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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 March, 2008, 12:00am

Selling your best striker can be a costly business, as Bolton have discovered in the wake of Nicolas Anelka's move to Chelsea. Bolton pocketed #15 million (HK$235 million) from the deal in January, but the goals have dried up for them since then and in May they could pay a hefty penalty by losing their battle against relegation.

Six of Bolton's seven remaining games are against top-12 teams, and that tough run-in starts tonight with a home match against Arsenal. The Gunners rate a good-value bet, with the odds seemingly overplaying their recent disappointing form and their previous struggles against Bolton.

Under Sam Allardyce, Bolton had a good home record against Arsenal (four wins and two draws from nine games in league and FA Cup) but the decline in Bolton's fortunes is evident in the fact that Arsenal have won the last three meetings between the clubs home and away, which is the longest winning sequence for the Gunners since Bolton rejoined the Premier League in 2001.

Arsenal's latest win over Bolton, 2-0 at the Emirates stadium in October, was Bolton's last game before Gary Megson took charge with the club rooted to the bottom of the table. Megson initially had a positive effect, with Bolton climbing out of the relegation zone by Christmas, but that progress was halted when Anelka was sold.

Bolton's stop-start-stop fortunes can be illustrated by dividing their season into three sections.

In the first 10 games, before Megson's arrival, they took five points at an average of 0.50 points per game. The second section of 11 games started with Megson's arrival and ended with Anelka's departure, yielding 15 points at an average of 1.36 points per game (which equates to the form of a mid-table side). The third section has seen Bolton fall back to the standards of their opening 10 games, with six points from the last 10 games at an average of 0.6 points per game.

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Anelka's sale is the key factor in explaining Bolton's fall back into the relegation zone. Anelka had scored 10 of Bolton's 23 league goals at the time of his departure, with Bolton averaging 1.22 goals per game with the France striker in the starting line-up. When Anelka scored, Bolton averaged 1.56 points per game, which equates to the form of a team challenging for a European place.

Since Anelka moved to Chelsea, Bolton have scored only five goals in 10 league games, at an average of 0.5 goals per game. They have won only one of those 10 games, and five of their six points without Anelka have come against other relegation battlers in the bottom eight.

Bolton are doomed unless they can improve their competitiveness against teams outside the bottom eight, but it is difficult to see how they can do that given their lack of firepower. Bolton have lost 11 out of 13 games this season against teams currently in the top eight, and in the two exceptions (the 1-0 win over Manchester United and the 1-1 against Aston Villa, both at home) it was Anelka who scored Bolton's goals.

Bolton's catalogue of woes since Anelka's departure has been exacerbated by this week's stories of dressing-room discontent, including Megson's shocking admission that Abdoulaye Meite refused to go out for the second half of the recent 2-0 defeat at Manchester United.

Set against Bolton's sorry state, Arsenal's recent problems appear almost insignificant. A key factor is that only two teams have denied Arsenal victory this season without scoring - Wigan and Portsmouth, in goalless draws. And when Arsenal have scored on the road this season, they have won seven out of 11 against teams outside the Big Four. All of which adds up to an excellent chance for Arsenal to claim their first win in six games and put some pressure back on Manchester United and Chelsea, who play after the Gunners this weekend.

Arsenal have another big date when the Champions League resumes next week as they host Liverpool in the standout match of the quarter-finals. A factor worth noting now that the competition has been whittled down to an elite group is that away wins are rare - in the past 10 seasons, only six of the 60 first legs in the quarter-finals and semi-finals have been won by the visiting team.

The win rate for all host teams is 53 per cent, so it is surprising to find next week's four home teams quoted at odds-against in the early betting. That puts the value with the home teams and the advice is to back all four on the handicap.

Even the chances of Schalke and Fenerbahce, who host Barcelona and Chelsea respectively, should not be discounted.

Fenerbahce have won four out of four at home in the Champions League this season, including victories over Inter Milan and Sevilla, while English teams have recorded only five wins from 29 trips from this stage of the competition onwards in the past 10 seasons.

Likewise, it is noteworthy that no Spanish team have won an away first leg in the quarter-finals in 12 attempts in the past 10 seasons, so Barcelona are not a cast-iron chance to win at Schalke.

Firing blanks

Average minutes per goal scored by Bolton since Nicolas Anelka was sold to Chelsea: 180

Home, sweet home

Wins out of eight for Tottenham at home to non-Big Four teams under Juande Ramos, giving them a first-rate chance against Newcastle: 7

Rovers away

Away wins out of eight against bottom-half teams for Blackburn, who rate well on the handicap at least at Reading: 6

Beware Hornets' sting

Defeats out of 20 on the road make Watford a solid chance on the handicap again at Hull: 3


Teams from the same country have met nine times in the past 10 seasons in the Champions League quarters or semis, with eight of the first legs having fewer than three goals. Look for the trend to continue when Arsenal host Liverpool

Travel sickness

Defeats in Sevilla's last 10 league visits to Real Madrid, who are a good bet to add another win tomorrow night: 9


Arsenal, Blackburn, West Ham, Plymouth, Watford, Stoke, Oldham, Sampdoria, Tottenham, Le Mans, Toulouse, Espanyol, Bilbao, Stuttgart, Napoli, Real Madrid.


$150 Arsenal (AW, Sat), Watford (handicap, Sat), Real Madrid (HW, Sun).

Last week: two winning bets out of two.