In its last Premier League outing, Arsenal wandered onto the pitch at Old Trafford like lambs to the slaughter and was eventually put to the sword 8-2 by a clinical Manchester United. It was very apparent, and highlighted by ex-Arsenal player and pundit Paul Merson, that as well as the Gunners fielding a weakened side a very real problem was the lack of a game plan.
Still on a high after that devastating home performance, now does not seem like a good time to play United. With only one win in their last 17 meetings against the Red Devils, Bolton seemingly has little reason to be optimistic heading into this game. However, there are weaknesses, although few, to be exposed in this high-flying United side. If Bolton is to go into this game with any chance, Owen Coyle must prepare his men both tactically and mentally for a fight. Everyone knows that United attack the game at great pace and are one of the most clinical sides in the league. For at least the first 20 minutes of the game Bolton must look to compete and keep the team in with a shout; the last thing they want is United running away with the match before the half time whistle has blown.
Coyle always encourages his Bolton side to move the ball and to be attack-minded. In this game he must compromise this philosophy in search of a result. There is nothing wrong with possession, and in fact that is the best strategy a team can hope to employ against the Red Devils’ speedy counters, but the team must be sensible in possession and be patient. Wingers Chris Eagles and Martin Petrov must look to track back often and provide their full-backs with extra cover, particularly with the sensational Ashley Young in such fantastic form from the left, who will provide a stern test for right-back Gretar Steinsson.
Gary Cahill and everyone else out there knows what a threat Wayne Rooney is right now. Cahill must look to silence his England teammate and mark him tightly, although admittedly Rooney is unplayable on his day. Bolton, however, does have a slim chance and must play with grit and determination to get a result. It will be interesting to see how the midfield battle pans out. If Bolton can get a grip of the game early on then they might just give their opposition a run for their money. They must also look to be effective from set pieces and utilise the strength and size of Kevin Davies up front.
With victory improbable, Bolton has nothing to lose going into this game, and with the backing of the home crowd this could be a tricky one for Fergie’s men to navigate.
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