Plenty of mutual respect between the two managers
Bolton Wanderers visit the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal this Saturday on the back of a four-game losing streak in the Premier League. They are 19th in the league table with just three points. They lost their last home game 1-2 against newly promoted Norwich, a result that must surely have disappointed Owen Coyle and the Bolton fans. And if Arsenal were in any kind of form, the statisticians would have suggested that this game could have had only one winner, the home team.
But as the former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli famously said: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."
What the stats don't willingly tell us is that of the Trotters' four losses, three have been against Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool. What they also don't say is that Bolton ran Man City close, losing by two goals to three. And what they cheekily ignore is the fact that Owen Coyle has a more than useful career track record against Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal are in a most vulnerable position at the moment, shorn of confidence, stability, goals and points. A perfect situation for the manager of a lesser-fancied team to say to his players, "Alright chaps, their confidence is shot, let's have a right old crack at them. Let's see what they're made of." And it won't surprise me an iota if that's exactly what Coyle tells his players.
Bolton built a reputation of being a physical, route-one team in the days when Sam Allardyce was manager. Owen Coyle has brought some of Arsenal's qualities into his team, and they now possess a number of dangerous weapons that can hurt Arsenal technically and tactically without requiring to batter them into submission. Here is a look at five top Trotters who could inflict some real damage on Arsenal.
Former and future Arsenal target
Other than a somewhat nightmarish performance in the 0-5 loss to Manchester United, Gary Cahill can be well satisfied with his season thus far. He's solid at the back for Bolton, been called up to play for England in Rio Ferdinand's absence, in demand with the top clubs and even scored the Trotters' season opener with a screamer against Queens Park Rangers.
It is common knowlledge that Arsene Wenger wanted to sign him during the previous transfer window, but the two clubs couldn't agree on a fee. Owen Coyle says he is certain that Arsenal will be back in for Cahill in the January transfer window.
Whether that happens or not is anybody's guess, but what is certain is that Cahill will be out to show Arsenal what they're missing—at both ends of the pitch—by not signing him.
And in a month of bitter pills for Wenger, this might be the toughest one to swallow.
I believe I can fly
In these days of misplaced loyalty, Jussi Jaaskelainen stands out like a beacon of hope. Fourteen years and 512 appearances after his Bolton debut, the Finnish 'keeper remains the club's No. 1 choice. And who can blame them? In spite of attracting the interest of some of Europe's elite clubs, Jaaskelainen remained true to the Trotters, and has kept them in the top flight with season after season of goalkeeping excellence.
Jaaskelainen is brave, has outstanding anticipation and amazing reflexes, and is one of the best shot-stoppers in world football. He also possesses that hint of madness that makes all goalkeepers crazy, and hence, effective.
Arsenal are not a team that will threaten Bolton aerially. But being at home, they will have plenty of possession and will keep Jaaskelainen busy, peppering him with shots. And unless the Gunners' finishing is of the highest quality, the flying Finn will return to Lancashire with his second clean sheet of the season.
The former Manchester United youngster was another in the long line of attacking midfielders whose path to the first team was blocked by the evergreen Paul Scholes. After a couple of loan spells, in England and abroad, he finally took a transfer to Burnley. Here he linked up with Owen Coyle, who then brought Eagles with him to Bolton.
Eagles is a versatile attacker, who can play just behind a No. 9, or wide on either wing. He is a fine free-kick exponent too, and has recently added a goal-scoring dimension to his game, finishing his last season at Burnley with 15 goals, a career high.
He will be relishing another chance to shine in the top flight, and will be keen to make the most of this opportunity.
And if Arsenal offer the same magnanimity as they have done recently, Eagles will send Trotters fans' spirits soaring.
When I first saw Martin Petrov playing for Manchester City, I thought he was a fantastic talent. Here was a player who had played for Atletico Madrid and Wolfsburg, and in his early City days, there was a buzz every time he set off down the line with the ball. He had a hammer of a left foot too, and scored some spectacular goals for the Citizens.
However, with the sudden advent of petro-dollars at Eastlands, and due to his poor injury record, Petrov was deemed surplus to requirements, and was soon on his way to Bolton. His first season there showed flashes of the old magic, but not on a consistent basis.
He has started this season on fire, with a goal and two assists in five games. He has plenty to prove, and at 32, age is not exactly his best friend. Plenty of motivation, then, to put Arsenal to the sword at the Emirates.
Bacary Sagna and Andre Santos will have their hands full.
Scoring for fun against Arsenal
This one's a no-brainer.
If there's one Bolton player who can get under Arsenal's skin, it's their captain Kevin Davies. Truth be told, he is a slightly more respectable version of Joey Barton. But the fact that we hate him so much means just one thing—he's good at what he does.
And what exactly does he do? He heads the ball. Well. He makes hard tackles. Really hard. Sometimes dangerous. He holds the ball up extremely well. He scores and provides assists. He gets opposition players booked and sent off with his play-acting. He motivates his team and gets the best out of every teammate. Arsenal are arguably his favorite opponents, and he thrives on the whining that players and managers resort to when they're bullied a bit.
All in all, a massive presence for his team. Bolton's fans love him, everyone else hates him. He must do something right...
And tomorrow, if Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny don't have their wits about them, we'll hate him some more...