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Cold spell leaves Arsenal feeling heat

Arsenal's fixture list has become so congested after the weather forced postponement of last night's Premier League game against Bolton Wanderers that even league officials cannot pinpoint a date when the game will be played - and admit that scheduling it will be dependent on the club's Champions League progress.

With such a tight league schedule this season, the fixture list is already at breaking point and if the bad weather causes further Premier League games to be cancelled at the weekend completing the season on May 9 could become impossible.

Arsene Wenger's team are not likely to be able to fit in the game against Bolton until the end of March or possibly early April, by which time they may yet be in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Last night's game was a catch-up match to bring Arsenal, who have played 19 games, in line with the majority of the rest of the league, who have already played 20 games.

The Premier League does not like discrepancies between clubs in the amount of games played because it distorts the true picture of the title run-in. Sources at the league said yesterday that Arsenal's game-in-hand would have to be played in the last six weeks of the season.

If Arsenal progress to the Champions League quarter-finals then the week starting Monday 22 March will be the only real option. If they were to play Bolton in that week it would mean playing three games in eight days before the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final match.

Wenger is understood to be exasperated already at ITV's decision to move the FA Cup fourth-round tie against Stoke City to Sunday 24 January, instead of the Saturday because it gave him less time to prepare for the match against Aston Villa three days later.

The postponement of the Bolton game does mean that the likes of Alex Song — who is at the African Cup of Nations — and injured players such as Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy and possibly Nicklas Bendtner will theoretically be available to play in more games.

The snow-enforced postponements have proved a nightmare for the Premier League, who are already operating on a tighter schedule this season because of the World Cup finals in the summer and the decision by Uefa to play the Champions League final on a Saturday rather than a Wednesday.

Manchester United can at least point to one benefit of being eliminated from the FA Cup by Leeds United. It means that their league game against Hull City scheduled for 26 January — which had to be postponed because of the Carling Cup semi-final — can now be played on the weekend of January 23-24, when the FA Cup fourth round takes place.

Belfast Telegraph