This will be a battle between teams placed 17th and 19th with the two leakiest defences in the League. Bolton have shipped just one less goal than Arsenal’s 14. Neither team is on a particularly good run either and both have a Cup result to blame, at least partially. Arsenal have been unrecognizable since the Carling Cup loss while Bolton haven’t been able to recover from the 5-0 hammering they got from Stoke in the FA Cup semi-final. With just one win in their last 9 League games, Bolton are closely matching the relegation form that Arsenal have produced. Both clubs are desperate to move forward so this game should be a feisty affair.
I am one of those who believe Bolton have improved their style under Owen Coyle. However, given their current form and Arsenal’s recent troubles, I will be surprised if they don’t regress to their hoof-n-hunt style that has achieved some success against the Gunners.
Even if the ball isn’t kicked long towards Kevin Davies at every opportunity, the visitors will certainly try to win as many set-pieces as they can. Arsenal are using a combination of zonal marking on corners and mixed approach on free-kicks from other angles. It seems to be a work in progress at the moment and opponents will get some chances if they are not wasteful. A clean sheet for Arsenal in this game will be a big achievement but Wenger knows his team must get that and more in the coming weeks.
Arsenal should pose a great deal of attacking threat down the wings especially if Gervinho is picked on the right against Robinson. Wenger is probably facing a dilemma – whether to pick Theo or Arshavin. Both offer some exciting qualities but also bring along some weaknesses. Arshavin would be more of a creator while Walcott would be more of a runner/finisher. Against the current opposition I’d prefer Arshavin on the left with a completely free role so that he spends most of his time in central areas just behind the striker.
In order to achieve that, Santos will have to do an excellent job of defending the flank. The Brazilian’s biggest challenge will be his decision making – when to go forward, when to attack the ball, when to charge for an interception, etc. He will also have to show improved understanding with the other defenders. I don’t wish to single out a new player who deserves more time to adapt but I won’t be surprised if Arsenal’s left side is targeted by the visitors.
The other choice for Wenger will probably be the role of the attacking midfielder. Ramsey and Rosicky have both been passed fit but only one is likely to join Arteta and Song in the midfield. I am tempted to include Little Mozart who has, in the past, shown a better understanding with Arshavin and should be able to create more for Gervinho but I think Arsene will make a sensible choice in picking the industrious Ramsey who will regain his form as he gets more games.
Probable starting line-up,
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Santos – Song, Ramsey, Arteta – Gervinho, RvP, Arshavin.
Some fans want to see Arsenal return to a 4-4-2 in a manner similar to the Carling Cup game in midweek but I will be surprised if the first team moves to a different system at this juncture.
Arsenal can win this game as long as they cut out individual blunders and deal with the aerial balls aggressively. Chris Eagles and Martin Petrov are decent players but should not trouble the full-backs. Bolton don’t have that much creativity in the middle and should not be allowed to open Arsenal up.
Song and Koscielny have to show Blackburn was an one-off. A repeat of that performance or anywhere in that vicinity is just not acceptable.
While both teams have conceded a number of goals, Arsenal haven’t let in many at the Emirates while Bolton are more susceptible at home so this game might not be a goal fest. I expect two goals in this one, hopefully both will be in the same net that isn’t behind Szczesny.