Kickoff: 7am local time, 3pm GMT
US Television: Fox Soccer Channel
Breakfast: beans, chicken sausages, possibly toast if I feel well enough to make bread tonight
Referee: Mark Crapenburg
The teams: Bolton have lost 9 of their last 10 League games since beating Arsenal 2-1 at the Reebok last year. Worse, since they were trounced 5-0 by Stoke in the FA Cup semi-final they have won just 4 and lost 10. No draws. Arsenal’s run of form since the Carling Cup final has been poor but Bolton’s run of form since the FA Cup semi-final is pants-shittingly poor.
This isn’t to say that Arsenal should be looking for an easy win. There will be no easy wins with Bolton. They are an unabashed long-ball team that somehow got labeled as playing pretty football. Perhaps they got that label because Jack Wilshere played with them for a while, but those days are long gone and now they are up with the Stokes and Wolves in total long-balls per game.
Whatever subjective view you have of Kevin Davies, objectively he’s a dirty player. He’s already received two yellow cards this season and that’s enough to put him just one yellow away from tying with Lee Bowyer with 101 career yellows at the top of the all time yellow card list.
Subjectively, I think a lot of yellow cards he gets should be red cards. His “tackle” on Tom Cleverly was a brutal mauling of a talented young player. He followed that up with another ridiculous tackle on Patrice Evra a few minutes later to pick up his 100th booking. That game showed the world what I’ve been saying for a long time: he’s not clumsy and he’s not “mistiming” these tackles, it’s intentional. The Cleverly tackle happened in the 8th minute and just like Taylor’s tackle on Eduardo he meant it to send an early message to the opposition.
What should be a known unknown is a known known with Kevin Cyrill Davies: watch your ankles boys, he’s gunning for them.
Unfortunately, the referee is Mark Clattenburg. The Mark Clattenburg who missed Adebayor’s stamp on van Persie’s face, despite being mere feet away and looking directly at the incident.
Then there’s the Nani goal against Tottenham… I mean, you could fill the Dead Sea with pages from the catalog of Clattenburg’s bad calls.
I fully expect more of the same tomorrow.
As for personnel, Rosicky, Sagna and Ramsey are fit and the only “surprise” injury news is that Djourou has a hamstring pull and Benayoun has a muscle problem. Both are out until at least Tottenham.
In long-term injury news, Arsenal are missing Diaby (I wouldn’t say we’re missing him, Bob) until after the internationals and the same for Vermaelen. Jack Wilshere is still in the boot.
Wenger’s experiments with the 4-4-2 in the Carling Cup made for fascinating reading mostly because it confirmed something that I’ve been saying for a while: Arsenal don’t play a 4-4-2 because they don’t have the players who can defend the wings. Arshavin is not a midfield player. Theo Walcott, gods bless him, tries but he’s also not a midfielder. In fact, he is so hungry to get a chance as a striker that he’s gone to the boss and asked for a shot up front.
Still, Arsene has some tricks left up his sleeves and we might even see a 4-4-2 tomorrow. What if the lineup was:
Sagna Perm Koz Gibbs
Gervinho Song Arteta Santos
Walcott van Persie
I know it seems a bit odd, but I bet we see some variation of Gibbs/Santos on the left before the season is out. It just makes sense. If you need the whole team to be more defensive (which Wenger says he does) then putting a defender who has attacking instincts in midfield could help with that. Don’t forget that Arteta played in the wings of Everton’s 4-4-2 as well and could be pushed there if you want to bring in another, burlier, midfielder like Frimpong.
The 4-3-3 presents some problems at the moment because for once there’s a glut of healthy midfielders. Song, Frimpong, and Coquelin can all play the anchor and we could see just one of them play or even see a double-pivot. Rosicky, Arteta, and Ramsey are all healthy and vying for the Cesc spot. Walcott, Gervinho, the Ox, and Arshavin are fighting it out for the two “wing” spots. And up front, Robin van Persie is healthy, Park is a good looking number 9, and let’s not forget that Chamakh scored a brave headed goal off a wonderful cross from van Persie.
Still, we’ll probably see the old 4-3-3 with our beloved little Russian on the left, but it’s nice to know that for the first time in a while, Wenger’s having to juggle players and create a system that will maximize their effectiveness.
And finally, a word about the poor run of form. I believe that Arsene wants to turn this around. He wants to make this a better team. He wants to win tomorrow’s game. And he will do whatever it takes to do that. I said earlier in the off season when many people wanted a defensive coach to come in that it’s an insult to the man who put together the defense that gave us the Invincibles to even bring it up, much less be serious about suggesting that Arsene Wenger doesn’t know anything about defense. He was a defender, Pat Rice was a defender, Boro Primorac was a defender, Neil Banfield… look down the list of coaching staff. They are all former defenders.
I’m not denying that there is a defensive problem at Arsenal but it’s not because the managers lack the understanding of how to put a defense together. This is a man who plucked Kolo Toure from obscurity and transformed him into a world class center back. Don’t tell me he doesn’t understand defending. He understands defending better than you or I ever will.
I don’t know for a fact but I suspect the reason the defense has been so poor lately is because the players are not stepping up. Which, if that’s the case, is down to not respecting Arsenal, Arsene, and the fans who show up to these games and pay good money to see them play. I’m glad to see that Robin van Persie is publicly saying things to that effect. The team needs the captain now, more than ever, to kick them up the backside. To make them fight for every point. But more than just the captain, everyone needs to show that they are proud to wear the red and white. They need to talk to each other, get angry with each other, and pull each other over the line.
While I don’t know what the outcome will be tomorrow I have no doubt about the quality of these Arsenal players and their ability to win the game. It’s cliche, but win, lose, or draw, I don’t care as long as I see every player give everything for 90 minutes. Fuck, I’ll sing their names if they do and we all know how I feel about singing the names of players who haven’t won shit.
It’s time for every player who steps foot on the pitch wearing the red and white to stop talking about how proud they are to play for Arsenal and show it. It’s going to be a hard fought game, a terrible slog with Kevin Davies kicking everyone and everything and Mark Crapenburg swallowing his whistle and giving Bolton the advantage. But that’s the kind of game which makes you as a man. Hopefully, Arsenal have a few freshly minted men come 5pm tomorrow.
Our society is sick enough with people who talk about things they don’t know about so, when I don’t know (I say) I don’t know.
Arsene Wenger, genius.