Bolton Preview: Not So Nice To See You Again So Soon
Having disposed of Bolton Wanderers in an entirely professional manner on Sunday, the same opponents provide the latest barrier to Arsenal returning to the pinnacle of English football. Bolton venture to The Emirates on the back of Sunday’s defeat, seeking their first league victory at Arsenal since January 1962. Disconcertingly for the visitors, they have never won a fixture against Arsenal that was played on the 20th of any month.
Arsene has been focussing on injuries, not surprising really with a mixed few days. Losing Nasri and Ramsey until around the time of the visit to Stamford Bridge was not the start to the weekend, adding Merida into that mix with a minor knock on Sunday would have soured his mood further. That was offset by the returns of Denilson and Theo Walcott.
With any other opponent, there would be less of a sense of trepidation on the part of those coming back. Bolton though are going to take a while under Owen Coyle to shed the physicality of their game, a trait which showed a niggardly streak with hair pulling and a number of off-the-ball incidents on Sunday.
Given the manager’s complimentary comments about Arsenal, if he has enough time, we may even start liking Bolton. Actually, probably not but perhaps despising them less.
The injury list is quite lengthy at the moment with eight players noted as missing although Bendtner is close to a return, Merida and Wilshere peripheries at the moment although in times of need, no-one can be described as such. However, four games in ten days requires everyone to be fit.
This point was acknowledged by Wenger who praised the squad for responding to the adversity caused by the situation:
it gives a lot of credit to the players that despite all that has happened we are still there.
However, he needs people to stay fit, something which has been a particular issue this season with returnees often picking up strains and pulls soon after their comeback. Does this mean they are not ready or to use a Wengerism, “rushed back“? In some cases, I suspect there is an element of that but the lengthy nature of Eduardo’s injury and the mystery of Rosicky’s ailments render this hardly surprising.
The team itself will show few changes from Sunday. Denilson will return in midfield, Clichy at left back giving Traore a breather before resuming his post at Stoke in a much changed back four from tonight. Elsewhere, you would not expect much tinkering with the lack of choice apparent.
It is too soon for Walcott to start but he can give Eduardo a bit of a breather whilst getting a chance to run at a tiring Bolton defence late on. It might be that Vela starts instead of the Croat but that seems unlikely given the runaround he gave the visitors at the weekend, a performance that showed he may not be at his best but his performance level is still above a huge swathe of other strikers.
I would expect the starting line-up to be:
Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Denilson, Fabregas, Diaby; Rosicky, Arshavin, Eduardo
There would be a temptation to treat the match with some complacency on the part of the players, no matter how unintentional and I suspect that is something that Arsene and the coaching staff have been looking out for. To counter that, the inspiration would be going top of the league, something Arsene spoke of following Sunday’s victory; “a psychological blow” is the phrase he used if Arsenal go top.
To some extent it is, re-affirming to the top two that this is a three horse race and not the procession they have become too used to in recent seasons. Is it something that could work in reverse if the required victory is not achieved? Absolutely. Yet Wenger gave the reason why this should not be the case:
We have won nothing yet. But we have won some credibility. However, that is not enough.
We want more but at least we are in a position to fight for it and have a go. I have the confidence that my team will give absolutely everything.
I trust their hunger, I trust their appetite and I trust their spirit, knowing of course that there is a long way to go
And that is the reason, combined with the technique, that Arsenal can win the title this season.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.