Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday November 26 2006
I know, I know, I know exactly what you're going to think when you see the title of the article. Sour grapes, Arsenal have to learn to be more physical etc, etc. So allow me to diffuse any ire I might face. I have no issue with the result or the way in which Bolton played football. Bolton are a positive side that try to win every game, contrary to popular belief they can play aesthetically pleasing football, two of their goals were very nicely crafted. I have no problems with the long ball tactics, they are extremely good at what they do and in Kevin Nolan and Gary Speed they have two of the best midfielders in the Premiership at the moment. My issues arise elsewhere.
Yesterday's performance was a very schizophrenic one. The back four, both as a unit and individually, had poor games. Toure looked as though he was outmuscled and vulnerable in the air, Clichy looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights at times, Eboue was too composed and Senderos failed to be the big commanding centre half I know he can be. Senderos is much better aerially than Kolo Toure, but Swiss Tony did not take command. Instead it was Gilberto who did so, essentially trying to cover all four defensive positions on set pieces. The first goal was a dreadful one to concede, Faye allowed free reign to head home unmarked. Wenger would have been drilling into the team all week the importance of defending set pieces and to be forced to chase a game, yet again, to such a straightforward goal is unforgivable. I think the absence of Gallas was felt very sorely, I do not think Billy would have stood for the kamakaze nature of our defending.
The Gunners were simply not at the races for half an hour after the goal, Bolton were allowed to put balls into the box by a midfield that did not give enough. Fabregas and Flamini did not press the ball or attempt to put tackles in, I simply do not think Flamini has the requisite quality to play for Arsenal, for all his effort he is too lean. Cesc was a passenger for most of the match, being closed down in possession and failing to force the issue. I do not know how Cesc thought he could get through a game against Bolton with such a static approach. Freddie Ljungberg looks a shadow of himself and just cannot affect games anymore. Without Bergkamp's vision, his runs look haphazard and hawkish. A serious hip injury has robbed him of a yard of pace and as a result I don't think he contributes anything anymore. Had it not been for the departures of Campbell, Pires and Bergkamp in the summer, I am certain Freddie would have been sold.
Young Walcott embodied Arsenal's performance. Threatening going forward, he panicked the Bolton defence with his cavalier approach, committing defenders who could do nothing but cynically scythe him down. But Walcott did little to no defensive work and did not support Eboue. Having seen him for ninety minutes, I think Wenger will be quick to make this point to him and knowing the mature level headed person Theo is, he will take it on board with equal gusto. Adebayor was left to largely feed on scraps in the first half and his isolation was the key to nullifying Arsenal. After Anelka was given ample time to cut inside and crack an unbelievable shot in off the underside of the bar, my immediate thought was for us to avoid a drubbing. But the captain gave us a lifeline, Gilberto heading home a Fabregas cross. It was indicative of the way Gilberto cajouled his troops, trying to simultaneously marshall the defence and be the springboard for attack. It would have been nice if Cesc and Flamini would have helped him out.
The away side were transformed in the second half, using Walcott to much better effect we dominated proceedings, by pressing the ball and pinning Bolton back. Why we were not doing this in the first half, I've no idea. We were left to rue our luck, as the reebok crossbar was rattled by Ljungberg, Adebayor and Fabregas respectively. The all too familiar pace of Anelka sucker punched us in a rare Bolton advance, with Senderos, Toure and Lehmann all culpable with their poor positioning.
As is usually the case with Bolton there were several distasteful incidents, which soured my match experience. I can well accept the score line and the vivacity with which Bolton fed on our weaknesses, but isolated acts of thugishness which were calculated and unnecessary. This is the most illustrious period of Bolton's history, Allardyce has given them unprecedented levels of success- yet they still cannot even nearly fill a small stadium in a populated region of England. I think the indifference of their own support says it all. Firstly, a studs up 'challenge' by Alan Shearer incarnate Kevin Daivies left Eboue understandably fuming. I was positioned right behind the tackle and it was lamentable that Davies felt the need to raise his studs. The push in the chest that followed was greatly exaggerated by Eboue. But by my calculations Davies committed two yellow card offences concurrently, but with Mike Dean doing his best invertabrae impression, he declared open season for Bolton. Dean's performances was quite dispicable, condoning acts of random violence with his pathetic shrugging, yet booking Arsenal defenders for the most miserly of crimes. Quinton Fortune was next up in the museum of indiscretion, completely needlessly kneeing Theo Walcott in the side of the face with the ball long since dispatched into touch. Not content with his first half folly, Davies thought he would, quite literally, chance his arm again, swinging an elbow into the face of Freddie Ljungberg-nery a free kick was given. Of course when Lehmann and Ljungberg had the temerity to complain about their limbs being so ruthlessly targeted, Dean booked them. If I did my job in the manner that Mr. Dean did his yesterday, I would be left clutching my p-45. Something else that has always troubled me at the reebok is the way the mascot is allowed to man the touchline, stalking the linesman and screaming into his ear. With Eboue stricken yesterday, the mascot then incited the crowd by shouting abuse at Kolo Toure. Being the fernickerty individual I am, I have written to the F.A about this before, and they assured me that the **** dressed as a lion would be reprimanded. Not the first time the football association has blown smoke on the critical issues then. :-)
I always lend my vocal support in a vociferous and committed manner, but it's been a while since I have spontaneously started a chant. Back in my halcyeon teenage days, I would try all the time (with mixed results), but anybody who heard the chant, 'You're scum and you know you are' will be pleased to know it was composed and perormed by your esteemed writer. It's not often I use such strong vocabulary as 'scum' against any opponent, and with the combustible frustration of the moment now expended- I do not regret a bleeding word of it! Ultimately it was unfortunate, because Bolton played very well, they had some fortune defensively, but attacked us with impunity and elucidated our all too shabby defending. Anelka's goals were brilliantly crafted, but unnecessary incidents such as these really sour my opinion of them. How Davies elbowing, shoving and studding everyone in sight, or Fortune's sickening off the ball decapitation attempt aids their game I am not sure. They are a good side and do not need to sink to such gutter tactics. I suppose any side is a reflection of its manager and Allardyce is a great coach, but an appalling human being with no integrity whatsoever. (At this point, I could say something all the more libellous, but as a patron of this site, it would probably incite legal proceedings. Needless to say, the crumpled ten pound note in my pocket was used to illustrate certain points that were nothing to do with the purchasing outlets at the reebok). Ultimately though, we still cannot beat them, and do you know what? It kills me. Particularly when your day is compounded by a coach driver who decides to take a little detour around Buckinghamshire, causing you to miss your last train. Needless to say, the two and a half hour pit stop at Victoria Station did nothing to sweeten the grapes. LD.
Date:Sunday November 26 2006
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