Peace in our time was declared between Arsenal and Bolton yesterday and not through the removal of two incendiary devices, otherwise known as Jens Lehmann and El Hadji Diouf, from a potentially explosive fixture at the Emirates Stadium tomorrow. Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, finally lauded Bolton for their ability on the ball and his Wanderers counterpart, Sam Allardyce, congratulated Arsenal on their youth policy, but the true extent of their respect in the build-up the fourth-round tie may only be revealed in the aftermath.
"We never get any credit when we beat Arsenal, they always move the goalposts," said Kevin Davies, the Bolton striker, overcoming the disappointment of losing his customary joust with the rested Lehmann to cut to the heart of the previous, hostile relationship between the two clubs.
"They always have excuses and we use them to inspire us by pinning the articles on the dressing-room walls the next time we play them. They just don't enjoy playing against us. Obviously, we've got a secret and we know how to beat them. Some people like to say that is by playing unfairly, but it is not that at all. Last time we met they said they were more prepared for the physical challenge and we beat them 3-1. I guess they are wound up to give us a hiding, but I think they have a mental block when it comes to playing Bolton." So much for thawed relations.
This is the third season in succession Allardyce and Wenger have met in the FA Cup. Bolton were victorious at the same stage last season and Arsenal triumphant in the sixth round in March 2005, their only victory over Wanderers in the last seven meetings. For the Arsenal manager, however, the time has come to assess Bolton in a more generous light than he has in the past.
"They are always a good character test, but they are a good side as well," he admitted. "They might have minimal resources, but they have Anelka and Diouf [suspended tomorrow] and they are not minimal resource players. They can play. You cannot say that Speed is not a football player. Or Campo or Nolan or Anelka, Diouf. Chelsea wanted Ben Haim. It is not just because he can kick the ball, it is because he is a good player. That is why they get results."
"Every man is going to have to play at their very best to get a result at the Emirates," responded Allardyce. "Arsenal can be dominant over the next four years or so. When you grow your own, you install that little bit extra in the player. His passion and his love for the club is greater. Arsenal have a terrific future now and a terrific future longer term because of the squad Arsène has put together."
Allardyce signed the Slovakia central defender Lubomir Michalik on a three-and-half-year contract from FC Senec yesterday, which could precipitate Ben Haim's transfer to Chelsea, and has also signed Michalik's 19-year-old team-mate Zoltan Harsanyi on loan until the end of the season.
Wenger distanced himself from claims that he has entered the race for the Southampton left-back Gareth Bale. "I think he is a potentially great player but I am not in the race because I have two left-backs," the Arsenal manager said.Reuse content