This was the game in hand, the game that was supposed to propel Arsenal to the top of the table and legitimize this young team’s claims of a title challenge, and then it got postponed. Then Chelsea postponed a game and Arsenal played on against Everton and now, when we play Bolton today, we’ll be the team, erm, handing Chelsea a game in hand.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Wenger is keen to point out. Taking the league lead is a huge psychological boost to this young team. It should prove to them that they are good enough to be in the title race and hopefully this match will inspire them to fight tooth and nail over the next month when the chips are truly down and Arsenal play Villa, United Chelsea and Liverpool in what will most likely be the definitive moment of the season.
Fabregas gave a rather lengthy interview the other day and is talking about how he’s got his hunger back after last year’s disappointing season. That desire was evident the other day as Bolton tried every dirty trick in the book, including Taylor’s disgraceful knee to the back of Cesc’s head after he had been hauled down in the box, and yet Cesc simply put on a masterclass in midfield and showed Bolton that no matter what they did he would come out top. Today I expect Bolton to be very wary of Cesc and drop into a 4-5-1 with Muamba basically trying to mark Cesc out of the game. He’ll need help from his teammates in that case and I expect Diaby to step up and be the box-to-box midfielder that Arsenal will need to break down the Bolton resistance and protect against the constant long balls that they will play to Kevin Cyril Davies. Not to take anything away from Cesc, just pointing out that this could be a real opportunity for Diaby to build on a string of recent impressive performances.
Up front, Arsene is babbling on about not needing a striker, but sort of needing a striker, or maybe just needing Arshavin, it’s hard to tell. My gut instinct is that basically he’s obfuscating the fact that he isn’t going to buy anyone by talking about how he doesn’t need a goal scoring striker, how the modern game has changed and yet simultaneously describing how when Arsenal had van Persie up front they were scoring 3 goals a game. He knows that the current dip in goal scoring is directly down to the fact that Arsenal are a bit, uhhh, short up front. What it seems he’s banking on is that the diminished goals return since van Persie’s foot was broken by Chiellini is respectable enough to win the title. Oh and of course, there’s the tired old warhorse that players coming back from injury are “LIKEANEWSIGNING.” So, Bendtner, by no means at the level that van Persie showed this year is never the less going to bring just enough quality to push us over the edge — if I read Wenger’s mind correctly.
There’s 11 days left in the transfer window and Wenger claims that he’s not looking at buying anyone, much to the dismay of most Arsenal fans. There are a ton of “ifs” that could happen between now and the run of games against Villa, United, Chelsea and Pool. It’ll be interesting to see what he has to say after that. Maybe we’ll win them all after Bendtner scores 3 goals a game and gets 3 assists a game and he’ll say “I told you so.” Whatever Wenger does, you can bet your ass it won’t be paying £35m for Edin Dzeko. In fact, nothing kills a player’s potential transfer to Arsenal more than that kind of crazy retarded valuation.
Defensively, I think Arsenal can do better than they showed on Sunday. I know that we kept a clean sheet but last match, Traore was caught out of position by Lee on nearly every one of Bolton’s possessions and as a team we’re going to have to defend better against Lee down the left side. Perhaps Clichy will start there, that’s not clear, but what is clear is that Bolton’s projected 5 man midfield will try to get behind Arsenal’s back line with width on both sides of the pitch. Sol Campbell will not play today but is instead slated to come in against Stoke on the weekend. It’s a smart move there I think, giving our center backs a rest while putting in a player who is very confident heading the ball against a team which is so heavily reliant on that one tactic. Arsenal could do with a bit of Sol’s aerial ability today since Bolton are basically the same team (though from long kicks rather than throw-ins) but since he’s probably not match fit yet, we’ll have to wait for Stoke on the weekend.
In goal I’m not talking out of school when I say that Almunia was a disaster to start on Sunday and slowly seemed to build confidence so I’d be shocked if Wenger switched the keeper today. There was some speculation that Fabianski could get the start because it’s a home game and between this and the match at Stoke, it would be the perfect way to introduce a new keeper ahead of the run of four games. Personally, I think Almunia has compromising photos of Wenger and so he’ll get the start. It’s the only thing that explains why he hasn’t already been dropped. Would Jens Lehmann have gotten the same leeway?
The thing is that we need Manny Pickledickle sharp right from the get go as an early goal from Bolton would cause all kinds of problems as they sit back with all 11 players standing in a line in front of the goal mouth. The whole team could do well to heed that admonition as Bolton will look to get at us right off just like they did on Sunday — and but for their profligacy in front of goal would have been up at least a goal.
Right, the match is on Fox Soccer Channel here in the States and kickoff is 11:45 am PST. I have some meetings this afternoon and as such I will not be able to see the match live, but instead will be watching the tape at Doyle’s after 2pm. At half-time, we’ll be recording our first “test-cast” so please stop by and annoy the crap out of us.* I have another post of random links scheduled for later today, look for that later, otherwise, here’s to three points, Arsenal at the top of the table, and to me seeing you all tomorrow!
UP THE ARSE!
*[insert sarkmark], please don’t actually annoy us.