The first thing that sprang to mind about this one is that Bolton should drop any musical accompaniment to the teams entering the pitch. Get Jimmy Lennon Jr out there for this one needs a full-blown, Madison Square Gardens welcome. Yesterday’s media coverage centered on Big Sam’s claim to have shown the Premiership how to beat Arsenal, “I Killed The Gunners“, screamed one headline. Unfortunately for him, no-one else chooses to follow his sides overly physical approach to the match. The spaces being cleared by the medical staff at Arsenal may yet be filled come the final whistle this afternoon.
Bolton had a good start to this season. Quite how good it was is indicated by the fact that they are only one point behind Arsenal yet have only taken one out of the last twelve points available. According to the various sources around, the Premierships most goalshy attack is facing its most parsimonious defence; something that is an Arsenal tradition of yesteryear but not of the last two campaigns.
The Trotters direct style has caused Arsenal untold problems over the past four seasons, the last away victory a 2 – 0 win 2002. They still harp on about the following seasons 2 – 2 draw as a matter of pride, the retrieval of a two goal deficit ending the 2002 – 03 title charge. Since then, four further meetings have yielded one draw and three defeats in all competitions. If ever a victory is overdue at a ground, it is this one.
Bolton include Niclas Anelka in their ranks this season; an archetypal signing by Sam Allardyce. With his career on the decline, Allardyce has signed a player whom he knows is chasing the lucre available in the Premiership trough yet the manager will demand that the player give his all. If he does, Bolton have an excellent striker. If not, Allardyce will not be afraid to ship him out and bring in someone new. The immutable law of the ex suggests that Anelka will score today but will one be enough?
For all of the debate about 4-5-1 at home, there is little doubt it works away from home on the whole. The only time it hasn’t was at Upton Park when the team did not look like securing a victory that they needed. At the City Of Manchester stadium, points eluded them due to one lapse in concentration. It is that which they need to keep today, conceding the first goal will make a tricky task difficult. Scoring the first will leave gaps to exploit.
Team news for todays fixture is not too good. Rosicky and Gallas are both out joined now by Thierry Henry who has a neck injury. The squad for the trip is:
Lehmann, Eboue, Toure, Senderos, Clichy, Fabregas, Hleb, Gilberto, Ljungberg, Baptista, Adebayor, Almunia, Djourou, Hoyte, Song, Flamini, Walcott, Aliadiere.
From that, my guess at the team is:
Lehmann; Eboue, Toure, Senderos, Clichy; Fabregas, Hleb, Gilberto, Ljungberg, Flamini; Adebayor
I suspect Flamini will get the nod ahead of Baptista to ensure that there are sufficient fighters in midfield, protecting the creative players. Baptista will be used as a second half substitute to probably replace Adebayour. Freddie Ljungberg reckons that the team are stronger this season than last, the inference that the younger players are more adept at dealing with the rigours of the Premiership. What Freddie fails to remember is that in the corresponding fixture last time round, it was the experienced members of the team who succumbed so easily, failing to give any leadership example to the youngsters. The absence of Henry is a blow in that even though he is not as prolific as in previous season, the defences mind are always occupied when he is on the pitch. That said, two crucial away victories were secured at Old Trafford and in Zagreb without him. Perhaps the biggest loss this afternoon will be van Persie as the team has lost its secondary goalscoring threat. Still, if the midfield is as I suggest it looks solid.
With the top two meeting tomorrow, three points are vital to close the gap on one or both of them. The general mood of Arsenal blogs at the moment is bullish and whilst I do not believe we will lose, I think the winless run at The Reebokwill continue with my prediction is for a 1 – 1 draw.