LONDON — With just four points from five Premier League matches, Arsenal needs a victory against Bolton on Saturday to relieve the pressure on Arsene Wenger, who is facing the biggest crisis of his 15-year managerial reign.
Arsenal has struggled against teams from the northwest this season — losing to Liverpool and Blackburn and suffering an 8-2 mauling by Manchester United — and Bolton’s notoriously physical approach should provide another tough test at the Emirates.
England players Owen Hargreaves of Manchester City and Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard could make league comebacks after injury as second-placed City hosts Everton, while the Reds face Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Also Saturday, leader Manchester United travels to Stoke, and third-placed Chelsea hosts Swansea.
Arsenal’s worse begin to a league season in 58 years has mostly been blamed on a porous defense that has conceded 14 goals in five league matches.
The miserable opening has prompted the first serious murmuring of fans’ unrest during Wenger’s tenure.
Speaking after Arsenal’s 3-1 victory over Shrewsbury in the third round of the League Cup, the Arsenal manager stated he “wasn’t bothered by all this speculation at all.”
“I can comprehend that people are unhappy and criticize. But I know that people are quick to go overboard,” he said.
Arsenal signed Germany defender Per Mertesacker and Brazil full back Andre Santos on transfer deadline day but neither has convinced.
Mertesacker looked slow on the turn and Andre Santos was badly positioned for both Blackburn’s goals as Arsenal twice relinquished the lead in Saturday’s 4-3 loss at Ewood Park.
“You see other teams do it but then their opponents do not score from it and it gets overlooked. But at the minute we make one mistake and it’s a goal,” stated defender Kieran Gibbs, who will compete with Andre Santos for a berth on the left flank. “It’s unbelievable how much it has affected us, but we will overcome it, I am sure.”
Bolton has problems of its own ahead of the trip to the Emirates Stadium. Manager Owen Coyle has overseen four straight league defeats since a 4-0 opening-day win at Queens Park Rangers.
Coyle stated he would leave it late before deciding whether to include Stuart Holden in his squad after the U.S. midfielder returned from six months out with a fractured left leg in the League Cup win at Aston Villa on Tuesday.
“We have to be conscious that he has been out for six months and that we do not give him too much too soon,” Coyle said. “If he is fit and available then he will certainly be in contention.”
Manchester City midfielder Owen Hargreaves faces a tough task breaking into Roberto Mancini’s starting line-up for the visit of Everton.
Hargreaves was forced to post videos on YouTube to prove his fitness after being sidelined for three years with knee problems, but he crowned his City debut with a goal in the 2-0 League Cup win against Birmingham on Wednesday.
“He hasn’t had any problems in the last three weeks. At the moment his knee is fine,” stated Mancini. “But he has only played 60 minutes. Now it is important that he recovers properly because he can be good for us and England.”
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will be hoping to help his club arrest a slump of two straight league defeats — 1-0 at Stoke and 4-0 at Tottenham — when Wolves visit Anfield.
Gerrard returned from a six-month groin injury in the Reds’ League Cup win at Brighton.
“It’s been a nightmare for me. I’m not the ideal when I’m out injured and watching games,” Gerrard said. “It’s been tough and the last six months have been a rollercoaster. But it’s behind me now and I’m looking forward to getting match fit and getting back in the starting lineup.”
Manchester United will attempt to make it six wins out of six with a trip to Stoke City and may have England defender Rio Ferdinand available for the trip to the Potteries.
“I’m hoping Rio will be OK for Saturday,” stated United manager Alex Ferguson. “When you go to Stoke you need a bit of experience.”
Ferdinand injured a hamstring during the opening game at West Brom and even though he returned for the win at Bolton earlier this month, he has then been sidelined for three games with a calf problem.
Mexican striker Javier Hernandez should also be in contention after an injury to his right ankle in Sunday’s match against Chelsea proved less severe than first thought.
Chelsea will be aiming to bounce back from the 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford when Swansea visits Stamford Bridge.
Petr Cech should be between the posts despite a head injury suffered during a collision with Orlando Sa in the League Cup win against Fulham.
The Czech international plays with protective headgear after suffering a fractured skull in a collision with Stephen Hunt at Reading five years ago and there was concern when he stayed down after the challenge from Sa.
“He felt a tiny bit dizzy from the early concussion at halftime,” Blues manager Andre Villas-Boas said. “We decided, and he decided as well, it was better not to take risks.”
In other Saturday matches, Newcastle United will defend its unbeaten record against visiting Blackburn, West Bromwich Albion hosts Fulham and Tottenham travels to Wigan.
On Sunday, Queens Park Rangers is home to Aston Villa, while Norwich City hosts Sunderland on Monday.
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