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By Phil Gregory
After Wednesday’s tumultuous clash with Tottenham at White Hart Lane we’re back to it with another away tie versus Bolton. Despite a shock result in the FA Cup versus Stoke, Bolton’s Premier League home form has been good, with four wins in their last five. While that may be a cause for concern thanks to our recent wobble, when compared to the rest of the league our away form is amongst the best. Only Chelsea have picked up more points away from home in their last five matches than us.
On the injury front we seem to be largely in the clear now. Only Diaby is out of the clash versus Bolton with a calf strain, and the Frenchman’s perpetual injury worries must concern him given the emergence of players in his position like Ramsey and Wilshere. Besides Diaby, Vermaelen and Fabianksi are the only other confirmed absentees, though doubts surround Rosicky’s recovery from illness. That gives us a pretty much full complement of players to select from:
Sagna Djourou Koscielny Clichy
Walcott Van Persie Nasri
Szcznesy continues in goal, with an unchanged back four in front of him. Song continues in the holding role and next to him, Wilshere comes in for the injured Diaby. While the young England international was rested against Spurs with fatigue in mind and may indeed find himself on the bench again with the coming tie against United in mind, I expect him to start and perhaps get subbed off in the second half if things are going well.
Further forward Cesc Fabregas continues in the midfield playmaker role, with a three pronged attack of Walcott, Van Persie and Nasri in front of him. In regards to Nasri, I was pleased to see him back on the score sheet at White Hart Lane. In my preview I pinpointed a lack of goals from Nasri as being a concern and if he can amongst the goals a couple of times from here to the end of the season it could prove vital.
Given our recent stumble, a few fans have started questioning Wenger’s decision to shift to a 433 shape in recent seasons. It’s quite ironic; considering it’s the shape the majority of fans were angling for a shift to from 442 originally, so I think it’s just a case of “the grass is always greener”, in my opinion.
That said, the question deserves a bit of reflection and I’ll probably approach it in an extended article during the quieter close season. For now, I’ll just say that such calls are probably premature. First and foremost, having three in the midfield is key with the abundance of 4231/451 shapes we come up against. 433 also sets our fullbacks up well, with the attackers movement inside leaving space for Clichy and Sagna to exploit. I’m also not convinced that either of Fabregas or Song would be best utilised in a two-man midfield.
On the flip side, it would allow us to put another striker up front with Van Persie (though his bazillion goals in a handful of games this season suggest he might be able to play as a lone striker despite the claims of detractors). The big plus point of a partner for van Persie would be someone to winner the headers versus opposing centrebacks: Szcznesy’s long punts forward clearly weren’t working from watching the Tottenham game.
Anyway, it’s nothing to do with the Bolton game but just something to bear in when you’re listening to the phone-ins or whatnot. As for the matter at hand, I’m expecting a tight one. Bolton are turning into a great side under Owen Coyle and we should approach this game with caution. Their home record will need to be overcome, but with United nine points clear after beating Everton nothing but a win will keep their title race alive for us. Chelsea drawing level on points gives us an extra impetus to do well but at this stage of the season, proving the team’s detractors wrong should be enough motivation. 2-1 to the Arsenal.
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