Bolton Wanderers V Arsenal
Date & Kick-Off: Sunday, 24 April 2011 – 16:00 (GMT)
Competition: Barclay’s Premier League
After drawing their fifth league game in six on Wednesday, Arsenal, according to almost every journalist, most of the country and even Sir Alex Ferguson, are no longer Man Utd’s main rivals for the title, and that Chelsea, who are in scintillating form and finishing like a steam train, pose the biggest threat to long-time leaders and overwhelmingly strong favourites for the title United. This all despite the fact that Arsenal trail Sir Alex’s men by the same deficit as Chelsea. Arsene Wenger is bemused, but he’s about the only one.
Arsenal trail Manchester United by six-points courtesy of Wednesday’s pulsating 3-3 draw with Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the third north London derby in a row where Arsenal failed to register maximum points, with the latter actually a speciality of theirs in recent weeks. As a result, the Gunners slipped one place to third, but only because their goal difference is slightly inferior to that of Chelsea. However, whining Wenger cannot understand how all of a sudden his team have been ruled out of contention altogether while Chelsea, who trail United by that same troublesome margin, have become every neutrals’, and those who simply despise United, last hope. And he claimed he was sound with mathematics, who’s he kidding?
I suppose you could describe this race to become United’s play toy as the tortoise and the hare, with Chelsea the blistering hare moving at a fair rate of knots while Arsenal are trudging along at their own pace, which could best be described as pedestrian. Whereas Chelsea have won six of their last seven league games, Arsenal have won a pitiful two in that time and their midweek draw with Spurs – squandering two separate leads, including a commanding 3-1 advantage – was their fifth in six.
Plus, you don’t see the Chelsea dressing room capitulating… Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas infuriated his manager when claiming in an interview with a Spanish newspaper that one – Arsenal lacked maturity, and two – Wenger would have been sacked had he been manager of a club of a similar stature to that of the Gunners. If that doesn’t touch a certain Frenchman’s nerve then I don’t know what will, and is that not another infamous act of resignation from an Arsenal skipper? The similarities between Fab’s and William Gallas’ throwing in the towel excursions, with the France centre-back now turned Spurs flop staging a one-man sit-in protest at St Andrews a couple of seasons ago, are uncanny. And you know what the best bit is? Gallas was soon out the door not long after.
Arsenal know all too well that another slip-up this weekend wouldn’t be costly but catastrophic, as it would end their rapidly fading hopes of becoming the 2010/2011 Barclay’s Premier League champions on the spot. So it’s just as well they travel to a happy hunting ground to face a dejected Bolton outfit still licking their wounds following last Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final humbling at the hands of Stoke.
The Reebok houses one of this season’s biggest surprises in Owen Coyle’s Bolton, who did tremendously well just in getting to the semi-final of the most prestigious cup in the world only to forget to turn up at Wembley. A performance riddled in mistakes and nerves was capitalised on by a ruthless Stoke, who smashed five goals past a demoralised Trotters in a 5-0 rout. Now Bolton’s season is effectively over and I’m sure everyone associated with the club, including their manager, who has done an out of this world job at the helm may I add, will now look forward to the end of the season and a much-needed summer vacation. One thing they certainly didn’t need, then, was title-chasing Arsenal paying them a visit.
On their three previous visits to Bolton, Arsenal have come away with maximum points. But rarely do they have it easy. That could change should Bolton’s pride and confidence still be on the floor, which is where centre-half David Wheater spends virtually every minute of every game, flat on his backside and unaware as to who this time has just tied him up in knots.
Chelsea and Liverpool are the only two teams to have won at The Reebok this season, with Bolton troubling the likes of Everton and Tottenham, whom they beat 2-0 and 4-2 respectively, and even held Manchester United to a 2-2 draw in a match they would have won had it not been for a late Michael Owen equaliser – annoyingly for Owen Coyle, that was the United striker’s only goal of the season thus far. However, as impressive as all this is, I duly expect Arsenal to become victor number 3.
Despite question marks over their maturity and winning mentality, Arsenal still find themselves in with a sniff. They are also in last-chance saloon meaning they should, and I really should emphasis the SHOULD, come out all-guns-blazing at The Reebok. And if they do throw the kitchen sink early on at a Bolton defence which has kept three clean sheets in its last four at home but shipped a pride-bashing five at Wembley last time out, hopefully the Gunners should have enough goals in the bag to see them through to the end.
Betting Tip: Arsenal to WIN – 1.80 PaddyPower
Value Bet: Robin Van Persie First Goalscorer – 5.00 BetFred
Bolton have taken the lead within the opening 15 minutes but gone on to lose the match in six of the previous ten meetings with Arsenal.
A 4-0 reverse to Chelsea is Bolton’s one and only home defeat since 31 October, losing just one of their last eleven Premier League matches at The Reebok.
Robin Van Persie is the hottest striker in the Premier League right now having notched up 14 goals in his last 12 appearances, and has scored in each of Arsenal’s last six away Premier League games.