By Chris Harris
No prizes for guessing what to expect this Saturday. If it's Bolton, you can rest assured Arsenal will face a test of their physiques as well as their techniques. A muscular, direct approach has worked for Sam Allardyce in the past - and if it ain't broke he probably won't fix it.
Bolton started the season in style but their form has fallen away of late with four defeats and a draw in their last five games. That could easily change though with the return of captain Kevin Nolan and the incentive of extending a run of three wins in four home games against the Gunners.
We asked Gordon Sharrock of the Bolton Evening News for an insight into Arsenal's next opponents. Read on for his views on Bolton's recent form, their big summer signing Nicolas Anelka, Allardyce's likely tactics and heightened expectations at the Reebok Stadium.
THE STORY SO FAR
"It's very hard to say where Bolton have gone wrong in recent weeks. They made a fantastic start to the season - 20 points from the first nine games was a club record and you have to go back almost a century to find the last time they won six of their first nine games in the top flight. Historically it was arguably their best-ever start but they weren't playing all that convincingly in truth. Both Sam Allardyce and Sammy Lee were saying that Bolton weren't 'breaking any pots' so their recent results could be a case of chickens coming home to roost. They went out of the Carling Cup, lost to Manchester United and Wigan, drew at Sheffield United after being two up and then lost at Everton. They have big games against Arsenal and then Chelsea on Wednesday but Bolton seem to have the Indian sign on Arsenal."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"The players who have impressed this season include Ben Haim, who has done well in a variety of positions at the back. There have been problems at left back with Ricardo Gardner out injured and Ben Haim has filled in at times. Abdoulaye Meite, a new signing from Marseille, has played well in central defence and will be well known to some Arsenal players. The player many love to hate - El-Hadji Diouf - has been outstanding. For what it's worth, his OPTA Index rating has been up there in the top 10 all season."
"All eyes have been on Nicolas Anelka and obviously with his Arsenal connections he will be even more under the spotlight on Saturday. He has yet to score his first Premiership goal for Bolton but it's not as if he has missed loads of chances. He's having to adjust to Bolton's style, it's more direct than he is used to and the ball goes to the front quickly. There is no sign of discontent from Anelka, he acknowledges that he needs to get used to it. Allardyce is using him in the role that Kevin Davies used to play - as a spearhead striker with Davies and El-Hadji Diouf supporting him from wide positions. It's a 4-5-1 when Bolton don't have the ball and a 4-3-3 when they do. They do interchange but it takes some getting used to for a new striker like Anelka."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"In general, expectations here are so much higher now. In their first few seasons in the Premiership they were happy just to survive but in the past three seasons Bolton are the only side outside the 'Big Four' to finish in the top 10 every time. They were eighth, sixth and then eighth again last season and there is no reason to suggest they won't do the same. The fans expect it, the players expect it and they want to push for a European place."
"They might look to attack Gael Clichy at left back. Kevin Davies has been seen as nothing more than a spearhead striker but last season he switched to the right for the game against Manchester City and took Simon Jordan to the cleaners. The way Davies dominated City that day, you thought you were looking at a true winger! He was born-again in a sense and he has done well. Davies is still the man Bolton look for at set-pieces. If Davies is on the right it will be interesting to see how Clichy copes with him. Bolton have had quite a few injuries and suspensions. Kevin Nolan missed three games through suspension and Bolton lost all three. He came back for Sheffield United and then drew and then he missed the defeat at Everton to be with his wife after she gave birth to their child. He's due back this weekend so Allardyce will need to decide how to accomodate his skipper and who to leave out."
Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 24 Nov 2006