By Richard Clarke
Just before the season started, Arsène Wenger sent Owen Coyle a text that undoubtedly disappointed the Bolton manager.
Jack Wilshere had spent a successful sojourn at the Reebok Stadium at the end of the 2009/10 campaign. The midfielder had gathered valuable Premier League playing time that his Arsenal manager simply could not accommodate.
Therefore it was no surprise when Coyle enquired if the 18-year-old could come back this term for a longer spell. But, ironically enough, Wilshere's improvement - largely down to his spell in Lancashire - convinced Wenger to refuse.
The youngster backed up his manager's position by starting the first two games of the Premier League season and, before that, winning his first England cap.
Therefore when Coyle arrives with his team at Emirates Stadium on Saturday, he will know exactly what he is missing.
"Yes Bolton wanted to keep him this season that is true and I considered it," said Wenger. "I told Owen Coyle they could have him for another year if I felt he had no chance to play for us at all. But after pre-season I felt he had a chance to compete for a place in our team. That is why I texted him to say that I will keep him.
"For me he's the same player that went on loan last year. They didn't teach him to play football at Bolton, he was already a great player. But he has more power now and they continued his development.
"Coyle did a good job but Jack was already a very gifted player. Since going there he has grown physically and is stronger. He has gained also experience and he is more mature."
That maturity was under scrutiny during Wenger's pre-match media work. Wilshere made unwanted headlines recently following an incident outside a nightclub. Subsequently he was left of the first England Under-21 game during the break but came back to star in the second.
Wenger was pleased with that reaction adding that "this is part of his character".
He went on: "Jack is quite focused in training and wants to do well so I was surprised [at his omission] but maybe he was concerned that this story gets out of proportion - that he was involved. But from what I've heard he hasn't done a lot wrong."
While Wilshere recovered his poise on England duty overall the international break has come at a cost for Arsenal. Theo Walcott damaged his ankle in the build-up to the Three Lions' first goal on Tuesday night and will be missing for four to six weeks.
Thomas Vermaelen collected an Achilles problem while playing for Belgium but his absence is likely to extend to Saturday alone. That means Sebastien Squillaci will make his debut alongside Laurent Koscielny at centre back. The former Frenchman has had 90 minutes of Arsenal action for the Reserves, the latter has had 180 first-team minutes.
Their compatriot Samir Nasri is back in the Arsenal squad having returned early from knee surgery. Meanwhile Johan Djourou is likely to be involved for the first time this season.
This week the absence of Robin van Persie (ankle) was confirmed at "four to six weeks" while Nicklas Bendtner (groin) is estimated at "three to four".
Bolton have made an assured start to the campaign with a draw at home to Fulham and a win at West Ham. However they will probably take most pleasure from their last game when they had Jussi Jaaskelainen sent off then let-in two goals to Birmingham before storming back to draw in the final stages.
Coyle has been credited with changing Bolton's reputation as a bulldozering side. But for Wenger they are still a work in progress and therefore still retain much of their traditional power.
"I believe Bolton have a good mixture of a direct game and football on the ground," he said. "They have kept their strong assets up front with Johan Elmander and Kevin Davies. Also they have good crossers of the ball with Martin Petrov and Chung-Young Lee on the flanks. They can be a very dangerous side because they have a good mixture of a technical game and a direct game.
"We are a mixture of patience and the need to dictate the way we feel the game has to be played. So you have to adapt to what you have and make the changes slowly and I feel Owen has done that well."
Last season, this fixture was testament to Arsenal's mid-term transformation. Having trailed Chelsea by 11 points on November 29, they went into the match with Bolton on January 20 with the opportunity to go top. They trailed 2-0 early on before storming back to win 4-2.
"Bolton are a good side," said Wenger. "If you look at the players they have on the pitch but I believe we have enough quality on the pitch to beat them and that's what we want to show. We've had a satisfying start to the season with two difficult away games with Liverpool and Blackburn and we have done well so it is important we build on from that."
Wenger's last point is the most pertinent. Those Arsenal fans celebrating up at Ewood Park a fortnight ago were relieved as much as they were elated.
Their team withstood a barrage in the final minutes but came away with a win. They had also grabbed a last-gasp point at Liverpool on the opening day of the season.
Arsenal have seven points when they might have had four - a sizeable difference. There is a tendency to think September will be straightforward given that October starts with Chelsea away.
But reaction is crucial in any successful League campaign. The ‘game after' syndrome could be the single factor that derails your title chances. Champions League trips are one part of that equation, international breaks are another.
Losing a couple of key players will not have helped Arsenal's focus but it must return by 3pm on Saturday because, make no mistake, Coyle's Bolton are just the type of team to capitalise.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.