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Europa League round of 16 draw

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Is Claude Puel the anti-Mourinho?


It may be ugly, but it's effective

It takes a special individual to inspire a vow of silence from Arsene Wenger, but he came head to head with that man in this FA Cup fourth round tie.

Regular visitors to the Friday press briefings given by the eloquent Arsenal manager will confirm that no subject is off limits when Wenger sits down for his round table discussions with starry eyed journalists who hang on his every word with childlike awe.

However, Wenger's views dried up last Friday when one insightful inquisitor offered him the chance to provide some words of praise for Bolton manager Sam Allardyce. 'I would not like to talk about this subject' was his instant response to a table of confused reporters.

However, the questioner was not merely fortunate to stumble across the name of a man who makes Wenger's blood boil. He may have been touchline scuffles with Tottenham's Martin Jol and former West Ham chief Alan Pardew in recent times, while his ongoing battles with Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho have been well documented, yet the Arsenal chief simple cannot handle the fact that the man who insists on being called 'Big' Sam has his number.

While one manager cherishes the slick, attractive and flamboyant, the other goes for the efficient, ugly and hugely effective route to success. Wenger is turned on by sexy football, but Allardyce goes to bed at night and dreams about a scrappy game won by a deflected own goal in the last minute.

It's as if one would prefer the stunning slim blonde in the nightclub on a Saturday night, while the other is mesmerised by the slightly chunky spotting girl stood at the side of the dance floor on her own.

They could not be more opposites, so finding common ground between them will never be possible and Wenger clearly struggles to cope with the reality that Allardyce is responsible for the steady dismantling of his methods. The Bolton boss claims to have provided a blueprint for the rest of the Premiership to beat Wenger's magicians and the architects of the plan wasted little time in stating their intentions in this latest tussle at the Emirates Stadium.

Winning corners and throw-ins at the attacking end of the pitch is Bolton's primary attacking objective, but once they achieve their aim of winning a set-play, they deliver a deadly punch. That Arsenal cannot mark up their opponents does not help their cause and Kevin Davies so nearly punished Arsenal's frailty in the opening minute, with Ivan Campo also wasting a decent chance 13 minutes later.

It's not just in the attacking third that Arsenal struggle to solve the Bolton dilemma as Allardyce's plan to sit off the Gunners and break up their passing game by fair or foul means is hugely effective. Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas played in this game, but the flowing football so often produced by Arsenal's brilliant duo is rarely on view against this opponents and the same was true on this occasion.

Wenger's gripe with Bolton does not end with their sterile brand of play. Soccernet's Insider was present as Wenger launched an attack on what he perceives as the time-wasting tactics Allardyce has introduced to the Premiership after a 1-1 draw at Highbury in March of last year and his words from that day seem relevant now.

'If you pay to watch a football match, you don't want to spend the whole afternoon looking at a team trying to waste time,' fumed Wenger. 'They use all the tricks that have become common place in the Premiership now. It's sad to see and dangerous for the future of football. You want to watch football, but you don't always see that when Bolton are involved.'

As an irate Wenger ran onto the side of the pitch to remonstrate with referee Mike Dean as Bolton took an age to take a 36th minute throw-in, his argument from last season was revived, but you couldn't help but feel the real winner as the Frenchman lost his cool was that shady looking chap sporting a Bolton club suit in the stands. Allardyce was annoying his opponent into submission again.

Henry so nearly put a smile on his manager's face shortly before half-time as he latched onto Ricardo Gardner's woeful back pass before unleashing a brilliant back heal that was kept out by a despairing lunge from Abdoulaye Meite, yet that was the best Arsenal could offer in the first half.

Comfortable throughout the first half, Bolton duly took the lead against through Kevin Nolan after 49 minutes. Allardyce's worshipers will point out that the breakthrough came after a flowing passage of play and a clinical finish, but the purists will note that the move was blessed with a huge slice of luck as Kevin Davies' miss-hit shot fell perfectly into the path of Nolan to score.

Nolan should have doubled Bolton's advantage two minutes later as he burst through on goal and was only denied his second by the intervention of keeper Manuel Almunia and Wenger's men were 13 minutes away from a second successive FA Cup exit at the hands of Bolton until Kolo Toure bundled an equaliser home in true Big Sam fashion. A flicked on free-kick followed by a back post; it was straight from that Bolton blueprint.

'Set pieces decide most games and one has gone against us today,' said the Bolton boss, clearly keen to promote his chief theory. 'It looked as if we were going to hold out for the win, but it wasn't to be.

'We should have scored from a couple of corners in the first half before we managed to finish off a great move. After that, the turning point of the game was Kevin Nolan's chance because I don't think Arsenal would have come back from 2-0 down. We have a great record against them, but this replay will not be easy. I'm delighted to be in the hat and we need to produce another top performance if we are to get through.'

Wenger was critical of his team's lack of focus in the first half, but he refused to get drawn into any criticism of Bolton's game plan this time. 'We lacked some sharpness and focus in the first half and then conceded a goal straight after half-time, just like we did against Manchester United last week,' he said. 'Still, I give Bolton some credit because they scored a good goal.

'We didn't want a replay, but we have one now so we have to adapt to it. They tried to play on the break in this game so maybe we will do the same to them up there.'

The presence of a menacing looking Allardyce marching around on the touchline, chewing his giant lump of gum with as much purpose as ever throughout the second half, must have raised Wenger's blood pressure, while their time wasting antics in the closing stages clearly riled the Arsenal boss.

It's hard to love the ugly duckling of the Premiership, but Bolton are damn good at what they do and if Wenger really wants to stop Sam Allardyce in his tracks, he should find an effective way to sweep them out of his way in the replay that looms large.

• MAN OF THE MATCH: Kevin Nolan - The heartbeat of this Bolton side does a fine job each week and had he taken his chance to score a second goal moments after his opener, Allardyce would have been toasting another glorious triumph over his Gallic foe.

• FOOD WATCH: Having a fridge full of free ice-cream is a disaster for those of us trying to trim the waistline. Many of the bloaters in the press room looked like they could have done without the temptation.

• ARSENAL VERDICT: There is no doubt that Allardyce hits all the wrong buttons for Wenger, but it is curious that the French tactician hasn't come close to solving the Bolton riddle.

• BOLTON VERDICT: While Allardyce's methods are effective, you can't help but share Wenger's view that they could kill football should they continue to catch on at their present pace. The thousands of empty seats gathering dust at their Reebok Stadium every week prove that supporters are reluctant to watch the sort of 'entertainment' served up by Bolton every week.

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