Bolton Preview: Impervious To Media Bullets But Not Injury Gremlins
You cannot harm me, I am impervious to pain, I will slice your quips with my sword of steel and absorb your bullets. Media, my old foe, you are done for.
At least that is probably how Arsène’s romantic visualisation runs, the ending being him riding off into the sunset with all of the trophies safely tucked up in his saddle bag.
The reality is altogether more treacherous.
No doubt that his relationship with the media is on a downward trajectory, a process that is gathering substantially more speed as the weeks of criticism turn into month. He has previously carried the inanities of the press conference with, as the journalists like to tell you, an urbane wit and charm. That is turning to tetchiness and monosyllabic responses. Not that you can blame the man when questions are met with a definite ‘No’, only to be repeated or pursued beyond belief.
It’s a relationship which is an irritant in the current climate, necessary because of rules and regulations governing the game, necessary to communicate with supporters but unnecessary as he seeks to find the answers to the dip in form. Answers that will not be coming any time soon from Jack Wilshere, a body blow as the youngster reaps the rewards of an intense first full season. Criticism of that is already raining in, another brickbat to send in the Frenchman’s direction.
The timing of the release of the information is a hint that the club is acutely aware of the negative air this brings. Late on a Friday night, too late for the early editions of the back pages. In a season which has plummeted new depths on the field, off the field is bringing no respite. Testing times for all.
All of this against a backdrop of a football match. Bolton arrive at The Emirates this afternoon knowing that their first league victory at Arsenal since January 1962 would plunge their hosts to the bottom of the table if Fulham gain a point at The Hawthorns this afternoon. It is not a healthy state of affairs. It is certainly a moment where the factual translation that took place in Arsène’s mind let him down; ‘odd‘ it is not, angst-inducing it is as we have seen.
Of course six games in is rather early to be talking of finishing anywhere in the league. Leaders at the top by this stage of the season have been known to fall away, top six after six games have been relegated on several occasions. Nothing can be read into form this early in the season other than a team is underperforming. And that certainly applies to Arsenal.
Today’s visitors are enjoying the same sort of wretched form as their hosts. Supposedly one of Arsenal’s bogey teams, Bolton will be turning the tide of history on its head if they get a result out of this afternoon. Since that January win, fourteen defeats and three draws in league matches does inspire confidence, especially on the back of a run of five consecutive defeats. But these are strange times.
Gary Cahill is going to be a focus of attention, the England defender subject of Arsenal attention in the summer with Owen Coyle hinting that he expects Cahill to leave Bolton in January for pastures new as Bolton try to salvage some financial gain. Whether that is the case remains to be seen with media reports suggesting that the world is Cahill’s oyster, Barcelona, Internazionale and Bayern all joining the list of usual suspects as his final destination.
What is apparent is that his club form has suffered because of the interest. His tackling and defending percentages are below that of Arsenal players and nowhere near the level an £18m player would be expected to deliver. That sums up the lunacy of modern football, reducing a player’s ability to a set of figures, isolating an individual in a team sport. Thankfully clubs pay more attention to the whole than the individuality of supporters.
So to the line-up this afternoon. Against Shrewsbury, Wenger returned to 4-4-2, sparking some hope of a traditionalist revival amongst some. That is not likely to happen, the manager making it clear that the formation in midweek better suited the personnel he had available. One of those, Marouane Chamakh, might feel aggrieved if he does not start this afternoo his goal at the weekend is a hint at returning to form, a state of affairs which had so wretchedly deserted him. I doubt he will start even though it would be good to see if he and Robin van Persie could form a productive forward partnership.
That would also disappoint Theo Walcott who is still banging on about being a central striker. To me, it is not likely to happen anywhere near as quickly as he would like. He still suffers from wayward finishing too consistently. If that is resolved then he might make a more central move. Time though is on his side. But I would not start him this afternoon. Arshavin and Gervinho have the right mix of guile and pace, allied with the ability to run into footballing cul-de-sac’s. Walcott would exacerbate the latter problem without necessarily having the wit to bring a difference.
The line-up I expect is
Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Santos; Song, Arteta, Rosicky; Gervinho, van Persie, Arshavin
The requirement is a win, the performance is almost secondary. To bring themselves back to form requires confidence something that is borne of results. A scrappy one goal victory is as welcome as handing out a thrashing. Perhaps more so in some respects for it does not paper over cracks, laying shortcomings for the players to see. A string of those results, especially with clean sheets, would do the players the power of good. Best to start it as soon as possible.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.