Arsenal v. Bolton; it’s like deja vu all over again

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.

Canales, Japes, Gonalons, and an Africa Cup of Nations Update

I’ve read it in two places, so it must be true: Arsenal are all set to sign 20 year old 6’2″ defensive midfielder/center back Maxime Gonalons from Lyon. Oh yeah, he’s French, I always forget about that. Anyway, apparently the player is still on a 2 year contract but there’s a provision which allows him to move for free to any club this Summer, as long as that club’s not French. I’ve heard of some wacky clauses but that one’s pretty damn strange, especially if you factor in the way that Arsene basically pans through the French leagues looking for players to snap up, offer good contracts to, and see if he can polish up the nugget and sell it on to Manciti for £40m. I’ve only seen the kid play once (the above, where he helped knock Liverpoor out of the Champions League) and he was OK, but hey, he’s young, French, and most importantly FREE so Arsenal might as well go ahead and add him to the dot com. I’m actually in favor of a move like this. Apart from the Verminator, Arsenal’s center halfs all have one foot in the old-folks home and we only have one tough tackling holding midfielder so a player who is able to fill in both places make a ton of sense.

DO IT ARSENE!

Another youngster that Arsene is supposedly interested in is Sergio Canales and according to his father, Arsenal have the inside track. Yay, another delicate tippy-tappy passing midfielder to add to the collection! I guess this is a good move, after all we’ll need someone to fill in for all the other injured tippy-tappy midfielders!

Arsenal are playing Bolton again, signing Campbell again, and announcing that they have signed Campbell again, this feels like Deja Vu, again.

Speaking of Deja Vu, again, Horsey van Horseface is being targeted by Tottenham. Thank the gods. There was some crap going around that Arsenal were going to buy him and many of us Arsenal supporters were about to go Keown on the club if they made that move.

More Deja Vu as Arshavin rates the Spoiler’s joke of the day. It’s an oldie, but a goodie, and takes the piss out of Liverpool, which is an easy target right now.

And finally, I’ve gotten my microphone and I’m all set to do some testing tomorrow for a podcast idea that I have. Basically, us Yanks who like football are a bit of a strange bunch and I thought it would be fun to have a weekly podcast where we talk about football in general. Everything from the MLS to the ACN would be fair game. So, look for our test-cast later this week, and be prepared to offer some constructive criticism.

I said, CONSTRUCTIVE.

AFRICA(N) CUP OF NATIONALISM UPDATE

Looks like Côte d’Ivoire is set to Coast into the 1/4 finals as they have topped their group and only have a game against Togo left to (not) play. Their team is a favorite to win the tournament which means that Sagna’s cover (and team Tinkerbell) Emmanuel Eboue is not going to be back any time soon. Which means the Arsenal team’s shoes are safe from paint for at least another few weeks.

Meanwhile, Cameroon are in second place in their group and have a final match against 3rd place Tunisia on Thursday. If Tunisia wins on Thursday, Alex Song could come home early. I think, maybe… I’m not sure actually. I mean, I suppose the national side could keep the player for the whole tournament even if they aren’t playing. According to the rules I’ve read, national sides have the power to keep players as long as they like as long as there’s a FIFA sanctioned nationalism event. Cameroon seems least likely to do this, though, since they were the most liberal of the national sides when it came to the call up at the start of the year.

In injury news, it looks like Michael Essien will be out for at least a month after he suffered a partial tear to his MCL during training. Supposedly, this means he won’t be available for the Arsenal match on the 7th. There’s a lot of evidence that Chelsea players fake injuries when they are away with their national sides, so don’t be at all surprised if he makes a miraculous recovery just days before the tie.

And finally, here’s a funny fact: if you Google “Africa Cup of Nations” which is the official title (not “African Cup of Nations”) you don’t get the official site on the first page, but if you misspell it with the extra N, the official site is second on the list. Come on Google, sort it out.

Time to stand up

For the first time since the opening week of the season (which doesn’t count does it?) Arsenal have a chance to take first place in the Premier League. All they need to do is score 2 or more goals than Bolton at the Emirates and they will temporarily take first place from their nemesis, Chelsea.

Of course, standing up is something that 8 players on this Arsenal team are incapable of doing: Robin Van Persie, Kieran Gibbs and Johan Djourou are basically out for the season. While Nicklas Bendtner, Aaron Ramsey, Fran Merida, Samir Nasri and Jack Wilshere are all short term injuries and are slated to return soon-ish. Funnily enough Arsenal started the week with 10 injured players but Denilson and Walcott have both recovered from their mystery ailments in time to play against Bolton. Don’t overlook the importance of these two coming in to the team, Eastmond did a great job at the start of the game but as time wore on Bolton started pressuring him and he coughed the ball up easily. So, having the more experienced Denilson in the holding role should provide Arsenal’s midfield with more stability.

Don’t expect the same impact from Theo Walcott who hasn’t played since his 30 minute cameo against Villa on December 27th. I’d be surprised if he starts the game tomorrow, in fact, if he starts it’ll be because Rosicky has picked up an injury.

Even with the huge raft of injuries that we have suffered Arsenal have the requisite quality at nearly every position to beat Bolton at home. I hate using the term “fortress” so instead I’ll say that Emirates is becoming something of a carnival: a goal scoring festival for the Arsenal faithful. In 10 home matches Arsenal have scored 30 and only allowed 9 and if 3 goals a game average isn’t a carnival, I don’t know what is.

The funny thing about playing back to back games against the same opponent is that there’s very little to say that I didn’t already say on Saturday. We all know that Kevin Davies is a true gentleman and scholar, that Bolton’s silky smooth passing offense is a thing of beauty and the envy of all Premier League sides, that their managerial stability is a paragon of leadership, and that the referees in the Premier League always give Arsenal the benefit of the doubt in 50-50 challenges and when one of our players are hauled down in the box it’s always a penalty.

We already know all that. What we don’t know is if this Arsenal team can stand up and show the Cascarino’s of the world their quality and take first place in the league.

We’ll have to wait till tomorrow to find that out.