Friday, 23 September 2011

Arsenal v Bolton - Preview

Arsenal fans are unaccustomed to seeing their team seventeenth in the Premier League table, even this early in the season, and the feeling is both uncomfortable and distinctly worrying. Given that there are only three teams in the league below us, it’s fortunate that one of them – Bolton – are coming to the Emirates tomorrow afternoon. Furthermore, they have lost their last four Premier League games, and arguably the Bolton players are feeling the pressure as much as our own rather forlorn squad. Outside Lancashire, though, little seems to have been said of the malaise currently affecting Owen Coyle’s side. The general feeling is that Bolton, as an established Premier League club, will play their way out of trouble. Undoubtedly they have demonstrated an ability to play decent football, more so under Coyle than under either Megson or Allardyce, and they are a side, therefore, that could cause the Gunners problems, particularly in the shape of Petrov, Klasnic and the ever-tiresome but often effective Kevin Davies. Reports suggest that influential US midfielder Stuart Holden could also return to the line-up after a lengthy lay-off through injury.

However, running an eye over our own squad gives cause for prudent optimism. Wenger tells us that the defence has been worked relentlessly in training this week, while Theo and RvP have both been frank and open in their assessments of what has been lacking so far. We’re entitled to hope, then, for a big improvement over the Blackburn performance. Attention will again be on the defence, which is likely to consist of Szczesny between the sticks, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker and Gibbs/Santos – it’s not yet clear which of the two will claim the starting left-back position this season. All these players have performed well in fits and starts, but we are now looking for them to do so consistently, and perhaps even more importantly, collectively. The forward line can evidently score goals – three last weekend – and is therefore of less concern, but they will need to take their chances against a back four led by Gary Cahill. He’ll undoubtedly be out to show just how much he is really worth, but Bolton have been leaky of late and a commanding performance from Per Mertesacker at the other end of the pitch would provide a positive contrast for Arsenal fans and manager alike.

I would expect to see Song, Ramsey, Gervinho, RvP, Arteta and either Walcott or Arshavin comprise the rest of the line-up, the final pick depending, it seems, on who wins Wenger’s private coin-toss before the match. Admittedly there’s not much to choose between either Theo or Andrey at the moment, such is their shared inconsistency. It would be intriguing to see Wenger gamble again, as he did with Tuesday’s line-up, by adding a couple of the players who performed in the Carling Cup tie to the matchday squad. Frimpong or Coquelin both impressed in midfield against Shrewsbury, as did Chamberlain and Ryo up front. Either of the former pairing would add bite and solidity to the midfield, perhaps freeing Arteta to get further forward, while both of the latter could test Bolton as second-half substitutes. Chamberlain should be full of confidence after his excellent display. I’ve also got a sneaky feeling that, if Wenger gives him the chance, young Mr Miyaichi could be Arsenal’s Chicharito this season – our karate kid to United’s little pea, perhaps. On current form he would undeniably be more effective as an impact player than Chamakh.

A clean sheet might be too much to hope for tomorrow, but some semblance of defensive organisation would be a forward step, and would also save Lee Dixon from replaying yet another frankly embarrassing example of ineptitude from the Gunners back-line on Match of the Day. Seeing the net bulge a few times at whichever end of the Emirates Bolton are defending would also be a refreshing and welcome departure from last weekend’s own-goal fest.

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