“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.