Well that’s pretty much that then. The title challenge was fun while it lasted, but at least we’ve bowed out of it gracefully early, rather than run it to the wire with a squad that doesn’t have the strength to make it to the end, getting our hopes up to the last. It was an odd game on Sunday. It felt like it should have been a game that we would win, and afterwards be saying "That’s the sort of game we would have lost last season", but instead it was just a loss like the way we would have lost last season (though I’m aware we drew at Stamford Bridge last season). We scored right at the end of a good period of play that we enjoyed at the beginning of the second half, but as soon as Dogbag equalised you knew they were going to go on and win it. The day just had that air of inevitability, after we’d drawn four consecutive games and Liverpool had bent over and been royally damned at Old Trafford, a loss to compound the misery seemed destined. As soon as the pooh started to hit the fan, the players didn’t seem fussed. There was no attacking threat, no defensive solidarity, and the "Damn you, must win at all costs" attitude from the first half of the season just wasn’t apparent. Still, at least Liverpool won’t be the only side in our quarter final with damn all else to play for, we’ve now got to do what they do every season and prioritise Europe. Bar an absolute catastrophe for us, third place is relatively certain with Liverpool eight points away, and bar an absolute catastrophe for United, or Ronaldo contracting leprosy, the league race is sewn up.
While it’s not beyond the realms of all possibility that there won’t still be a title race, our squad doesn’t exactly look to be the one to take advantage of any slip ups, does it? Less likely still that we could go to Old Trafford and win, after our performance on Sunday. It would require us and Chelsea to beat United, and then someone like Everton or Manchester City to take points off Chelsea, and someone like Villa or Blackburn to take points off of United, all the while assuming that our one win in six games squad is capable of winning seven games in a row. It’s probably worth resting players like Fabregas, Hleb and Van Persie against Bolton with the home leg of the Champions League quarter final coming up on Wednesday, as we now have to look at that as our only realistic chance of silverware. I doubt Wenger would be seen to throw in the towel that early though, but we might as well, really. At the very least it would be fair to say that, if we don’t win on Saturday, then it’s definitely over. If it reached that point we’re running out of games and we wouldn’t have won in six games. We play before both United and Chelsea, a win puts a modicum of pressure on them with us in second place and United’s lead cut to three points before they play Villa at home in the evening game, not exactly a straight forward three points. While we’re not exactly in a position to be mocking others recent form, Bolton have drawn one and lost five of their last six league games. We have to win.
This is our twentieth meeting with Bolton under Arsene. This weekend we’re looking for our fourth consecutive victory against Bolton in all competitions. However, we haven’t won at the Reebok Stadium in the league for nearly six years, the last victory coming in April 2002. Since then we’ve drawn two and lost three, although we’ve won there twice and lost once in the FA Cup during that time as well. The three league losses came in the three seasons preceding this one. It’s a six year run of results that will need to end this weekend if we’re to have any chance of keeping in touch with the top two.
Assuming Rosicky is still absent, we’re as we were. If our players don’t all come back from international duty with lengthy injuries, that is. Sagna’s ankle injury will keep him out for at least 3 weeks, so we could see Hoyte or Eboue at right back for this game.
Subs: Lehmann, Senderos, Gilberto, Walcott, Bendtner.
Jaaskelainen is out for the rest of the season through injury, other than that they’re at full strength.
UPDATE: It looks like Adebayor could well be rested for this match so we could see Bendtner partner Van Persie. Diaby could also feature as Wenger looks to freshen up the team