Three goals. Three Points. Three Cheers.
Well, I am sitting here in a cabin at the smoky mountains and everyone with me is keen to move out into the forest so I will keep this short.
I thought both teams started brightly. Bolton came with a plan to press Arsenal all over the pitch, a plan that has worked for many teams, and a high-ball strategy (let me not call it long ball) that almost reaped instant dividends.
Koscielny went for a high-ball aimed at Ngog. The Frenchman never got close but bumped into the striker with the duo clashing heads and needing treatment off the field. The free-kick was stood up on the right side of Arsenal’s box where Sagna was supposed to challenge Wheater. It was a no-contest as the Bolton defender headed the ball into the danger area.
The visitors didn’t have many bodies in that area and Arsenal could have cleared it easily. But Gibbs was waiting for the ball to drop so that he could kick it away. Pratley attacked the ball better and stuck out a boot to direct it goalwards. Szczesny reacted well to palm it away for a corner. It seemed like an ominous start but Arsenal managed to ensure that was the visitors’ best chance.
Bolton were pressing well but just didn’t have the right organization to back it up. Inside ten minutes a simple ball from Arteta put Gervinho in behind. But the Ivorian kicked it too long allowing the Keeper to smother it.
After that the game was hard fought in midfield. Arsenal were moving well but Bolton were effective with their chasing and pressing. Arsenal created a number of half-chances, like Van Persie going close with a free-kick, in the first half but Jaaskelainen wasn’t being tested much.
The first-half ended on an even keel with Arsenal dominating the attack while Bolton respectable in defence.
The second period started with a bang. Koscielny kicked one to Gervinho who played an intricate flick just as he was fouled. The ref played advantage when Ramsey pounced on to the ball from the winger. The Welshman played a simple pass to RvP after advancing towards the Bolton box. Van Persie took it in a central area just outside the box and advanced to a tight angle on their right. After beating Muamba’s attempted block with a dummy the Arsenal skipped notched number 99 with a blast past Jaaskelainen on the near post.
Just like the first period, about eight minutes into the second half Gervinho got another chance as he cut inside and played a one-two with Song that put him in behind. Once again his touch was poor and the ball trickled out.
Soon after, as Bolton were committing men forward, Ramsey found a wonderful through-ball for Walcott. Wheater pulled Theo back and was sent off for DOGSO.
Then the game became a one-sided affair with Arsenal creating numerous chances and scoring two. Van Persie reached his ton with a deft tap-in of a Walcott cross that had been created after a one-two with Ramsey.
Song scored his finishing qualities with a wonderfully curler from the edge of the box.
Jaaskelainen made a number of saves and the other defenders made some blocks to keep the score respectable.
At the other end Szczesny was only worried when Bolton were able to break on a counter. This happened when Arsenal had four or more bodies down the right wing but lost the ball to a poor touch/pass. As I’ve discussed before it happens often enough with Arsenal. Thankfully, Chris Eagles didn’t have the skill to finish. Conceding such an equalizer against 10 men at home would have been embarrassing.
On the whole this was a good game from the Gunners and there were some encouraging signs as far as the movement goes. The understanding and final pass quality is still not at the level desired but it should come with time.
Despite the clean sheet I would not call this an example of good defending. This was more like a game with little or no defending to do. As I have said in the past, Arsenal look really good when they can pull the opponents all over the place and pin them back. But that does not mean the defence is good. When the ball movement fails, the defence is challenged and we haven’t seen any consistency on that front. I am not saying this was bad defending, just that much should not be read from such match.
Szczesny: Largely untroubled. Made the saves when he had to.
Sagna: Looked like he was a bit restrained with his forward movement in this game. Struggled against Wheater in the air but at least provided some sort of a physical tussle. Played a part in the third goal.
Mertesacker: Had very little to do but looked very composed on the ball. Passing seemed flawless.
Koscielny: Struggled against the strikers in the air but you could see he was trying. Moved forward with the ball on a few occasions which is an art he has to develop.
Gibbs: I thought he had more of a license to venture forward compared to Sagna. Decent performance on the left without any outstanding moments.
I thought the defenders weren’t very comfortable in the air but Bolton lacked creativity and never got enough bodies forward even when they won the first high-ball. This and the presence of the Arsenal midfield in support made the defence fairly solid.
Song: Spent a lot of time higher up the pitch. Provided some interesting passes. Goal was really well taken and the wingers could learn a thing or two from that. Good work rate and was present at the back on most occasions.
Ramsey: In a role reversal with Song, Ramsey spent a lot of time in deeper areas especially in the first half. Picked up two assists even if those particular passes (one just bounced of his shin) weren’t special. Did play some a couple of quality through-balls. Lacked a bit of pace while chasing back.
Arteta: Was the most impressive passer in the game. Can create a lot of chances from deeper positions as he seems to be getting a better hang of the movement of the wide players. Also hit the target with a couple of well-taken shots.
I thought this was the best midfield display of the season. Bolton’s midfielders were working really hard and it was a tough battle that the Arsenal trio won. Passing can be better, some go short while a few are over hit, but it’s headed in the right direction.
Walcott: Good assist, excellent movement up front. Won the red card, if that’s the right way of describing it. Produced some good passes in the final third. Should have finished when he got into a one-v-one. The strike was well-directed but the Keeper was able to read it. Needs to work on his finishing, which has improved but has to be a couple of notches higher if he wants to play centrally.
RvP: This time I think I am with the popular choice for the MotM. Was popping up all over the pitch. Both goals were well-taken. Another inspirational effort.
Gervinho: Good movement and had some nice touches. But his technique let him down twice. Exciting and frustrating as ever.
Subs: Arshavin and Rosicky showed some good touches when the pressure was off. Chamakh didn’t see much of the ball.
Wenger: I won’t be surprised if Arsenal have been doing specific work on their movement and co-ordination. More of the same please, with steady improvement. Starting eleven was good and did it’s job. The subs were given a few good minutes.
I thought the forward players showed much better co-ordination in this game and the midfielders were able to find their runs more often. It will take a few weeks to get at the level Arsenal need in order to challenge for the bigger trophies but the signs were encouraging.