By Chris Harris
First there was Big Sam, then there was Little Sam. Now Bolton have no Sam at all.
The midweek departure of Sammy Lee was no huge surprise after a haul of five points in nine Premier League games and rumblings of discontent following Lee's publicised disagreement with veteran midfielder Gary Speed. But this week's developments leave the Trotters rudderless as they prepare to take on Arsenal at Emirates Stadium.
The odds look stacked against Bolton with Arsène Wenger's side firing on all cylinders at the top of the table and ex-Gunner Nicolas Anelka, so often a thorn in his former club's side, struggling to shake off a thigh injury. Bolton will be hard pushed to justify the tag of 'Arsenal's bogey side' they picked up during Sam Allardyce's reign.
We spoke to Gordon Sharrock of the Bolton Evening News to get a Bolton perspective ahead of Saturday's game. Read on for his take on Lee's departure, the importance of Anelka to the Bolton side, the new faces at the Reebok Stadium and the tactics caretaker manager Archie Knox could deploy at the Emirates.
THE STORY SO FAR
"Sammy knew he was going to be judged on results. He will say that he needed more time to get it right because he thought he was seeing progress and I think to be honest the people at the top at Bolton wanted to give him that time. But there were a variety of issues - five points from nine games, stories of unrest in the camp and a public disagreement with Gary Speed which could have been avoided. It's very unfortunate because Sammy had 14 games in total, 11 in the Premier League, 171 days and a very, very big character to follow in Sam Allardyce. That wasn't easy for any manager let alone someone without much managerial experience.
"There is a school of thought that Sammy tried to change the way Bolton played even though he didn't have the players to be more expansive and there is some justification in that. But Sammy just wanted his players to be flexible. He went with a 4-2-2 in the beginning instead of the 4-3-3 in which the team was indoctrinated under Sam Allardyce. It was very functional and successful, Bolton were in the top eight for four seasons on the spin and Arsène Wenger would testify to how effective they could be at times.
"For some people it had become a little bit stale and predictable and Sammy wanted to be a bit more expansive and entertaining. You look at some of the players he signed and you could see what he was aiming for. He got off to a bad start, losing 3-1 to Newcastle with Sam Allardyce in the other dug-out is hardly ideal. They lost three games in the first eight days, an awful start, and it didn't seem to get better results-wise. Sammy became flexible in his own thinking because he changed back to 4-3-3 with more or less the same personnel. But Sammy has lost an awful lot of backroom staff over the summer so why he was trying to reinforce his squad he lost a lot from his celebrated staff because some went to Newcastle and some went elsewhere. It was upheavel."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Nicolas Anelka is crucial to Bolton. As long as you have somebody like Anelka, who seems to have the bit between his teeth, you've got a chance. He signed a new contract before the transfer deadline which ended any speculation that he could be on his way then. It was a massive, massive boost for the club. He tells us quite sincerely that he is feeling at the top of his game and he wants to be the top scorer in the Premier League this season. When a man like Anelka says that, and he says it with sincerity, you actually think that his goals could be Bolton's salvation. He has an excellent record against Arsenal, although we add the rider that he is a doubt for Saturday. He would be very disappointed to miss this game. He would love to pop a couple more in against the Arsenal."
"I'm just trying to think of who has impressed me. It always takes time for players to come in at a Premier League side and make a difference but there are signs that Daniel Braaten and Christian Wilhelmsson could lighten things up a little bit. They can be very entertaining. There is Mikel Alonso, Xabi's brother, he has been exciting at times. But even under Allardyce it took new signings quite a while to get into the swing of the Premier League. So it's not an indictment of the new players that they haven't stood out yet."
"It will be Archie Knox in charge. Having gone back to the tried and trusted formula in recent weeks, and having put in some decent performances, like the one at Chelsea, and with Ivan Campo back in the midfield, I rather fancy that Bolton will have a familiar style about them. If Anelka is fit I expect him to be up front on his own. Then again Archie might come up with a fresh plan. We're as much in the dark over what he will do as Arsenal will be, and maybe that's to Bolton's advantage."