Bolton Wanderers vs. Arsenal: 5 Keys to a Gunners Victory
After their stirring comeback victory over Aston Villa in the FA Cup fourth round, Arsenal now return to the business of the Premier League and the small matter of their bid to get back into the top four. The Gunners travel to the Reebok Stadium to take on Bolton Wanderers, hoping to rebound from three straight league defeats.
Bolton have been revived in recent weeks and enjoyed a great win over Liverpool in their last home league game. A trip to Bolton has not always been kind to Arsene Wenger's team and the Gunners lost the corresponding fixture 2-1 last season.
But Arsenal have to show they have the quality and mettle to pull off the tough results that will haul them back into the Champions League places.
Here are five keys to what would be a vital Gunners win.
5. Target Bolton's Full-Backs
Arsenal have the pace in wide areas to savage Bolton's full-backs. Whether it's cumbersome duo Paul Robinson and Gretar Steinsson or ex-Hull City man Sam Ricketts, Arsenal should target the edges of Bolton's defense.
Players like Theo Walcott must play up to their potential and take advantage of this obvious mismatch. Walcott has been extremely hit and miss in recent games. His delivery has been poor at times and he hasn't always shown the willingness to come off the flanks and involve himself in the game.
But the England speedster has also proved that when the mood strikes, he can put fear into any defense. Walcott's lightning pace and classy finish for Arsenal's second goal against Swansea City encapsulated everything good about his game.
He also showed more appetite and directness against Villa and helped key Arsenal's second-half revival. It is no longer about where he plays or his role in the team. Walcott's success depends entirely on his own attitude and the effort he puts in.
If he is in the mood at the Reebok, Walcott can pose a constant threat to a plodding Bolton back line and be the Gunners quickest route to a goal.
4. Be Decisive When Defending in the Air
Arsenal simply have to be more decisive when defending in the air. Static defenders are allowing opposing players free runs to attack corners, free kicks and crosses from open play.
The likes of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny must become more aggressive when dealing with an aerial threat and throw themselves into the mix. Even if it means risking a mistake, Arsenal's defenders have to commit themselves to decisive action in the air.
Bolton will pose a threat from set pieces with giant central defenders Zat Knight and David Wheater. The Gunners have to remedy this long-standing weakness, or risk giving away more easy goals.
3. Support Makeshift Full-Backs
Arsenal's stand-in full-backs have been the prime targets for opponents in recent weeks. Swansea City, Manchester United and Aston Villa all routinely terrorised Arsenal down the flanks.
The late substitute appearance of Bacary Sagna against Villa was a welcome sight for all Gunners fans.
However, if Sagna is deemed still not fit enough for a full start, Arsenal may have to rely on young midfielder Francis Coquelin again. Coquelin was very shaky at times against Villa and Thomas Vermaelen has never looked completely comfortable at left-back.
The Gunners must do a better job of providing support and cover for their makeshift full-backs. That means wide players tracking back on a regular basis and with the same pace they use when raiding forward.
It will also require the deeper-lying midfield players to drop in and double up with the full-backs on occasion. Arsenal did these things much better in the second half against Villa and will need to do the same against a Wanderers team that can be dangerous on the wings with Martin Petrov and Chris Eagles.
2. Make Sure Mike Arteta Sees Plenty of the Ball
With so much attention being paid to the comebacks of injured defenders, not much has been made of the impact Mikel Arteta's absence has had on the quality of Arsenal's passing. The Spaniard's return can revitalise Arsenal's attacking play and ensure that the team is fluid and efficient in possession.
Arteta gives Arsenal an active midfield presence whose quick and accurate distribution, combined with his constant movement, threads together the Gunners passing game.
His return can have a huge impact on Arsenal's fortunes; getting him on the ball will be vital against a dogged Bolton midfield.
Arteta can control the pace and flow of the game and keep the ball away from Wanderers, while setting the platform for numerous Arsenal attacks.
1. Quick Passing and Movement
The Gunners must match the same level of quick passing and movement that was the key to their comeback from two goals down against Villa. Once Arsenal started to inject some pace into the way they moved the ball and found space for one another, they began to return to their free-flowing best.
When the Gunners play with that kind of style, they are capable of regularly creating genuine scoring opportunities. Arsenal must pass the ball quickly at the Reebok. Just as importantly, players out of possession have to move around to give the man on the ball plenty of options.
Speed of thought and movement are the crucial tenants of Arsene Wenger's footballing philosophy. With both attributes present, the Gunners can again become the attacking force they once were.
Rectifying Poor Away Form Will Be the Key to a Top 4 Push
After consecutive away defeats to Fulham and Swansea, Arsenal must find a way to start consistently taking points away from home. The Gunners need to use the natural pace of their team to take advantage of the home team's obligation to come out and attack them.
Given the recent tense atmosphere at the Emirates Stadium, the team should be able to play with more freedom on their travels. If so, then Arsenal should have no problems creating enough chances to score the goals that can carry them to some critical away wins.
Without a significant improvement in their away form, the Gunners will find it next to impossible to qualify for next season's Champions League.
That improvement has to begin on Wednesday night.