Arsenal – Bolton Preview: Stake Your Claim

It finally feels like the season is underway. Six wins in seven games and matches coming thick and fast. Usually we’d be critical of a Tuesday game after a tough Sunday afternoon fixture but at the moment, as momentum builds, it feels like we’d be happy to play whenever required.

Of course, it’ll be a different side that runs out against Bolton tonight but the mood in the camp is improving, new boys are settling in and the focus to see out games that are there to be won is growing.

Some of our recent improvement has been due to relative stability. Mertesacker and Koscielny have looked excellent in the past couple of games after an iffy start. Arteta, Ramsey and Song are beginning to gel whilst Gervinho’s relationship with RVP continues to flourish.

This stability in the first choice XI has an impact on others. The likes of Benayoun, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Park, Frimpong and Coquelin have had limited exposure so it will be interesting to see them get out on the Emirates turf tonight and stake a claim for inclusion in bigger games.

Bolton won’t be the easiest opponent we could have faced even though they are in a horrible slump at the moment. With only three wins this season, two of which came in the Carling Cup, they will no doubt be looking for any excuse to claw back some confidence. In the last round, away to Villa, Coyle made relatively few changes and returned to the North West with a 2-0 win. They will no doubt be looking to do the same here.

Last time out in this competition, against Shrewsbury, we ran out in a 4-4-2 formation with Chamakh and Park up front together. Having played on Sunday, Chamakh won’t play tonight. Personally, I think he should be playing as he clearly needs games (and goals) to rediscover some form and confidence and prove that he is a credible alternative to Van Persie.

If I was a gambling man, I’d put a few quid on Chamakh moving on in January as we eye alternatives. I’d love to see him turn it round, but his form has dropped to such an extent that it’ll be very hard to regain the confidence that was so evident at the start of his Arsenal career.

Back to tonight, one thing we can expect is the welcome return of Thomas Vermaelen who hasn’t played since the away trip to Udinese in late August. The Belgian’s long drawn out injury woes seem to stem from the plantaris tendon in his ankle which, according to Professor Wenger, only a quarter of people have. You would hope that the removal of the surplus tendons would leave him injury free (cue laughter) and in line for a Premier League return against Chelsea.

I’m probably getting a bit ahead of myself – we know how it goes at Arsenal so we should maybe just take each game as it comes. Let’s just hope he comes out unscathed. Wednesday morning will be the time to ponder whether to disrupt the Mertesacker-Koscielny unit. If everything goes to plan, Wenger will have the rare luxury of a selection dilemma ahead of the weekend.

As many have said in recent weeks, me included, our recovery continues game by game. Our recent results have only been what a club like Arsenal should expect so tonight is no different. Regardless of the competition, this game is winnable and a rotated team should still be good enough to sink the Trotters and carry our good form and spirit into our next big test on Sunday.

Keep The Faith.