There are very few certainties in life and as an Arsenal fan there were things that this team should have known and been prepared for against a dreary Bolton side. The most obvious of which was the way that Bolton would stifle any attacking options for the home team by packing midfield and playing negative football. The worst aspect of this tactic was the time wasting which began in the first half. The next certainty, related to the physical presence of Kevin Davies who should have received more than one booking, one for an elbow on Gael Clichy in the first five minutes of play and one later on for a cynical late tackle on Carlos Vela. The final certainty was that the match officials would contrive by their inept performances to destroy the game’s beauty for the onlooking connoisseurs.
There were very few highlights in a drab first half performance that saw Robin van Persie easily our best player, with two attempts on target. Arsenal showed resilience against the negative tactics of Bolton, but were all too predictable as the Trotters allowed Arsenal to play their lateral continental passing game in front of the 18 yard box, followed upon almost every occasion by a failed inaccurate high cross trying to locate Adebayor. Our Togalese striker was clueless for the majority of the game and it became clear that any goal would have to come from other resources. The dual defensive midfield pairing of Denilson and Diaby appeared to work efficiently together and between themselves there were fewer balls given away to the opposition, but Diaby was frequently caught too easily whilst in possession of the ball.
At the back, Djourou’s aerial supremacy gave our back four the presence that it had been crying out for. Combined with the passion of the captain Kolo Toure, the usual full backs completed a defensive unit that was only being undermined by yet another erratic display by Almunia. His decision making was poor and upon several occasions Arsenal were indeed fortunate to be only playing a side as negative as Bolton, who had their main striker relieved through injury, so they lacked potency. My prediction that Lukansz Fabianski will take over as number one before the end of the season seems ever more likely as Arsene Wenger has ruled out buying a goalkeeper in this transfer window.
Half time: Arsenal 0 Bolton 0
Arsenal came out with the now accustomed second half resolve, there being a noticeable increase in tempo and desire to make something happen. They looked in need of support and the fans duly obliged as the noise levels in the stadium increased. A diving Almunia denied Bolton’s Matt Taylor from opening their account with a header in a rare attacking riposte from the northerners. Jaaskeleinen was forced to parry a long range effort from Toure wide of his far post as Arsenal pressed forward. Then came the master stroke from Arsene Wenger. Carlos Vela came on for Diaby and Nasri moved into a central position, a lot deeper to his formerly accustomed position whilst at Marseilles, but it soon became evident that he was much more comfortable in this playmaking role, and he was soon to prove a point.
I have always questioned the wisdom of Arsene Wenger playing midfielders out of their usual position, and I maintain that this tactic has yet to work successfully this season. Nasri and Diaby both seem to deliver more when not played in wide positions. That having been said, the amount of injuries at the moment and the number of central midfielders does tend to mean that Wenger may have very little option but to use his players like this. Arsenal’s attacks took on more purpose, urged by a rising crescendo of noise from the crowd. A set piece opportunity saw Bendtner come on for Eboue, and the Dane almost scored with his header being the first touch on taking to the field.
The deadlock was finally broken on 84 minutes when playmaker Nasri slid a ball to Clichy in an advanced position on the left flank. In turn Clichy passed a wonderful angled ball to find Robin van Persie’s run wide of the 18 yard box. The Dutchman looked up and with his first touch floated a majestic cross into the danger area in front of the Bolton goal. Niklas Bendtner made up for his earlier lapses of concentration on the ball by diving in at the far post to convert the opportunity with the outside of his left foot. This was a very good finish as it was his desire that beat the Bolton defender to the ball. This was the desire that we had needed and had lacked in previous games. I only hope that Bendtner will heed the lessons of this goal.
Arsenal 1 Bolton Wanderers 0 (Bendtner 84’)
Bolton now realised that the game was up, and suddenly all thoughts of a draw had been dashed. They raised they tempo and almost replied with a weak header from Kevin Davies who rather worryingly from the Arsenal point of view found himself unmarked after a Bolton foray into the right half of our penalty area. Despite this change in urgency from goalkeeper upwards, Bolton were not to profit from their negative display, and rightly so, as it would have been a travesty to reward such blatant negative football.
Full time: Arsenal 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Djourou, Clichy, Eboue (Bendtner 74), Diaby (Vela 64), Denilson, Nasri, Adebayor (Ramsey 88), Van Persie.
Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Wilshere, Bischoff, Gibbs.
Bolton: Jaaskelainen, Basham, Shittu, Andrew O’Brien, Samuel, Taylor, Muamba, McCann, Gardner, Elmander (Riga 39), Davies, Riga (Obadeyi 77).
Subs Not Used: Bogdan, Fojut.
Referee: Chris Foy
So it was ugly, it was not vintage Arsenal, but somehow there was a feeling around the ground that the Rubicon had been crossed. There was a sense of togetherness between this embattled Arsenal team and it’s fans. Last season we were being criticised for being over elaborate in front of goal, today we were rewarded with a strange blend of desire and focus coupled with lethargic passing. We have now gone seven games unbeaten in the Premier League WDDDWWW taking 15 out of a possible 21 points. Compare that with the previous seven of WDLWLLW of only 10 points out of 21. We need to be cautiously optimistic about the next four fixtures that before the Tottenham game on February 8th that could put our aspiration to finish comfortably in the top four back on track.
Fixtures against Hull City, Everton and West Ham will not be easy, but the results from those games will tell us if we have the bottle and desire to save our season. Our task has been made a little easier by Liverpool dropping 2 points against Stoke City, and with Manchester United and Chelsea facing off tomorrow, a draw there would benefit us also. Aston Villa won despite Jay Simpson’s West Brom being denied a blatant penalty in the closing seconds of that West Midlands Derby, with Ashley Young’s alleged touch on the ball being homeopathic in my opinion. So after all the unnecessary distractions of the first week of this transfer window, Gooners finally have something to hold onto. We won ugly and held a clean sheet, but is it enough to silence the Gooner critics in our ranks? Only time will tell I’m afraid.
Well done the la ds in Red and White. My man of the match… Samir Nasri.
Fabregas the King.