Premier League Preview; Bolton Wanderers v Arsenal


Stephen Orford

Due to the mild irritation of his disability Stephen Orford has never kicked a football in his life. However, he is a serious asset to any editor looking to comply with equal opportunities legislation....
[full biography]
29/03/2008 08:00:00.
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Arsenal try to revive their Premier League title hopes when they visit Bolton Wanderers on Saturday (March 29).

The Gunners have let slip a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League table and now trail leaders Manchester United by six points. Furthermore, a run of four consecutive draws followed by last weekís 2-1 defeat to Chelsea has seen Arsene Wengerís men pushed down into third place by their London rivals.

With all that in mind a visit to Lancashire might not be all that welcome. Arsenal have often struggled at the Reebok Stadium, and face a Bolton side in dire need of the points in their bid to avoid relegation to the Championship. Wanderers lie third from bottom in the table, a point shy of Birmingham City in that all-important 17th place. Yet they have beaten Arsenal in the last three meetings at Bolton, and Wengerís troops must deal with the pressure of knowing that a further loss here would surely end their fading title hopes.

Arsenalís main injury concern is over right-back Bacary Sagna, who this week was ruled out for three weeks with an ankle injury sustained at Stamford Bridge. That came shortly after the French defender opened his goalscoring account for the Emirates Stadium side. In his absence the experienced Emmanuel Eboue could feature, a move which could leave the door open for Theo Walcott to grab a starting slot down the right hand side of midfield. Regular incumbent Tomas Rosicky remains on the sidelines with his troublesome hamstring problem, though Abou Diaby may also challenge Walcott for that berth.

Struggling Boltonís need is desperate. They are in the midst of an eight-game winless streak in all competitions, with their last league win coming all the way back on February 2 at Reading. They prepare for the visit of Arsenal without suspended midfield driving force and captain Kevin Nolan, aswell as rib injury victim Ricardo Gardner. Though the experienced Ivan Campo is likely to return to the fold, it is Nolanís attacking threat which will be sorely missed by Gary Megsonís side. Nolanís five league goals is the highest total of any player still at the club (Nicolas Anelka scored 10 league goals before his move to Chelsea in January). Strikers El Hadji Diouf and Kevin Davies have been less than prolific (3 and 2 league goals respectively) and it is becoming increasingly difficult to see where the goals will come from to save the Trotters from the drop.

Adding to Megsonís woes is the fact that first choice goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen is out for the season with a back problem. That means that Ali Al Habsi will continue between the sticks, hopeful that men like Gretar Steinsson, Andy OĎBrien and Gary Cahill can provide him with protection from the Arsenal attacking juggernaut. Itís a big ask, but Boltonís rugged style is something with which Wengerís side have rarely been comfortable.

That - along with a glance at the overall head-to-head results between the two in league play in Bolton- seems to be the factor which offers the home side the greatest hope of an upset. A look at the history books shows that Boltonís good home record in recent years against Arsenal has been sustained over time, with the Lancashire side winning 27 encounters on home soil to Arsenalís 12 with 15 draws. Yet Bolton lag behind their more illustrious opponents in the overall head-to-head clashes, with their 34 wins overshadowed by ArsenalĎs 44 with a further 31 games ending level.

Working on the theory that there are always one or two shock results at this time of the season, Megsonís troops could very well provide one such shock here. Arsenal are clearly running out of steam and must also find the energy for the forthcoming Champions League quarter-final showdowns with Liverpool in the coming weeks. All of which leads to the brave and possibly skewed conclusion that Wanderers may just be that bit more focused on this one.


Bolton 1 Arsenal 0

By Stephen Orford

28 March 2008

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† Arsenal is likely to win by 3-2 in the dying minutes


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