Thursday, October 18, 2007

Arsenal vs. Bolton: Match Preview

Click here for the Match Review

First-placed Arsenal will take on struggling Bolton Wanderers this Saturday, only three days after Sammy Lee parted ways with the second-from-bottom club. Bolton, who finished sixth in the Premiership last season, find themselves in an early relegation battle, having picked up only five points from nine games this season. Arsenal on the other hand are riding a wave of ten consecutive wins in all competitions and will hope that their brilliant form continues despite the international break last weekend.

With former Gunner Nicolas Anelka (who has been Bolton's only bright spot this season) searching for an exit, the future looks grim for Sam Allardyce's future side. Under Big Sam the club played a brand of football which contrasted starkly with Arsene Wenger's quick passing game. The long balls and crosses from the wings seemed to work against most teams and caused quite a bit of trouble for Arsenal last season. However, under Sammy Lee (and now in the care of Archie Knox) the club have become much less of a threat.

Arsenal nearly have a full-strength squad for the clash with Robin van Persie the only major player missing due to injury. The Dutchman picked up a knee injury in the Netherlands midweek win over Slovenia. Philippe Senderos also picked up a back injury and is likely to be back in two weeks. However, with the return of William Gallas, he probably would've missed the match anyways. Other returning players include Jens Lehmann, Tomas Rosicky, and Eduardo.

The return of Lehmann may cause a selection headache for Arsene Wenger. Manuel Almunia deputized well during Lehmann's absence, picking up five clean sheets prior to the 3-2 win over Sunderland. However, Lehmann put in a good performance for Germany during the inernational break, and will be pushing for the number one spot. Personally, I think that Lehmann should start the game, because he is far better at dealing with crosses than Almunia. I have written before that I always support Lehmann over Almunia, but in this case in particular we need someone who can make good decisions. Unfortunately, I'm thinking that Wenger may opt to play Almunia.

In front of goal we see the return of William Gallas, bolstering our back line. He should start alongside the familiar triplet of Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, and Gael Clichy. Let's hope our returning captain can keep fellow Frenchman Anelka in check.

Wenger will have more headaches in the midfield, with Cesc Fabregas the only sure starter. Mathieu Flamini's form makes it likely that he will be chosen over Gilberto in the holding midfield spot, despite the Brazilian's international play this week. Alex Hleb and Tomas Rosicky are the most likely players to complete Arsenal's four man midfield, but other options could include Abou Diaby, Lassana Diarra, Emmanuel Eboue, or even Theo Walcott.

An interesting option would be to play a 4-5-1 with Alex Hleb playing in the hole as he did (to great effect) in Arsenal's pre-season games. However, it is more likely that Eduardo will start up front alongside in-form Emmanuel Adebayor. Nicklas Bendnter will also be looking to get in on the action now that van Persie is out of the picture. He will probably start on the bench and look to grab some minutes towards the end of the match.

Arsenal shouldn't have too much trouble beating a down-in-the-dumps Bolton side, but we will have to watch out for Nicolas Anelka. The Frenchman has scored five goals this season already and will be looking for more against his former club. However, Arsenal's central defense pair of William Gallas and Kolo Toure should be able to handle the sulk, even in the air.

I predict a 2-0 win for the Gunners, extending our winning streak to eleven games and keeping us at the top of the table. I'm not too worried about this game... it's Robin van Persie's injury that troubles me. We need the Dutchman for next Sunday's clash against Liverpool, but he is unlikely to be fit by then. For now though, let's just win this game and keep up our brilliant start to the season.