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Stepping Up

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.




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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday September 21 2008

Time: 12:00PM

Your Comments

Great write up as ever. I thought Alminia had a decent game. I'm fairly happy with him at the moment, and his distribution really was superb. We are still shaky at set pieces, this could seriously come back to bite us in the arse if we aren't careful.
Gunnerman
Good write up LD. It was a really good game and underlined how the team is growing together and learning how to play without Flamini. Song, Denilson and Cesc showed that all three can interchange with each other - and it's been especially interesting in the last month or so to watch Cesc's increasing defensive role. He spoke out after the last Spanish game that he is always the one getting subbed with 20 mins to go - so he needs to become a more complete midfielder, and you can see him dropping back more in games, but us not getting penalised as Denilson steps up to take on the creative role. All round it was an encoraging game - all apart form one William Gallas. Just what on earth was he doing for their goal and can someone please teach him how to jump and head a ball like EBJT?
michael105uk
I don't like this phrase but I think it's quite apt, this is a game we would have lost a couple of seasons ago. Davies had his hands all over Toure for the goal and no one even mentioned it (apart from Tim) though if Clichy had done his job properly it wouldn't have gone in anyway. Tremendous performance really please for the lads. Theo has been REALLY good this season, his confindence is through the roof at the minute.
Rocky7
Amazing isn't it how the physically much stronger Invincibles struggled at the Reebok, but this team appear to fare much better there. Altogether now, "you're not scary anymore!"
Little Dutch
We have the best Song, yet no song for him yet.
fcdematthew
Yeah we do, "we've only got one Song." It's been around since his debut against Everton in 2005.
Little Dutch
Yep, Great Article, it was brilliant to see that The Arsenal can dig deep and show the rest that they can win against a physical team like Bolton. Come on Arsenal!!!
hackneyval
i think one of the reasons that we were able to win relatively comfortably at Blackburn and Bolton is the weather. nice weather now, nice pitch, compared to rainy, bad pitch, cold winter later on. performance in the first half was fantastic. nice passing, no panicking after conceding the first goal, coping well with high balls and setpieces (except for the davies goal).
fcdematthew
thanks LD. "We've only got one Song." :)
fcdematthew
Thats an interesting point about van Persie. Don't know what to think about that. LD who was the substitute at the Kyiv game?
gunnerkid107
A few things I really like about this game. 1. The interchangeability between the 4 midfielders you guys talked about. This is the closest we've got since 3 of the Rosicky-Cesc-Flam-Hleb midfield disappeared. I really like how Song's presence provides a much better balance and allows Cesc, Eboue and Den to create chances. 2. Almunia's looking confident and by and large reliable atm. 3. Defence is still shaky, especially with set-pieces but they're overall ok except the Davies goal, despite some of our guys playing out of position. 4. It's the best game with Ade and Nic together imo. 5. Going oop north, we could still afford to rest RvP and Theo. That's how far Den, Eboue, Song and Bendtner have come this season so far. People used to say (some still do) that we've got a really brilliant First XI, but ont much of a squad. If our squad players keep performing like this, I'm confident we can match ManU's squad (Chelsea are always exceptional).
GoonerLou
Eboue warmed up with the team on Wednesday. At the time I assumed it was because there were doubts over Clichy, but RvP did it yesterday.
Little Dutch
damn the chavs, it'll have to be us who would end their run. but the buggers are getting closer to our 49 unbeaten streak, i'm getting a little worried..
luckys_10
6. The front 6 played well - we won without Cesc being at his best for a change.
GoonerLou
Tottenham! lol
TR7
Good write up LD. The defence was a bit of a concern to me, coz we looked a bit shaky far too often for my comfort and a better team will make us pay for it. Apart from that, it was a very good offensive performance. Denilson's stats look really good so far and I think Song is a much better option at DM. The team looks a bit more balanced this way.
prits
i stil think we havent had any major test
gunnerchi
its good to know theo's family follow the team wit keen interest. dat alone is enuf to make him up the ante
gunnerchi
Strictly by the rules of the game the corner Davies scored from should've never been, because it was a foul on Almunia (you can't touch the ball if the GK has a hand on it or it is a foul) so even though Eboue's goal was clealry offside it was balanced out in the long run.
Ozi Gooner
I agree we haven't played a top side yet. But coming through three tough away games in a week unscathed surely qulaifies as a test and one we have passed?
Little Dutch
The defence is a worry, gratis, but if we keep going at teams like we did at Bolton, then they have fewer opportunities to trouble us. Hopefully. i'd really love us to deal with these situations better, but I've just about resigned myself to the fact that we won't have as good a defence as a title winning side should have, and that our hope lies in consistently outscoring and outplaying our opponents. The initial indications look reassuring, but we're yet to play a top side. We'll see how it goes when we do.
Gaga
The way we defended in the second half was reassuring I thought. Like I said, after the goal, Gallas seemed to wake up and realise what his job is and the defence looked more organised and resolute. Despite all of their pressure, Bolton only created one decent chance in the second half and that is bearing in mind Djourou was at right back and Sagna was at left back. But I still believe the doubt remains over the aerial ability of the two centre halves.
Little Dutch
And where the hell are the spuddies?
Gaga
Oh, my predictions. I got one perfect score, and two correct results from three games. 4-0 vs. Blackburn, perfect score, 6-0 vs. KhiB, what were you smoking?, and 7-0 vs. Bolton, correct result yes, but were you smoking?. Much better than Lawrenson. Boy, does that fella gall me!
Gaga
We finished the match with 4 defenders, of which the two best headers of the ball were playing in the fullback positions and the 2 weakest in the centre, go figure! That will get us caught out against giants like John Carew and solid headers of the ball lik Dean "I'm only slightly chunky" Ashton. BUt for now it's all good!
LondonGooner
im disappointed that a rendition of "we shall not be moved" wasnt aired by the gooner faithfull...now if i was there...i def. would have got it going...sort it out lads
fran merida
fcdematthew...thats a very good point the weather and the pitch condition play such an important role as to how we managed in games like these....im going to check the fixtures and see where it might be a problem
fran merida
It is always good to have strength in depth and Arsenal appear to have that. The future is looking bright for you.
Markcity
 

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