Bolton vs Arsenal preview - Coyle leaps to Wenger`s defence

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Posted Sunday, April 24, 2011 by PA

Bolton vs Arsenal preview - Coyle leaps to Wenger`s defence

Bolton manager Owen Coyle has launched a strong defence of Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger and believes the Gunners head to the Reebok Stadium on Sunday still very much in the Barclays Premier League title race.

Four draws from their last five games have hurt Arsenal's hopes of surpassing Manchester United and some supporters have expressed their frustration with Wenger as they near the end of what would be a sixth successive season without a trophy.

Coyle said: "They're six points behind Manchester United with Manchester United still to play. Arsenal have shown before that they'll be in the mix and I've got no doubts they've got a fantastic chance of winning the league.

"If I wasn't a football manager and someone said who would you go and watch, I would watch Arsenal every week because I love the way they play and the quality of the players they have.

"Arsene Wenger is, always has been and always will be a truly outstanding manager, one of the best managers in world football.

"We've had our arguments along the way but that goes without saying because he's passionate about his team and I am about mine, but you can never doubt the quality of Arsene Wenger as a manager and the teams he's built after he's lost big players year in and year out."

Bolton in many ways seem unlikely allies given Wenger has in the past been a strong critic of the Trotters' style of play but the relationship has improved since Coyle took over last season.

The Frenchman's frustrations will also have been eased by an improvement in fortunes against Bolton, who were a bogey team for Arsenal for many years but have lost their last nine games against Wenger's side.

The change in relationship was emphasised last year by Wenger's decision to loan prize youngster Jack Wilshere to Bolton.

The move paid off handsomely, with the teenager gaining valuable first-team experience, and he returns to the Reebok Stadium for the first time with the Gunners as a full England international and having just been voted Professional Footballers' Association Young Player of the Year.

Coyle said: "He's coming on the back of winning his Young Player of the Year award, which was well earned and we're delighted for him. Outside his qualities as a footballer, he's an outstanding young man, and somebody I've got a lot of time for.

"But he knows for the duration of the match we'll be doing everything we can to try to win the game and stop him showing his quality. It'll be great to see him, but that'll be after the game."

Wenger maintains Arsenal must present a united front both on and off the pitch if they are to have any chance of forcing themselves back into the title race.

While Wenger's men are unbeaten in 16 league games, they have won just three in the last nine, with draws proving so costly as the destiny of the championship slipped once again from their grasp.

The Gunners boss has been forced to defend his young squad from the now seasonal barrage of questions about their mental strength in the moments which matter.

Wenger, though, insists his team have already performed way beyond expectations and is in no doubt with everyone pulling in the right direction, the campaign can yet be salvaged.

"The Arsenal supporters can be very proud of their team and the experience I have is that they have turned up with a fantastic mentality since the start of the season," Wenger said.

"We created a huge hope because we were fighting on all fronts, and the first quality a club wants to have is a fighting spirit.

"We did fight beyond the expectation of everybody. If I listen to the expectation at the start of the season, nobody expected us to be where we are. Sometimes I would like you [the media] to acknowledge that.

"What I would like from our fans is to be behind the team until the last day, the last minute, of the season.

"This club has massive values, has been built on solidarity and it is important we show this kind of solidarity until the last second of the season.

"Then I will accept what people think, but until the last second of the season I believe it is very important that everybody who loves this club fights together."

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