Bolton Preview: Beware Wandering Elbows
Bolton arrive at The Emirates, normality returning to football with seven games in a little over three weeks. The injuries to van Persie and Walcott were well-documented, the absence of Thomas Vermaelen a surprise. The Belgian has suffered an achilles injury whilst away with his country, although that Wenger noted he could be available for the Champions League this week suggests it is not as bad as it sounds.
The length of absences should be treated with caution. Arsene acts on the information he has and at times, it is ‘overly optimistic’ which is a feeder for the criticism of the medical staff at the club. Taking an optimistic view of recovery times in public tends to fuel disappointment when those targets are not met. Whilst it might be against his nature, pessimism in those circumstances diminishes the opportunity to snipe at medical staff without any knowledge of the subject matter.
That gives the opportunity for Sebastien Squillaci to make his debut, a rough welcome to the Premier League will no doubt be handed out by Kevin Davies. The Bolton forward appears to be unable to fathom why he is not an England international.
The answer lies in the fact that he regularly tops the list of cautions at the end of the season; he is a throwback to the days of Finney and Mortenson when goalkeepers regularly found themselves in the back of the net as well as the ball, a firm shoulder barge having dumped both there. An anachronism who would not last five minutes on the highest stage.
Having successfully soft-soaped Chris Foy before the Blackburn game, Wenger turned his attention to Davies, presumably in the hope he will get sent off in the first five minutes for flailing elbows. Whilst fouls on the ground are more likely to result in the serious injury, there are plenty of cases where depressed cheekbones or worse have been caused by combative aerial play although their frequency is lesser.
Which one of the central pairing he targets remains to be seen although Koscielny’s relative inexperience makes him more likely. A lot rests on their shoulders being strong today. Coyle is gradually trying to move Bolton into the 21st Century of football but when faced with technically superior opposition – or as in their last game, a deficiency of numbers – Bolton revert to type and play to what are still their strengths.
There is no point in complaining after the event when this happens; that is how Sam Allardyce set the club up and highlights why he should never be allowed near the England manager’s job. To have him there would set football in this country back five decades at a time when it is already lagging behind the rest of the top European nations.
Injuries suffered open doors for others. One being mentioned is Jack Wilshere who despite being in the papers for all of the wrong reasons a week ago, proved his potential on the pitch in the Under-21s win over Lithuania. Despite Gerrard Houllier’s criticism of footballers being out of control, the midfielder retains Wenger’s faith and confidence who deflected attention away from Wilshere with insinuations that Stuart Pearce lacked managerial skills in judging the psychological condition of players.
Owen Coyle had laid claim to being a mentor for Jack Wilshere, the reason for his readiness for first team football at Arsenal. Arsene was having none of that though, slapping the Bolton manager across the face with his glove in readiness for this afternoon’s duel:
He was only 17 when he went there and he has come back with more experience and more power. He has grown physically and is stronger. But Bolton did not teach him to play football. He was already a very gifted player when he went there.
I doubt that Wilshere will be Walcott’s replacement in the starting XI. The natural temptation would be to use either the youngster or Rosicky to maintain the attacking inspiration, Eboue looks more likely as the manager seeks to combat the strength utilised in the midfield by the visitors. Not that the Ivorian lacks attacking capacity and having scored in the first of the two recent internationals, he might well be brimming with confidence.
With three games every seven days, Wenger is in the period when rotation will be used. Had Vermaelen been fit, I suspect that either Clichy or Sagna would have been rested but with Koscielny still adapting and Squillaci untested in the Premier League, it would be a big gamble to replace either full back. As such, I would expect the starting line-up to be:
Almunia; Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Clichy; Song, Diaby, Fabregas; Eboue, Chamakh, Arshavin
The bench will be bolstered by the return of Samir Nasri and no doubt he will get a runout this afternoon. Whatever team is fielded, this is a fixture which Arsenal is expected to win and must do so to maintain momentum. The international break is normally followed by a decidely average performance. Returning to their clubs a day earlier is supposed to allow better preparation for the upcoming fixtures. Let’s hope we get that benefit this afternoon.
Enjoy the match wherever you watch it. ’til Tomorrow.