Bolton Preview: Stand And Deliver
A throwback to ‘The Good Old Days‘ this week with two fixtures against Bolton Wanderers, reminiscent of Christmas’s long ago when home and away clashes with the same opposition took place within 48 hours, usually 24. The two clubs have had this proximity of fixtures before, November 1919 saw two 2 – 2 draws in the space of a week.
Christmas 1922 saw Arsenal slump 1 – 4 only to win 5 – 0 the following day; September 1927 saw a 2 – 2 draw at Burnden Park, 5 days later 2 – 1 to The Arsenal at Highbury; September 1958, a 6 – 1 Arsenal victory was followed by a 2 – 1 defeat. But enough of that tangent, for it is of no relevance to this afternoon, merely an interesting aside.
Injuries dominate the Arsenal skyline, Samir Nasri pulling a muscle yesterday in training rendering him doubtful which makes the midfield interesting to say the least, given Denilson and Aaron Ramsey are reportedly not available. Which probably topped Arsene’s Saturday off, with Chelsea and Manchester United both having comfortable wins, expanding the gap at the top, hopefully only on temporary basis though.
A win is always vital when fighting for the title, to keep up with rivals or to capitalise on their mistakes. Six points this week will, in all likelihood, take Arsenal top, four goal victory margins required in total to ensure that happens. It would leave Chelsea with a game in hand but put pressure back on them. This is the crucial aspect of this afternoon; how Arsenal handle that pressure.
There is no ‘get out clause‘, claims that the squad is inexperienced do not wash. The players will-to-win needs to be evident, backing up their talk, to ensure that the results are delivered. And, on paper, they should deliver comfortably. Sadly football is played on grass and the apppointment of Owen Coyle as manager will invigorate the previously lacklustre players of Bolton.
We have been here on numerous occasions before, most notably when Stuart Pearce took over at Nottingham Forest, a similarly insipid shadow of previous glories, inspired them to an unlikely win over Arsenal. Pearce admitted afterwards that his initial line-up looked good until his wife pointed out the absence of a goalkeeper might be a flaw in his plans. That afternoon, Pearce could have left out a goalkeeper so blunt was the Arsenal attack but it also gave an indication of the turn his managerial career might take.
The robustness of Bolton’s play used to be something they could build upon but this season, they have precious little in attacking threat, Gary Megson preferring defenders as his signings, a policy which ultimately cost him his job.
Kevin Davies, one of the most booked players in the Premier League, remembers this and having seen yellow on 9 occasions against Arsenal alone, has been keen to whip up that mentality. He seems to have forgotten that Abou Diaby was more than capable of making his Bolton foes ‘scream‘ – to use Davies’ own description about Arsenal players after they have been tackled.
Crucial to a win will be avoiding the slips which have been costly at Bolton in the past. Yet for all that, Arsenal has won the last half-a-dozen or so games, home and away, against them. Some have been comfortable, some dogged and two years ago, 10 men oozed class to come back from two goals down and win. These performances are the ones which are relevant to this afternoon, as has been the ability to win at traditionally difficult venues this season.
Sol Campbell’s Arsenal return is pencilled in for next Sunday’s visit to The Potteries, William Gallas’ niggle will presumably be covered by Mikael Silvestre in the event that he is not fit for duty today.
If it is a choice between today and Wednesday, Gallas should be picked this afternoon, his experience vital for a patched up midfield. Vermaelen could move into the defensive position in the central triumverate but I believe this would be unsettling for the defence, already likely to change with Gael Clichy available, Abou Diaby more than capable of fulfilling defensive duties.
The line-up I would expect to see is:
Almunia; Sagna, Vermaelen, Gallas, Clichy; Rosicky, Fabregas, Diaby; Vela, Arshavin, Eduardo
If Wenger wants more midfield presence rather than three strikers, Merida could drop into the Rosicky role pushing the Czech further forward at Vela’s expense. Both the Mexican and Spaniard are due big games and this afternoon is as good a platform as any. Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.