Premier League: Arsenal ready to tackle Coyle’s new-look Bolton
ARSENAL take on Bolton at the Emirates tomorrow (Saturday) minus injured England star Theo Walcott.
THERE was a time when Arsenal fans, and boss Arsene Wenger in particular, would scan down the fixture list at the start of the season and grimace at the first sight of Bolton Wanderers.
Such was the hold that former Wanderers boss Sam Allardyce used to hold over the Gunners, meetings home or away were always accompanied by a sense of dread, and all too often a loss of points.
Allardyce is, of course, now residing up the road at Blackburn, and it has probably not escaped his attention that at his old stomping ground there is a distinct whiff of change in the air.
Owen Coyle only arrived at the Reebok Stadium in January after his highly-publicised defection from another neighbouring club, Burnley, but in nine short months he has had a dramatic impact.
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The Scot achieved his initial aim, avoiding relegation, with some ease as the Trotters finished nine points above the trap door, which closed above his former employers at Turf Moor.
With Premier League status assured, Coyle has set about changing the way Bolton play and trying to rid them of the long-ball tag that had remained, with some justification, from the Allardyce era.
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It will not happen overnight, but the summer additions of Bulgarian winger Martin Petrov from Manchester City and Spanish duo Marcos Alonso and Rodrigo Moreno (on a season’s loan) from Real Madrid are an indication of where Coyle would like Bolton to be heading.
Many players are those utilised by Gary Megson this time last year, although the addition of American midfielder Stuart Holden, who played against England at the World Cup, has also made a difference.
And of course Arsenal’s own Jack Wilshere spent the second half of last season at the Reebok, underlining the fact that Coyle would like to see the ball passed on the floor rather than launched in the vague direction of Kevin Davies, as was often seen under Allardyce.
For all his style issues, however, Allardyce remains the most successful manager in Bolton’s modern history, and Coyle would love to emulate his sixth placed finish in 2005 that earned the Trotters a crack at Uefa Cup football.
“It was just a football decision,” says Coyle, about the move that will see him labelled ‘Judas’ by Burnley fans for evermore.
“Bolton have the infrastructure, probably because they have been in the Premier League for 10 years, that Burnley are still striving for.
“If it was an emotional decision then I would have stayed where I was because of everything we had done at Burnley but I made the decision for football reasons and that’s it.”
Bolton will give Coyle the platform to build a side capable of competing in the Premier League, where Burnley could not. Ambition outstripped the emotion for Coyle, who clearly sees himself plying his trade at the highest level he can.
After three games of the season, he is not far from the pinnacle, with Bolton in fifth place after home draws with Fulham and Birmingham either side of a 3-1 win at West Ham.
“I feel we have to look to be the best in our area and then if finance becomes available we can push to move into the group above,” says Coyle, and momentum is growing at the Reebok.
Swedish striker Johan Elmander, branded a �10m flop after two indifferent seasons, looks to have finally adapted to the English game, while Davies, the Croatian Ivan Klasnic and Moreno give him plenty of attacking options.
In midfield, Arsenal youth academy product Fabrice Muamba has grown in stature at the centre of a hard-working unit that also includes South Korea international Chung-Yong Lee, Holden, and the left-wing wizardry of Petrov.
At the back, England central defender Gary Cahill was capped by Fabio Capello against Bulgaria on Friday, and is partnered by Zat Knight, another player who has benefited by moving north from Aston Villa.
Former West Brom stalwart Paul Robinson and Icelandic powerhouse Gretar Steinsson are proving a useful pair of full-backs, while in goal Jussi Jaaskelainen, in his 14th season with the club, was a model of professionalism until his red card against Birmingham before the international break.
He begins a three-match suspension on Saturday, which means a first Premier League start for young Hungarian Adam Bogdan.
There can be few more daunting places to make it than the Emirates, and the chances are the 22-year-old is in for a busy afternoon.
Prediction: Arsenal 3 Bolton 1