Liverpool have hit some sort of form since Gerard has returned from injury. Chelsea stole a point late in the game at Swansea and are now six points ahead of Arsenal. This season has always been about a battle for fourth an it’s time for the Gunners to buckle up and pick up the points in games like the next one at the Reebok, many much tougher games will anyway see Arsenal dropping points in the coming weeks.
The idea is not to underestimate Bolton, who have had a mini-revival of their own, but for Arsene and his players to establish their superiority in a manner that reflects on the points table.
It won’t be easy, obviously. Owen Coyle has not won many games against Arsenal but his side’s do ask some serious questions when they get their act right. And if the Gunners aren’t at their best we can easily see the kind of loss Arsenal suffered last season.
Bolton are likely to play in a manner similar to Villa in the first half of the last game. They’ll press diligently in the middle of the park and will get tight on the Arsenal players getting into forward areas. In order to get past this, Arsenal need a faster tempo and sharp movement up front. The wide players will have to move around and not just stick to their respective touchlines waiting for the ball. The midfielders will have to turn their markers and occasionally drift into wide areas. This can expose the middle but it’s a level of risk the Gunners have to take and conquer.
This game will also be a tough physical battle as the hosts will go hard for all the 50-50 challenges. Arsenal’s midweek exertions could affect the players’ ability to win these on a consistent basis in a manner that helps them impose their passing style on the game.
Bolton have improved their attack in recent weeks, scoring 11 goals in January. This includes 2 away to Everton in a comeback win and 3 at home against Liverpool. Mark Davies has been influential in midfield while N’Gog has added some variety and competition up front. They will try to play on the counter in search of goals and set-pieces.
Their back four is fairly week by Premier League standards and Arsenal can benefit if they can isolate the wingers against their respective full-backs. Van Persie can trouble the centre-backs with his movement if he receives the right passes. Bolton haven’t kept a clean sheet in 11 games and have managed only 2 all season so there will be goals in this game for sure. But with Reo-Coker and Muamba likely to sit in front of the defence as a part of a five man midfield, I think Arsenal’s best chances are most likely to come from wide areas.
All-in-all there won’t be any surprises in this fixture. It’s again going to be a game where the opponents try to make it hard for Arsenal to play while relying on quick forward bursts and hopeful balls into the box. The Gunners will have to do much better at set-piece defending than the kind of chaos we saw against Villa.
Wenger has some players returning from injury but I am not sure how many of them can make a contribution in this fixture. Hopefully, Arteta will be able to return to his starting role as his injury wasn’t long term and has possibly done the job of a short holiday. He should take the place of Ramsey who has been giving a lot physically recently. Rosicky has been doing well and deserves continuity. Having said that, I half expect to see Ramsey in the starting line-up with Little Mozart on the bench.
At the back, I wasn’t convinced by the performance of Coquelin in the Cup tie but the other options have their own set of weaknesses. Picking one of Djourou, Coquelin, and Yennaris is a judgment call for Arsene. I think he will stick with the Frenchman who offers greater dynamism on the flank. Sagna looked rusty when he came, understandably so as he’d only had two training sessions before the game, and should not be rushed back.
I doubt Arsene will make any changes in the other positions but he will have to assess whether a youngster like Oxlade-Chamberlain can play twice in quick succession.
Szczesny – Coquelin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen – Song, Rosicky, Arteta – Walcott, RvP, Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Wenger can probably rest a couple of players in the next game, which is at home against Blackburn.
I don’t expect this game to be as easy as the two home wins against the same opposition. Just like they did against Villa, the Gunners will have to fight till the end to secure the points.
Before ending I want to take the opportunity to comment on Arsenal’s late transfer activity. Miyaichi to Bolton is a very good move for the youngster. He really should be able to get in ahead of either Eagles or Petrov if he has to have realistic hopes of making it at Arsenal. It might not happen immediately but if he can be first choice before the season is over, we can expect a meaningful contribution from him next season in Red and White.
Wenger has also signed a youngster, Thomas Eisfeld, from Dortmund. These words sum up the transfer,
How much first-team football he has depends on him. Basically we planned to get him at the end of the season but we got him a bit earlier because he was at the end of his contract. We will use this period for adaptation.
Clearly, this wasn’t a priority signing for this window but an opportunistic one. I don’t know anything about him but will be surprised if he gets many games this season. If I am not mistaken, he hasn’t started any senior games at Dortmund, who couldn’t match the Gunners in the Champions League. It looks like a signing for the future or another low cost gamble on a young talent, which is something Arsenal have to do more often these days as fewer quality players are available, and virtually none at prices that don’t break the bank.
Getting him early is good. If he shows he can play for the first team Arsene might not have to spend on a creative player in the summer and can focus on other areas, if he struggles Wenger will know what he has to do. Essentially, this move in January will help Wenger make better informed choices in the summer.
I think it’s best to let the lad settle in with the reserves and watch him on Arsenal Player’s highlights of those games before forming any strong opinions on the player or the transfer.
Overall, as expected, this was a quiet transfer window for the Gunners. Hardly any quality players were available and there is no point signing someone just for the sake of making transfers, especially when squad spaces are limited.
I think Wenger has known all along that it’s just about getting results with the resources available to him. The January market didn’t have any major deals that would have strengthened Arsenal. Starting with Bolton, we can only hope he succeeds more often than he fails.Follow @goonerdesi