After the thrills and spills of Sunday's FA Cup victory over Aston Villa it's back to Premier League action for Arsenal with a trip to struggling Bolton Wanderers. Despite qualifying for the last 16 of the FA Cups Arsenal have lost their last three league games. It's a run which has left them six points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with a game in hand, and in need of a victory.
Arsenal started the season poorly, and their away form in particular was very bad. They only managed one point from their first four away games, but eventually they turned things around to win four of their next five games on the road. The only defeat during that run was a 1-0 loss to big-spending league leaders Manchester City, but Arsenal at least put in a good performance in that game.
At the turn of the year Arsenal were in good shape in the league with fourth place looking like a real target, and third place even a possibility. They only played three league games in January, but they lost them all and that has left them playing catch up on the teams above them. The real disappointment in those games was that they lost after going ahead away to both Swansea and Fulham.
Arsenal have had a very bad run of injuries in the last couple of months, and it looked like their squad simply wasn't strong enough to cope with the absentees. Their defence suffered badly, and their midfielders had to play too often as well. Only the goalscoring of Robin van Persie kept the team going, and he has looked like the best player in the Premier League this season.
Some of those injured players are slowly returning to the Arsenal team, and it's possible that Bacary Sagna could start the game against Bolton. Mikael Arteta will almost certainly start the game, and Johan Djourou and Thierry Henry should be on the bench. The squad is starting to show a little strength in depth again, and there are still plenty of players to return.
It would be great to see Arsenal have an actual full-back in the team if Sagna starts, but I think the team will be very similar to the one that beat Villa on Sunday. Wojciech Szczesny will obviously replace Lukasz Fabianski in goal, but otherwise Arsene Wenger's options are still a little limited.
This game comes only three days after Arsenal's last game, and they play again in another three days. Bolton played the day before Arsenal, and that extra days rest could be quite important for them. It's not easy for players to play that often at the pace the game is played at, and remain in peak condition too.
Whatever team Wenger plays it has to be remembered that Arsenal are better than Bolton, and it's up to the Arsenal players to go out and show that on the pitch. They did it in a glorious spell at the start of the second half against Villa, and not many teams can live with Arsenal when they play that well. If they can approach this game with the tempo and attitude they showed in the second half against Villa I think they are sure to win.
Bolton have lost eight of their 11 home games so far, but they did beat Liverpool in their last home game. Arsenal need to put them under pressure, and mistakes will follow from the Bolton players if they do. Bolton are only one point above the relegation zone, and they have the worst defensive record in the league too.
However, Arsenal have the worst defensive record away from home in the league, and it's not something they should be proud of. With Arsenal also the second-highest scorers away from home after Manchester City there's very little chance of a scoreless draw against Bolton. I have no doubt that a full Arsenal team will defend a lot better when they can eventually have that luxury.
Whatever was said in the dressing room at halftime on Sunday needs to be said before the game against Bolton. I miss the Arsenal team that used to come out and blow teams away in the opening 20 minutes. And it would be great to see them do that again. I don't think they will, as they try to slow the game down far too often now.
If Bolton attack Arsenal it could be a very interesting and high-scoring game, and it could make for good viewing. In the past when teams attacked Arsenal they paid dearly for it, but the brittleness of their defence no longer makes that a certainty. It would be great to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain given some space to work in, and maybe score his first Premier League goal too.
I think Arsenal will have enough to beat Bolton as long as their attitude is right, and I hope it will be after Sunday. It would be great for Arsenal to beat both Bolton away and then Blackburn at home on Saturday to draw level on points with Chelsea before Chelsea play Manchester United on Sunday. A win would certainly make fourth place look a lot more obtainable, and maybe give the team a little more belief too.
I'm predicting a 3-1 win for Arsenal with Chamberlain getting his name on the score sheet too. He really offers Arsenal something different with his ability to take players on and beat them, as well as score from distance. He looks like he has everything he needs to be a real star of the future.
That's it for today.
It's not too late to join the over 1,000 other teams in my fantasy league. There are prizes for the top three teams at the end of the season. Just go to the site and use the code 125540-42785 to join my league when your team is set up. To join the predictions league, just go to the site and set up your predictions. Then use the code F688F-JCO to join my league. I'll update the league table in my predictions every week.
See you tomorrow.