My first Saturday 3pm Kick off watching The Arsenal for a while and I spent it in the delightful company of hubby, The Bish and The Bish’s daughter – in the away end…. Now I am not normally one for sitting in away ends, you can’t sing for your team, cheer them on, jump up and down when your team score and if the opposition score there are thousands of celebrating fans around you. It just feels wrong. However, was there any chance on 2 red memberships I would get 4 tickets in the Arsenal end for a Saturday 3pm kick off – even if it was against Bolton? No! So I took up The Bish’s kind offer and found myself with a bunch of northeners, flat caps and all! Taking my seat, I declined The Bishs kind offer to take a bet on the Arsenal Vs Bolton glove count and his suggestion that as I was in the Bolton end and they were all so hard up north I might like to go topless like the Newcastle fans do…
Apparently, Bolton haven’t won against us at home in 47 years and from the start it didn’t look like they would do so this time. Their squad (smallest in the premiership) was very badly depleted – they didn’t even have a full bench (I have a degree of sympathy, but really, this is not Under 9 park football – this is top flight English football so there are no excuses for not having a full squad – buy some more players Megson!) They had no Stelios – the tiny dwarf who always used to score against us or Ivan Campo – crazy haired player, turning circle of an oil tanker but also always used to play well against us. Both Long gone. Nolan, Steinsson and Cahill were all out injured or suspended and so I suppose it was predictable that right from the word go they packed players behind the ball – leaving Elmander alone up front. Arsenal played their typical style of football that we have seen from them so often this season. Fanny about, passing the ball around the edge of the box until finally the opposition intercept – and in Bolton’s case boot it right back to an Arsenal defender.. And we start again…
Do I blame Bolton for playing that way? Not one bit. This season the likes of Bolton, Hull, Fulham etc etc have more and more cottoned on that the way to play against Arsenal is just to restrict our shots on goal and to fall back deep. Bolton actually worked this out under Allerdyce long before most teams did. When we play the big guns such as Manchester United, Chelsea etc – they let us play our fancy football and they try to beat us at our own game – and we technically are better then any other premier league team at ‘playing the beautiful game’. However Wenger is naïve if he thinks teams are really going to sit back and let us play good football and stuff them 5-0 when they can get stuck in, stifle us and hold us to a tedious 0-0 draw or score on the break and beat us. Teams are realizing that this season, and it’s about time Wenger reeled out Plan B rather then whining on about it.
The first half then was mostly Arsenal pressure but few actual break throughs. Van Persie looked lively and had a couple of efforts that went over the cross bar – Perhaps Jaaskelainens day glo green shirt was putting him off?! Perhaps it was putting off the Arsenal fans behind goal from singing because we were very quiet most of the match (though friends assure me the red action section were doing their best) Another quiet person was Adebayor who was almost invisible through most of the match – only really having one good chance in the 2nd half which a combination of hesitation and good defending from O’Brien took away from him.
Half time – 0-0. Fortified with some lovely warming tomato soup from the Bish (i knew there were some good points to sitting in the away end) and nudging awake my by now sleeping husband (combination of the cold and a very boring first half?) I wondered whether to expect more of the same in the next 45. Bolton had lost Elmander during the first half to injury and Riga was on, looking bright and playing well to the extent that Bolton actually got the ball past the half way line a couple of times at the start of the second half. Matty Taylor having a decent chance saved well by Almunia before Arsenal started to dominate again.
With about 20 minutes to go, Van Persie, so unluckily, had a great shot hit the post and Toure – our 7th captain of the season, also had a long range effort pushed away by Jussi. You began to wonder if this would be our day. Then came another substitution – Eboue off – Bendtner on, and immediately things perked up. With his first touch he headed goalwards only to see it saved, then he had another shot before with his 3rd sliding in to stab home a delightful Van Persie cross and score the games only goal.
Its been said, and I am sure is true that we have scored more goals in the last 10 minutes of games then any other team this season. We certainly left it late on Saturday. 3 points is all well and good but I would be lying if I said I had been left pleased and encouraged by our performance – I saw more promising football played by my U11 school girl’s football team last week quite frankly.
As for some of the games other talking issues – Bendtner? Love him or hate him? I have never really fallen into either camp particuarly but he was JUST what the Arsenal team needed on Saturday and I hope Wenger keeps hold of him. Diving Arsenal fancy dans? Dirty northern Bas*ar*ds? Other then one display of gymnastics incorporating 5 forward rolls that could yet see Clichy make the French Gymnastics team for London 2012 I don’t think the Arsenal players were particularly Ronaldo-like in their reactions to fouls, yet neither did I see any particularly shocking (by Bolton standards at least 😉 ) tackles from the boys in white.
So to sum up – 3 points, somewhat luckily. Good games for Bentdner and Van Persie. Bolton perhaps unlucky not to hang onto a draw – not because they actually showed any gumption going forward but they defended well all game despite us playing well below par. I suppose its reassuring that we can play badly and win – that hasn’t happened often this season but this match will never go down as a classic…
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