenchman is a classy defender who I feel will always walk straight into the team for the next few seasons and has the capability to be an important team member in the run-in.
Alexsandr Hleb’s month long rest, combined with RvP’s absence for up to three months, will allow Baptista and Walcott to have a run in the team. In the latter’s case, it would seem that this can be only good for him given Arsene’s much reported view on Friday that the lad is suffering a crisis in confidence because he has yet to score for the first team. He is not alone in that, footballing history being littered with players who have struggled in their first season or so to hit the back of the net. It is not something that worries Le Boss for he has seen an improvement in the player in other areas so it should not be of concern for the rest of us. Baptista meanwhile is on a rich goalscoring vein in the Carling Cup but has also yet to score in the Premiership. In view of their impending starts on Wednesday, I would be surprised if either of them starts today.
My expected line – up for Bolton would be:
Almunia; Hoyte, Toure, Senderos, Clichy; Rosicky, Fabregas, Flamini, Diaby; Adebayor, Henry
with a subs bench of:
Poom, Connolly, Denilson, Walcott, Baptista
Although Jeremie Aliadiere is included in the squad I do not expect him to feature against Bolton, being allowed to fully recover from his back injury in what seems to be his final season at the club. Arsene has also stated that Alex Song is available on loan with I think Sochaux being interested in taking him back to France. Were that to happen, I do not believe he will play for the club again. It seems hard enough for loanees in this country to work their way back into contention and with the others coming through in midfield, I suspect moving to France with its different style of play will only complicate matters.
This is a tricky tie to call in terms of the true outcome; whilst I wholeheartedly believe Arsenal will win, the longer the game remains level, the harder it becomes to break Bolton down for I think they will be happy with a replay, something that Arsenal could do without. I am going to however plump for a two goal winning margin for Arsenal.