Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday September 21 2008
This morning I am absolutely bushed. I don't think I've ever clocked upmore miles in seven days following the Arsenal than this week, 3,500 miles to be precise with two days of work thrown into the equation. (All that and Walcott, Eboue and Toure apart, no Arsenal players came to applaud the away supporters in Kyiv). Having made our way through heavy traffic, we arrived at the ground just as the final whistle sounded at Anfield, the 0-0 draw presenting us with the chance to top the Premiership. Regulars at Arsenal matches will be aware that the starting eleven and the substitutes warm up separately, but in the last two games one substitute (yesterday van Persie) has warmed up with the side. I'm not sure of the significance of that, I'm not even sure if it's interesting, I suspect not. The curious sight of Adebayor and Bendtner sharing a joke (they smiled and everything) gave one good vibes for the bonhomie of the squad.
Monsieur Wenger made two changes from the side which drew in Kyiv, with Walcott rested to the bench in favour of Eboue and Nicklas Bendtner came in for van Persie, Bendtner's deployment was probably as much to do with his height defending set pieces as it was to rest van Persie, who had an indifferent game in the Ukraine. The Gunners began reasonably well, retaining the ball effectively and making Bolton chase. However, a curling Nolan shot from range gave Almunia reason to track back and flick the ball over the bar. Arsenal came close when Bendtner chested Sagna's cross down for Adebayor, but his goalbound strike was brilliantly blocked by Andy O' Brien. But Arsenal conceded a needless corner when Almunia came from his line as Sagna was about to clear, the imposing (i.e. fat) figure of Nolan forced a corner. Almunia had a good game but my fears about his decision making from his goal line persist. Joey O'Brien swung the corner in, Davies made sure Toure could not jump by pulling him downwards with the ball in flight, he then jumped to guide a header into the corner. It looked like the same old story. Particularly after Davies typically thrust an elbow into Toute's face minutes later. Referee Steve Bennett did little to discourage Davies' thuggery and the consequences would soon be felt.
The home support unwisely decided to begin a rendition of 'you're not very good', whilst their fucking annoying mascot Lofty the Lion was allowed to stalk the touchline and beratethe linesman and Arsenal players on his side of the pitch. It tells you everything you need to know about what a pathetic little club Bolton are. The Gunners responded by trusting their football, Eboue and Denilson in particular really stepping up to the plate and dictatint the tempo of the match. Song, Fabregas and Denilson constantly swapped positions, which caused Bolton some confusion as one minute Fabregas would be tracking back with a crunching challenge and the next Denilson would be in his stead allowing Cesc to support the play. With the added buffer of Alex Song, Fabregas and Denilson looked much more comfortable together and struck up and excellent understanding. Eboue was just everywhere. A Cesc Fabregas cross from the right was excellently chested down by Bendtner for Toure, who snatched at his shot and dragged wide from ten yards. Then Fabregas' curling through ball sent the tireless Adebayor clear on goal, Jaaskelainen had his angles narrowed down well as Ade's finish agonisingly clipped the inside of the post. The Gunners belief was unwavering, Fabregas' corner some sixty seconds later was headed onto the opposite post by Alex Song. Bolton's luck just could not continue.
The equaliser duly followed, Fabregas again the architect on the edge of the area, his measured pass was flicked on by Bendtner into the path of an offside looking Eboue, but the Ivorian was allowed to run on and slot home his first Premiership goal. Well deserved it was too for the team and the individual alike. Arsenal, much like Dracula in an excellent 70s blaxploitation flick, had their groove back. It would take only another two minutes for the Gunners to surge into the lead with some delightful football. Adebayor found the ubiquitous Denilson in the left channel, he got his head up and produced a sweet, low cross for Nicklas Bendtner to slide into the net. Wenger spoke earlier in the week about Denilson's assists record this season and the Brazilian was happy to swell those statistics further. I think his performances have been very multifarious this season, but yesterday he was inspired. If he can continue to demonstrate the intelligent telepathy with Fabregas with consistent displays of the aptitude he showed at Bolton then the team will be a much more frightening prospect than it looked on September 1st. If he and Eboue can show they can be first teamers in the manner they did yesterday, I will happily eat my words. But consistency is the byword here.
A good old fashioned rendition of 'who are you?' greeted Bolton fans down to our left who really had been too quick to gloat. Denilson again found Eboue on the left, he cut inside and evaded two challenges before his goalbound shot was deflected wide. But Bolton stirred just before the break, Denilson dithered on the ball in the area and it worked its way to O'Brien on the left his pull back was met with a measured shot from Nolan, Almunia demonstrated commendable reflexes to palm the ball wide. But having been outclassed by the visitors a familiar foe would leave his mark in the only way he knows how. As soon as a ball broke loose on the left a fifty fifty between Davies and Clichy was impending. Davies was well within his rights to go for it, but frommy vantage point behind Davies in the upper tier, one could see him propel himself into the challenge with a brute force that was entirely unneccessary. In keeping with Davies' motives as a footballer, the challenge was a calculated piece of malice designed to injure, watch Davies left knee deliberately follow through into Clichy's shin. A piece of premeditated thuggery from the sort of player who just would not be permitted to make a living this way in Europe's other top divisions. Whilst thugs such as Davies, Guthrie and Barton are allowed to take the pitch with the express intention to hurt opponents with the mimimum punishment dished out, the Premiership is not and cannot be the best league on earth. In the second half, Alex Song slightly mistimed a challenge and was booked, Davies nearly broke Clichy's leg and was afforded the same punishment. Eduardo's misfortune has taught Premiership referees and despicable pundits like Hansen absolutely zero. Perhaps Hansen will maintain a vigil of silence if Clichy were to reveal that, in the manner of Jamie Carragher, he had earmarked some mates to 'do' Davies? Diaby was correctly sent off for a similar challenge on Steinsson last season. It's a shame because, Davies apart, Bolton were largely tough but fair.
Arsenal predictably tired in the second half and Bolton took advantage. With Eboue and Sagna both manning the left flank, the home side attempted to exploit any lingering discomfort. Both Sagna and Eboue stood up to the challenge. Though an early chance arrived in the second half for the Gunners to put the game to bed. Alex Song's curling shot from the edge of the area excellently tipped wide by Jaaskelainen. But a fatigued Gunners side began to drop back and await the aerial bombardment, Bendtner and Adebayor, who had both led the line excellently, began to fade and Fabregas was looking exhausted. Steinsson headed over an O'Brien corner. In the South Stand Upper it was all clenched bowels and gnawed fingernails, a heart stopping momnet arrived with seven minutes left. Ricardo Gardner swung in a left wing cross which Almunia could only palm out as far as Ricardo Vaz Te, but the young Portuguese winger slammed his shot straight at Almunia. It was time for Walcott to make his mark from the bench, watched on by his family away to my left at the front of the upper tier. His father sporting the printing 14 DAD on the back of his shirt. I often see Theo's family sat with us in the away end and it's not difficult to see why he's such a grounded young man.
With Bolton flailing Walcott picked up the ball on the right and drove at he centre of the Trotters defence, forcing them to backpeddle furiously, a facet of his game that seems to be improving is his decision making and once again he slipped Adebayor in down the left at the right time, the Togonator looked up and delivered a low cross for Denilson to intelligently lift the ball over the sprawling Jaasekelainen and ensure the three points. A brief flashpoint occured as Fabregas knocked the ball out of Jaaskelainen's hands as he went to return it to the centre circle. Both men were booked, but the delirium had set in in the South Stand as a deafening chorus of 'we are top of the league' greeted the exiting Bolton fans. Walcott steered a shot goalwards which was tipped wide by Jaaskelainen in injury time, but the final whistle confirmed the Gunners' place at the top of the pile. Arsenal top, Tottenham bottom, Newcastle in disarray, United in the bottom half. You just don't argue with that.LD.
Date:Sunday September 21 2008
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