Wow! That was some game. Arsenal’s credentials as league leaders were challenged and the team completed a phenomenal comeback displaying grit, determination, fighting spirit and all round quality.
At this point our place at the top of the league is well and truly deserved.
This game was ironical in many ways. Firstly, the visitors scored from freak chances and went up by two goals without really creating much. It’s ironic and perhaps poetic justice of some sort considering our clean sheet from the game at the Reebok when Bolton had some good chances. Secondly, Bolton actually came and played a clean game without a single dirty tackle only to suffer from a horrific one. Finally, Arsenal literally kick started the march to the top!
It was a lively start and within the first five minutes, Diaby and Arshavin had clear openings from outside the box but they could only manage tame attempts straight at the keeper. It was clear why Bolton have failed to keep a clean sheet and there was no doubt Arsenal were going to score a few in this game.
The first goal came from some crazy defending even by Arsenal standards. First, Diaby headed the ball straight up inside the penalty box while trying to clear a cross. Then, inexplicably, Clichy tried an extremely difficult clearance that looped the ball back towards the edge of the penalty box. Mark Davies beat Vermaelen to the ball and Cahill found himself in a position to tap in!
Apart from the obvious mistakes by Diaby and Clichy, you have to wonder how come Davies was free at the edge of the box? You also have to wonder why Diaby ran forward before the ball was out of the Danger area leaving Cahill free? The fact remains that most of our players are very poor at defending and we need serious work on this.
I wasn’t really worried by the goal as an Arsenal goal looked inevitable. Our players were moving well and it was only a matter of time before the final ball arrived. Cesc got a good chance with only the keeper to beat but the angle was too tight. There were some other half chances too as Bolton sat back for most parts.
Just before the half hour mark Denilson lost the ball near the half way line and Bolton moved it forward with pace to win a corner. A clumsy challenge from the Brazilian conceded a penalty. Almunia, having guessed right, dived to his left but failed to keep the ball out. Normally, I don’t like to blame a keeper for not saving a penalty but when you have reached the ball it goes down as a mistake.
I was still hopeful that we can win this one. Memories of the comeback at the Reebok a couple of seasons ago came flooding back. What we needed was a goal before half time. Bolton were able to frustrate us for a while by sitting deep and defending in numbers. It all changed in a moment of magic form Rosicky.
Fabregas wriggled away from Muamba who had been marking him all day before rolling the ball to little Mozart in an innocuous area just outside the box. As the Czech international strode forward it looked like he will have to turn back to avoid running into Zat Knight. In stead he let fly with a very short back-lift and the ball was in the back of the net before anyone could realize what had happened.
The second half started in a similar manner. With seven minutes gone, Gallas strode forward in support as he had done a few times during the first half. He misplaced a pass that was intercepted by Mark Davies and both players went for the loose ball. Gallas was late with his tackle and went high and studs first on the Bolton man’s ankle. If this tackle had been on an Arsenal player I would have been fuming so there can be no defending the Frenchman’s mistake.
It might not have been a big controversy had the tackle not lead to the goal. As Davies was lying on the ground in pain, Arsenal moved forward. Bolton players were guilty of losing their concentration and Cesc must be commended for maintaining his. After a mini pinball El Capitan kept possession, darted into the box and scored from a really tight angle.
Now it was only a matter of time as the momentum was with the home team. Another surging forward burst from Gallas resulted in a corner when Diaby tried to play the defender in. Bolton failed to clear the corner and Diaby won the second header. Vermaelen created some space for himself by letting the ball run across him before smashing a half volley in off the post. This goal showed the importance of missing the first man and the goal keeper on set piece deliveries. As long as we can keep the ball alive and make the defenders work, set pieces can always yield unexpected opportunities.
After the third goal Arsenal relaxed a bit and Bolton had their first period of sustained pressure. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t create any clear opening in the fifteen minutes or so when Arsenal were taking it easy. Out of nothing Arsenal got the ball to Eduardo on the edge of the Bolton box. His touch towards Arshavin wasn’t ideal but did enough. Once again after a bout of pinball, the ball fell to Arshavin who beat the last defender and slotted it past the keeper.
The Russian had another glorious chance towards the end when he could have scored or collected an assist but his finish was not up to his usual standards.
In the end, Arsenal had 21 shots with 13 on target for their four goals. Bolton had 4 on target for their two goals. The visitors can’t really complain about the result. The tackle from Gallas was dangerous but I don’t believe it affected the outcome of the match. The common excuse that we often hear when our players are taken out is, “He is not a dirty player and there was no malice in the challenge.” Same applies in this case. I am worried that since Alan Wiley did not see the incident Gallas might face some action based on video evidence.
Almunia: Decent effort but could have done better on the penalty.
Sagna: Made a couple of mistakes at the back but nothing serious. Overall another efficient game.
Gallas: Had no clue how to handle Kevin Davies. Put in a number of forward runs.
Vermaelen: Struggled against Kevin Davies. Otherwise a decent outing and picked up good goal.
Clichy: Good effort for a comeback game. Needs to offer more going forward in the coming games.
Denilson: I thought the last game against Everton was his worst for Arsenal but this one might just beat that or might be forgotten as the result was positive. He really struggles in the defensive third, not a good thing for a defensive midfielder!
Diaby: Needs to work on his headers both defensively and offensively. Also has to work on his tackling, we cannot concede free kicks just outside the box against better teams.
Cesc: Not as good as he can be, but still the best player on the pitch.
Rosicky: Great goal, good defensive work rate, always looked lively. We have to keep him fit. Also good to see him getting his speed back.
Eduardo: Worked hard but he has to improve his shooting technique. I don’t think it is a problem due to the injury. He always had inconsistent shooting.
Arshavin: Will blossom if he plays regularly with Cesc and Rosicky. Work rate was excellent in this game.
Subs: Eastmond, Vela and Walcott didn’t get much time but they might have their day in the Cup tie.