An unusually mild late September afternoon saw Arsenal’s third home game of the season take place in what the media would like to say was an air of apprehension amongst the support.
First off – that tabloid generated assertion was way off the mark as the feeling in the bars and streets around the N5 area of London was certainly not apprehension. The mood was that of expectancy and quiet confidence that the real Arsenal would show up today.
Your humble scribe found himself in the Upper tier of the Clock End where conventional wisdom would assert there would be a soporific feeling generated amongst the support, only slightly less lack lustre than Club level.
Second off – not true either; the support was surprisingly vocal and while my less than complimentary remarks about Cyril Davies (when he replaced the anonymous Ngog) were still met by inquiring looks from pre-pubescent Gooners, irregardless (c. Tim) from where I sat Block 124 backed the team as well as the rest of the home support did.
From this view point the Red action section of the North bank could be seen passing around the giant club flag.
Once all the crowd had arrived it seemed the stadium was around 90% full with Bolton’s support taking up around 80% of their allocation
Prior to kick off we saw a rather cheesy “huddle” from the Bolton players – that’s so 1990’s; who does on pitch team huddles anymore?
After a slightly nervy start, where Chesney pulled off a great one handed save from an early Bolton attack Arsenal settled into their passing game gradually although nowadays it is more customary to highlight our defence. Chesney is without a doubt the leader of the defence – for such a young man he commands his back four like a seasoned pro, not someone who was keeping goal for Brentford the season before last.
Apart from the early shot on our goal Bolton offered very little going forward in the first half and in that respect the defence seemed to settle. There was the odd hic cup, where a hoofed Jaaskelainen goal kick would bounce a few too many times before our centre backs cleared their lines however no groans were to be heard.
What we still heard were the odd groan when our forward would not shoot early enough, although that was harsh on us as the Bolton 4-5-1 line up was basically two banks of 4 close together with little room for manoeuvre, hence the probing for an opening prior to shooting.
Early impressions on the new players were that Arteta looks very much like a player used to the hurly burly of a rumbustious quality of a premier league midfield and at home there. There were a number of efficient forward passes he made that although not Hollywood, eye catching long range passes, kept our attacks ticking over nicely.
Mertesacker looked a gentle giant rather than an orc-like animal of a defender in his style of play, but I saw a clever cut back to nutmeg the Bolton left winger and keep the ball in play and pass forward as well as several passes in the opposition area which progressed attacks nicely. This suggested some finesse and skill – I wager he’ll fit in nicely. I suspect as his game time grows he will become that big lump in the centre of our defence that we have needed ever since “Big Tone” (TA06) retired.
It soon became apparent after the substitution of Ngog that K Cyril Davies is indeed an odious individual – he took less than two minutes to commit a foul after coming on and his whole repertoire of football skills consist of backing into the defender and falling over to win free kicks.
As half time approached I realised that I didn’t feel nervous after a goalless first 45 minutes; partly because although we were feeling our way back in our attacking play Bolton offered very little goal threat and their “strategy/tactics” consisted of nullifying our attack by making sure Robinson hacked Theo at every opportunity and Wheater grappled with Robin, the way in which Vidic is allowed to WWF-style-lee, whenever we had a free kick in the Bolton half.
Half time was spent by of me kicking myself for not getting any pictures of “The Carlsberg girls” who were around the stadium concourse posing for pictures with supporters before kick off; as a middle aged chap I naturally felt uncomfortable asking for a picture with the trios of twenty somethings, however there’s always next time to rectify this omission.
At the restart the stadium big screen showed a close up of Arteta and Gervinho on the centre spot pointing and discussing how to get the second half underway – whatever they said, they could quote Hannibal Jones in saying “I love it when a plan comes together” as Ramsey fed Robin onto his hammer left foot seconds later who then buried the shot bottom right past Jaaskelainen who had, typically, been repelling Arsenal’s attacks almost single handedly.
A minor miracle was Clattenburg playing the advantage when another Bolton ankle crusher took out Gervinho in the build-up to the goal – and another miracle, after the goal was scored he booked the offending Bolton player (Steinsson)
The Bolton fans who had, up till then, contented them themselves with chanting “Champions League you’re having a laugh” fell silent so we returned the favour by shouting back “Premier League, you’re having a laugh!”
Arsenal gained confidence and the attacks became more fluid and Theo more influential, with another one of his central runs leading to Wheater, taking time off practising his half-Nelson on Robin, deciding – by way to hack him down.
DOGSO – red card and flash forward to Coyle bemoaning how even the game had been up till then (excuse me, you were one nil down and camped in your own half) in the post-match press conference and how the red card was the turning point.
Despite being hacked relentlessly Theo kept ploughing forward and another run from centre to right set up Robin for his 100th goal for Arsenal with a deft flick from the Dutchman who now has 26 goals in 31 games for 2011. His thanks to Theo visible even from my distant viewpoint.
The blow Gervinho took earlier probably accounted for his replacement by Arshavin ten or so minutes from time and Robin was taken off close to the end so he could get applause for his brace and 100 goal achievement. There was still time for Theo to set up our Russian enigma with a shot he rifled against the side netting, Andrey’s guile and craft will be needed on Wednesday night as we look to gain points in the Champions League.
Sadly Theo, after having missed an easy opportunity when put through by Ramsey, then pulled up with hamstring trouble as a Bolton corner led to a through ball to him that should have made him one on one with the Bolton keeper. A sting in the tail of this match that we could do without and we await medical bulletins on the extent of the injury.
As the full time whistle approached the early departees were punished by a late Song strike, a rising drive into the top of the net as Arsenal attackers pulled apart the tiring Bolton defence.
All in all a satisfactory win and, at the very least, a platform to build on.
Is this result the start of a change in our wretched form to date – who knows? Gooners world wide will be hoping it is.