Saturday, February 4, 2023

Bolton preview – Squillaci to make debut

Just when we’d hoped the last of the post-Interlull injuries had been reported the news emerged at Arsene’s press conference yesterday that Thomas Vermaelen would miss today’s game with an achilles problem.

In the press conference Arsene said the injury was ‘short term’ and said he’s got a chance to play in midweek in the Champions League, so that’s something at least. What it means for today is that Sebastien Squillaci will make his debut. The boss has no worries about him, he came through 90 minutes in the reserves to get his fitness and match sharpness up and should have the experience to come in without too much trouble. He might not have faced too many like Kevin Davies before though, so it’ll be interesting to see how both he and Koscielny deal with a man who is likely to cause us problems in the air.

Samir Nasri is back in the squad, which is good news, and I think we’ll line up as follows: Almunia – Sagna – Koscielny – Squillaci – Clichy – Song – Diaby – Cesc – Rosicky – Arshavin – Chamakh

I don’t think Bolton will come to play expansive, open football, regardless of Owen Coyle’s desire to have his teams do that. I don’t mean they’ll clog it like Blackburn either but I think they’ll be keen to mix it up a bit and with two newcomers to English football at the heart of our defence I think they’d be fools not to at least try to exploit that.

At the other end Chamakh will be hoping to have a more productive home game than the last one. He should have scored more against Blackpool but I don’t think anyone who watched his performance against Blackburn would have too many worries about him.

Cesc has been talking to the official programme and says:

I was out of form and during the [Blackburn] game I knew it, but hopefully you’ll see an improvement [against Bolton]. Nobody needs to tell me otherwise – I’m always hard on myself and aware when I’m playing badly.

Hopefully the extra time and the games for Spain will have returned him to something approaching peak condition. As I’ve said all along I don’t have any worries about Cesc, he’s always a player whose inherent desire to win football matches will ensure he gives it 100% every time he wears an Arsenal shirt. You can’t stop people talking, I realise that, but you can stop listening, which is what I intend to do.

We have, in the past, struggled to find our rhythm again after Interlulls. It’s important that we do, however, because three points are crucial today. I know United have a difficult game on paper but I think they’ll do Everton and the chance of Chelsea dropping points to West Ham is so infinitesimally small it might be John Terry’s moral compass. I know it’s early in the season but we’ve got to pay attention to what the others are doing and make sure we don’t slip up in games like these, because they won’t.

So, fingers crossed, three points are more important than performance but if we can combine the two it gets us motoring again into what’s going to be a busy few weeks.

In other news the manager has backed his goalkeepers, which is about the only thing he can do right now. There’s not much left to say about the situation, to be honest, other than what Arsene says:

My squad is strong enough and I stand up completely for that. If it’s the goalkeeper, centre forward or central defender who makes a mistake, I will get the blame. I have to accept that as part of my job.

He’s right too. Other players will certainly be given the appropriate leeway should they make a mistake, none of us expects outright perfection – well, there are some out there who are impossible to please but there’s not a lot you can do about that – but the first goalkeeping error of the season is going to be met with such an explosion of outrage Fox News will be wondering how they can twist it to suit their agenda. Genuine outrage is such a marketable commodity these days, don’t you know.

Rightly or wrongly that’s what’s going to happen and the manager, and the keepers in question, are going to have to cope with it.

The boss also spoke about Jack Wilshere and his treatment by England U21 manager Stuart Pearce. It does seem as if there’s an issue between Wenger and Pearce. Arsene was unhappy when Theo Walcott was called up for the U21 European Championships last summer and when he came back to Arsenal all broken he wasn’t slow to let people know what he thought.

Wilshere, after his arrest a couple of weekends ago, was demoted to the bench by Pearce, who claimed he lacked focus. Arsene, who knows what happened better than Pearce, said:

I was surprised and I don’t think it needs any more comment. From what I’ve heard Jack hasn’t done a lot wrong. If I go out with you do you want me to run away? If I have a friend with me and I’m in trouble I prefer that he stays.

Nevertheless, he did fire a little warning shot across Wilshere’s bows:

Ideally, footballers should be at home in bed at 3am. You don’t make a career at the top level if you don’t know how to behave – it’s impossible.

He might have overplayed that a touch, we’ve seen plenty of players at the top level who haven’t been angels off the pitch, but you can certainly say few of them ever reached their full potential. Wilshere is a prodigious talent and he’d do well to sit down for a little while with somebody like Thierry Henry or Dennis Bergkamp and take a few lessons on how to live life off the field to ensure he gets the most out of his career.

And that’s about that for this morning. Here’s to a good three points this afternoon. If you’re in Ireland the game is on Setanta Sports – which I’d do well to remember. Last time I spent 20 minutes squinting at a crappy stream before I realised I could go downstairs and watch it on TV.

Till tomorrow.

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