“We are Arsenal, we do it the hard way” 7amkickoff’s Man at the Match Report.

“We are top of the league, say we are top of the league” – something that all of us at the Ashburton Grove tonight could barely contemplate after Coyle’s cloggers took an unexpected two nil lead. Roared on by their fans in the corner adjacent to mine the guttural northerners were initially very vocal but always barely intelligible even though they numbered less than two hundred.

From my view point, near the corner flag where the South end (soon to be the Clock end once the famous old one is installed there at the end of the season) meets the area where the substitutes warm up in front of the away team’s bench, it seemed the game would unfold as expected. Within a minute of the kick off a foray by everyone’s favourite Russian down Bolton’s right flank was curtailed by a snide foul which went unpunished and this would set the tone for the refereeing. Countless fouls committed by Bolton being unpunished with the first infringement by a player in red and white being deemed a foul.

A nagging feeling that Bolton were being afforded too much time on the ball was confirmed by the way the five man midfield was exacerbating the gap between our midfield and forward three.

This rendered Cesc less effective in the first half hour and the groans from the crowd that greeted each piece of build up play that got snuffed out before we reached the final third confirmed this. Also it helped that the physical approach was being used, as predicted, to hustle Cesc out of the game, however so much energy was being expended by Coyles cloggers in executing this plan in the first half that I felt this was never going to last the full ninety minutes.

Coyle cut a very animated figure on the touchline, clad in ludicrously tight tracksuit bottoms, also bizarrely sported by his substitutes, he was on the fringes of his technical area seconds after the start–perhaps he’d be best off cutting back on his pre-match triple espressos? He was so wrapped up in gesticulating and barking orders to his cloggers that when one of his substitute players warming up intercepted a ball coming out of play before a ball boy could get it, so as to keep the momentum of a Bolton attack going, it hit Coyle on the back of the calves and he barely noticed it as the ball rebounded away. Just as well as at that point the Arsenal players then got back in numbers.

The casual approach while in possession we appeared to have adopted led to the first goal when a bout of head tennis in our penalty area was not ended by a decisive clearance but a sliced one by the unfortunate Clichy, and by the devils luck the ball came down perfectly for a lumpen Bolton player to swing, as if to make a clearance (the only way a majority of the Bolton team know how to kick a ball after years of Allardyce’s training) and we were one nil down. A hush, not so different to the minutes silence in respect of Haiti’s earthquake victims before kick off, descended and we thought the unthinkable – loss to the second bottom team!

The Bolton supporters then came to life and were happy to goad the Arsenal fans in the section next to them with their joy turning to glee when a clumsy challenge, one that I could see was clumsy from the other end of the pitch, led to a spot kick.

Two nil down, but after a few moments of shock the crowd gradually started to urge Arsenal on. True they were a few gasps still but pushed on by the supporters the pressure started to build on the Finn’s goal. This particular Bolton player thought it wise to start time wasting after the first goal – time wasting fifteen minutes into a game?
Different manager, same old Bolton.

Naturally this carried on all through the first half with no action taken by referee Riley – perhaps he was trying to get back into “Sir “ Alex’s good books (after the mean things the Glaswegian whisky “connoisseur” said about him earlier in the season) by hampering Arsenal’s attempts to overtake the Salford bankrupts in the league table.

As Bolton’s energy levels visibly dropped – Taylor started off like an Exocet missile but finished the first half more like a wheelchair- Rosicky’s persistent drives forward were rewarded by an excellently taken goal. The relief in the crowd was positively orgasmic as to get anything out of the game a goal pulled back prior to half time was vital. When half time came the Arsenal support could sense we were in the ascendancy however a nagging feeling that Arsenal didn’t have their shooting boots on seemed to be confirmed by the gun that fired freebie T shirts into the crowd, as used by Gunnersaurus, misfired in a similar fashion. The seven foot costumed dinosaur was reduced to lobbing the freebie T-shirts into the crowd.

At this point it’s pertinent to mention that the Bolton supporters took much pleasure in accusing our players of play acting after they’d be scythed down by agricultural challenge after agricultural challenge so I have no sympathy for Bolton if they chose to complain about the circumstances of the equaliser. Yes, it was a robust challenge that left one of their players down, but as is often said, “if you give it, you’ve got to be able to take it” so I don’t give a rat’s furry arse about any subsequent whingeing.

The crowd grew more vociferous, egged on not only by Arsenals growing forward impetus but the injustice of the referee’s inconsistent and contrary officiating. It’s more or less a given that the opposition will be allowed foul after foul before a yellow is flourished, but more or less the first infringement by an Arsenal player will lead to a yellow.
By now the Bolton section of the Ashburton crowd was motionless, like a frozen tableau compared to the scenes of gay – a yes, they did look gay – abandon half an hour into the game.

The third goal was greeted by a roar of a volume I’d never experienced at an Arsenal game; I’m quite sure my left ear drum perforated ever so slightly at that point as the decibel level neared that of a Black Sabbath concert in the front row. Don’t believe what the Man Utd-Liverpool loving football media tell you about the atmosphere at Arsenal – it was as electric as you can get at any stadium housing circa 60,000.

Now could we get a fourth to take us to the top and ruin” Sir” Alex’s evening as much as the previous one had been ruined?

As the team were attacking the north bridge end – opposite to where I was –I missed the build up to the fourth decisive goal and didn’t know who had scored till the replay came up. Arshavin!

Cue a slow, respectful rendition of his song:

He’s five foot four, he’s five foot four.
We’ve got Arshavin, f**k Adebayor

A nice touch at the end was Gallas and Sagna holding a banner aloft in support of Haiti.

A perfect evening rounded off by seeing Tottenham concede a late penalty, shown on the monitors in the concourse areas as I made my way out.

Say it: “We are top of the league, say we are top of the league.

Chary.

Transfer rumors, x-rated tackles and other pre-Bolton diversions!

Turn the sound down (NSFW lyrics and gangsta music) and fast forward to the 2 minute mark and watch Eboue’s X-Rated red card tackle. I’m glad he’s gotten this out of his system over on the continent.

Sky Sports is reporting that Arsenal have made a formal approach for Fulham defender Chris Smalling. He’s English, so this cannot possibly be true.

Go over to The Spoiler and break their poll: Could Arsenal sneak the title this year?

Evidently, giant fake sunglasses from the 80′s are all the rage among fans at the ACN. The Telegraph has the photo gallery.

The Kansas City Wizards (of the MLS) got the go ahead to build a $400m “soccer” complex in Kansas. No word on whether they will be playing on grass, but at least they will be leaving the surreal Northern League baseball stadium that they used to play in. Yes I said “Northern League Baseball.”

My regular reader knows that I have long maintained that the problem with the English national team is not the influx of foreign players as the xenophobes would have us believe, it’s the whole system. Kids are brought up playing long balls, managers and coaches teach heart and heading over touch and control and when they get on the international stage, English players just don’t have what it takes to play tipyy-tappy football with the rest of the world. Supposedly, that’s all going to end. The FA’s new National Football Centre (sic) will banish the long ball to the annals of history and teach footballers how to play football. I’ll believe it when I see it, in 20 years.

Jermaine Beckford has signed for… Everton. I’m sure Moyes got him very cheap.

Racing Santander’s supposed Arsenal target Sergio Canales is only interested in a transfer if he can go back to Racing on a loan. Fine by me, it’s not like a precocious 18 year old footballing aesthete is going to help us win the title this year, we’re already chock full of that.

Sol sues Pompey, for money.

And finally, Britney Spears has decided to start using a faux English accent all the time.  She may be a right mentalist but that’s the bird for me, innit?

Pip pip toodleooo!

Arsenal v. Bolton; it’s like deja vu all over again

This was the game in hand, the game that was supposed to propel Arsenal to the top of the table and legitimize this young team’s claims of a title challenge, and then it got postponed. Then Chelsea postponed a game and Arsenal played on against Everton and now, when we play Bolton today, we’ll be the team, erm, handing Chelsea a game in hand.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Wenger is keen to point out. Taking the league lead is a huge psychological boost to this young team. It should prove to them that they are good enough to be in the title race and hopefully this match will inspire them to fight tooth and nail over the next month when the chips are truly down and Arsenal play Villa, United Chelsea and Liverpool in what will most likely be the definitive moment of the season.

Fabregas gave a rather lengthy interview the other day and is talking about how he’s got his hunger back after last year’s disappointing season.  That desire was evident the other day as Bolton tried every dirty trick in the book, including Taylor’s disgraceful knee to the back of Cesc’s head after he had been hauled down in the box, and yet Cesc simply put on a masterclass in midfield and showed Bolton that no matter what they did he would come out top. Today I expect Bolton to be very wary of Cesc and drop into a 4-5-1 with Muamba basically trying to mark Cesc out of the game. He’ll need help from his teammates in that case and I expect Diaby to step up and be the box-to-box midfielder that Arsenal will need to break down the Bolton resistance and protect against the constant long balls that they will play to Kevin Cyril Davies. Not to take anything away from Cesc, just pointing out that this could be a real opportunity for Diaby to build on a string of recent impressive performances.

Up front, Arsene is babbling on about not needing a striker, but sort of needing a striker, or maybe just needing Arshavin, it’s hard to tell. My gut instinct is that basically he’s obfuscating the fact that he isn’t going to buy anyone by talking about how he doesn’t need a goal scoring striker, how the modern game has changed and yet simultaneously describing how when Arsenal had van Persie up front they were scoring 3 goals a game. He knows that the current dip in goal scoring is directly down to the fact that Arsenal are a bit, uhhh, short up front. What it seems he’s banking on is that the diminished goals return since van Persie’s foot was broken by Chiellini is respectable enough to win the title. Oh and of course, there’s the tired old warhorse that players coming back from injury are “LIKEANEWSIGNING.” So, Bendtner, by no means at the level that van Persie showed this year is never the less going to bring just enough quality to push us over the edge — if I read Wenger’s mind correctly.

There’s 11 days left in the transfer window and Wenger claims that he’s not looking at buying anyone, much to the dismay of most Arsenal fans. There are a ton of “ifs” that could happen between now and the run of games against Villa, United, Chelsea and Pool. It’ll be interesting to see what he has to say after that. Maybe we’ll win them all after Bendtner scores 3 goals a game and gets 3 assists a game and he’ll say “I told you so.”  Whatever Wenger does, you can bet your ass it won’t be paying £35m for Edin Dzeko. In fact, nothing kills a player’s potential transfer to Arsenal more than that kind of crazy retarded valuation.

Defensively, I think Arsenal can do better than they showed on Sunday. I know that we kept a clean sheet but last match, Traore was caught out of position by Lee on nearly every one of Bolton’s possessions and as a team we’re going to have to defend better against Lee down the left side.  Perhaps Clichy will start there, that’s not clear, but what is clear is that Bolton’s projected 5 man midfield will try to get behind Arsenal’s back line with width on both sides of the pitch. Sol Campbell will not play today but is instead slated to come in against Stoke on the weekend. It’s a smart move there I think, giving our center backs a rest while putting in a player who is very confident heading the ball against a team which is so heavily reliant on that one tactic. Arsenal could do with a bit of Sol’s aerial ability today since Bolton are basically the same team (though from long kicks rather than throw-ins) but since he’s probably not match fit yet, we’ll have to wait for Stoke on the weekend.

In goal I’m not talking out of school when I say that Almunia was a disaster to start on Sunday and slowly seemed to build confidence so I’d be shocked if Wenger switched the keeper today. There was some speculation that Fabianski could get the start because it’s a home game and between this and the match at Stoke, it would be the perfect way to introduce a new keeper ahead of the run of four games. Personally, I think Almunia has compromising photos of Wenger and so he’ll get the start. It’s the only thing that explains why he hasn’t already been dropped. Would Jens Lehmann have gotten the same leeway?

The thing is that we need Manny Pickledickle sharp right from the get go as an early goal from Bolton would cause all kinds of problems as they sit back with all 11 players standing in a line in front of the goal mouth. The whole team could do well to heed that admonition as Bolton will look to get at us right off just like they did on Sunday — and but for their profligacy in front of goal would have been up at least a goal.

Right, the match is on Fox Soccer Channel here in the States and kickoff is 11:45 am PST. I have some meetings this afternoon and as such I will not be able to see the match live, but instead will be watching the tape at Doyle’s after 2pm. At half-time, we’ll be recording our first “test-cast” so please stop by and annoy the crap out of us.* I have another post of random links scheduled for later today, look for that later, otherwise, here’s to three points, Arsenal at the top of the table, and to me seeing you all tomorrow!

UP THE ARSE!

*[insert sarkmark], please don’t actually annoy us.