By Chris Harris
When he left a rain-soaked Reebok Stadium in March, Arsène Wenger could have been forgiven for thinking he might not be back for a while.
After all, his Arsenal side had just come from two goals down and a man down to beat Bolton 3-2. The comeback left Bolton shattered, stunned and staring relegation in the face.
Incredibly, they survived. Four wins in their final six games propelled Gary Megson's side to safety and secured Bolton a ninth consecutive top-flight campaign. Now they will be looking to make amends for that humbling defeat at the hands of Wenger's young side.
We asked Marc Iles of the Bolton Evening News for a Wanderers perspective ahead of this weekend's game. Read on for his views on the 'great escape', the impact Megson has made and the summer departure of El-Hadji Diouf.
THE GREAT ESCAPE
“Looking back to that 3-2 defeat against Arsenal in March, I think a lot of people looked at the Bolton players' faces coming off that pitch and a lot of people wouldn’t have given tuppence for Bolton’s chances. Shortly after that they went and got beaten by Aston Villa as well and it all looked dead and buried. But somewhere from deep within them they remembered what kept them in the Premier League for so many seasons before that. They found their grit again and salvaged enough before the end of the season to dig themselves out. Having said that, Bolton still look at that 3-2 game as a warning of what can go wrong and what they don’t want to revert back to.”
MAN OF THE MOMENT
“Gary Megson won over a section of fans with the work he did last season, but he’s still yet to win over the majority of supporters despite what he managed in keeping them up. I don’t think his style of football, like his predecessor Sam Allardyce, will ever win him many fans across the country. The bottom line is that Sam was an immensely popular character here because he got results. I think that is now what Gary is looking to emulate. If he gets the results then I don’t think the majority of Bolton fans will give a flying fig about the style of football, all they want to do is be competitive in the Premier League.
"I think for the last 18 months there has been a tremendous amount of change, most of which has been unsettling. Even towards the end of Sam Allardyce’s tenure a lot of things behind the scenes were changing and you know we needed that period of stability. Gary came in, bought players that he thought would be able to steady the ship enough to see them over the line, which of course did happen. He’s invested in players over the summer that he thinks will make sure it doesn’t happen again this year. I think the majority of Bolton fans would be happy with mid-table obscurity, just no repeat of what happened last season.”
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
“I think mid-table it is realistic, you just have to find a degree of consistency at some point in your season. Bolton didn’t have that until the very very end of last season which is what saw them away from trouble. I think they need to find that a lot earlier, they’ve had a very mixed start so far although a lot of that has been down to the injuries and missing personnel at the moment so, when they do get back, they need to go on a run before Christmas to make sure they’re not always looking at that bottom three, wondering whether they’ll be in it come the end of the season.”
“I think any side in the Premier League would miss Nicolas Anelka, in fact I seem to remember Arsenal missing him once! He’s a phenomenal goalscorer and Gary’s brought in Johan Elamnder to fill the gap because of course he left in January and there were still a good few months of the season left to go in which Bolton really struggled to find goals.
"El-Hadji Diouf is the same, he brought goals. He went for slightly different reasons. Anelka wanted to play in the Champions League and went to Chelsea and probably didn’t do as well as he thought he might do, Diouf has gone to sunderland in search of Europe as well and good luck to him. He’s a very popular character around here. As for Ivan Campo, Gary took the decision to move him on, thinking he wasn’t really fitting the mould of midfielder that he wanted and he brought in Fabrice Muamba. So it's only now that the side is being moulded into a team that Gary Megson feels can compete in the Premier League.”
THE ARSENAL CONNECTION
“He has a lot of potential. I've spent a bit of time in his company and he seems to be a tremendously driven young man, a very thoughtful lad. He acknowledges the debt he owes to Arsenal for bringing him through their ranks in what was a very unsettling time in his life and nurtured him into a footballer capable of playing in the Premier League.
"By the same rationale you can also see that stubbornish streak in him that he wants to go his own way. He decided to move to Birmingham, it wasn’t a successful time in terms of Birmingham getting relegated but the lessons he learned there will be invaluable and he’s come to Bolton to continue that. He wants to make it in his own right, he doesn’t want to be remembered as the lad who could have been the next Patrick Vieira, he wants to be remembered as Fabrice Muamba and go on and do things his own way.”
“There’s always a bit of extra spice in this one. You look back all the way down the years and it’s such a contrast in styles, and I don’t see any reason why it will be any different. Bolton play to their strengths and Arsenal play to theirs as a tremendous footballing side. Often it does tend to hinge on a moment of controversy or a daft decision or a mistake. It’s usually quite tight, I think Bolton are still a direct side and are still relying heavily on people like Kevin Davies and Kevin Nolan and long may that continue because that’s what has kept them in the Premier League for eight seasons.
"As for injuries, Elmander has been out for the last three to four weeks with a hamstring injury. They’re hoping he’ll be back in some capacity for the Arsenal game. Matt Taylor is definitely out, he’s got a broken toe. Gary Cahill is suspended and he’s sitting out the final game of his three-match suspension against Arsenal. Loan signing Ebi Smolarek has been unavailable ever since he signed. They're going to assess him and see if he’s available.”Copyright 2013 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 18 Sep 2008