Arsenal v Bolton, Premier League, January 20, 2010
It’s a case of deja vu in the Premier League on Wednesday as Arsenal face Bolton for the second time in the space of four days in domestic action.
Arsenal’s 2-nil display at the Reebok (6/1 to repeat the scoreline) at the weekend once again thrusted the Gunners’ title challenge into full view. Having been written off three months ago after falling a whopping 11 points behind Chelsea in the league, Arsenal now stand on the brink of claiming top spot in the league with a victory over the Trotters.
The turnaround at the Emirates has been all the more compelling considering the long list of absentees which the Gunners have had to contend with. Robin Van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner have been, and continue to be, missing from the attack. Midfielders Theo Walcott, Denilson, Aaron Ramsey, Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere have all needed time on the treatment table in recent weeks, while Emmanuel Eboue and Alex Song remain unavailable on international duty. And it’s been a similar story at the back where Kieran Gibbs and Johan Djourou have been out of action for a while now too.
With so many players out, the big incoming in the past few weeks at Arsenal has been the dramatic return of Sol Campbell. Gunners fans may have to wait a bit longer for the former Invincible to make his return to the pitch, however their is more joy in the left-back slot as stand-in Armand Traore (who failed to shine in his brief run in the side) should return to the bench against Bolton due to the recovery of Gael Clichy from a back problem. (Arsenal are 4/5 to keep a clean sheet, 11/10 against.)
Going forward, Arsenal will be confident of having the upper hand against Bolton. (Arsenal are 8/11 to score in both halves, EVS against.)
Cesc Fabrages added to his already high-profile reputation last weekend as the young Spaniard made a scoring return to the first team. The puppeteer was at it again; pulling strings from all over midfield, threading needles and generally imposing himself completely over Bolton.
Alongside the guile of Cesc is the brawn of Abou Diaby. 2009/10 threatens to be the making of Vieira II, as Diaby continues to morph into a complete midfielder, with craft added to his natural strength and pace. In the absence of Song and Denilson, Diaby could be forced to play in a slightly more deeper role than usual, and it awaits to be seen whether young Craig Eastmond will get another chance to prove himself in the Premier League next to the lanky Frenchman.
Should Eduardo also get the nod from Wenger, then the Cro-zilian will need to step up his game from the weekend. The striker has netted just four goals this season despite receiving his longest run in the side since his awful injury at Birmingham, and questions are beginning to be asked over whether Da Silva has the talent to be a great Arsenal goalscorer capable of leading the line for a championship winning side.
For Bolton the fear travelling to London is obvious.
The feel-good factor that usually accompanies the change of manager appears to have skipped over Owen Coyle, as the Scot has been handed one of the toughest possible starts to life at the Trotters. The harsh truth remains that Bolton are the only club in the top division still without a clean sheet, and another long night for the relegation strugglers looks to be on the cards.
Whether strikers Kevin Davies and Ivan Klasnic will have any more joy against Gallas and Vermaleen on their home turf remains debatable. And while right winger Lee Chung-yong showed himself able to cause the Arsenal backline trouble last weekend, left-winger Matty Taylor will need to up his game considerably after fluffing all of Bolton’s best chances against the Gunners last time out. (Both are 19/1 to win both halves.)
The big test for Bolton is how they defend. (Bolton are 13/1 to keep a clean sheet, 1/18 against.) The Trotters have a record of conceding two goals a game this season (38 conceded in 19 games) while they face the league’s sharpest shooters as Arsenal lead the scoring charts with 55 goals.
And then there are the omens. Put simply, Bolton have never won at Arsenal in the Premier League era, and there is no discernible silver lining at hand to suggest that anything will change this time round. Accordingly, sticking your money on Arsenal seems the only logical option as the Gunners prepare to usurp Manchester United as the main rivals to Chelsea for this year’s title.
101predicts: Arsenal 3 – Bolton 0 (7/1)
Full match odds here.