Bolton Wanderers 0 Arsenal 2
With victories for Chelsea and Manchester United on Saturday, the pressure was on for the visit to Bolton. (Though technically, the Reebok Stadium isn`t even in Bolton- it`s situated about half way between Middlebrook and Horwich, around five miles outside of Bolton- making the home fans tawdry chants of "we support our local team" even more desperate). Pre match and at half time, our ears were assaulted by a steel drum band who sounded about as co-ordinated as a pisshead on roller skates. The Reebok is always full of cheap, tacky gimmicks such as these. The mascot that stalks the touchline, haranguing officials and opposition players (after Fabregas had been kicked by Robinson for the umpteenth time, he mimicked spitting on the ground next to Fabregas. Seriously, a grown man dressed up as a lion accusing an Arsenal player of being ridiculous!), the fact that Bolton play James Brown`s 'I Feel Good` over the tannoy when they score, the twat with the drum down in the South West corner of the ground, the fact that their big screens highlight packages don`t include any of the away side`s opportunities- not even their goals. It all combines to the pervasive feeling that Bolton is a soulless chasm in the Premiership, belched out of the guts of the odious Allardyce and flailing limply like a trout caught on a line, desperately trying to manufacture some sort of identity. Put even parasites starve on this carcass. Give me Burnley any day of the week.
The game didn`t take long to establish a rhythm, Bolton were giving Arsenal space in the centre of the pitch and the Gunners looked keen to exploit it early on. Fabregas, receiving Rosicky`s pass, charged through the niche in central midfield and his low shot drifted just wide. Fabregas, on his return from injury, was looking more in the mood than Barry White on Viagra; again he picked up the ball in space in the centre of the pitch, released a threaded through ball aimed for Eduardo, but Jaaskelainen was out smartly to thwart. However, Jaaskelainen`s next attempt to smother the ball was not quite so well timed. Bolton attacked down their right hand side, with Lee causing Traore all manner of problems, but Arsenal won the ball back and broke away, with debutant Craig Eastmond releasing Eduardo on the left flank, he should have played in the onrushing Fabregas much earlier than he did, but Eduardo did eventually deliver a low cross, Fabregas nudged the ball past Jaaskelainen and was taken out by the Bolton keeper. Referee Phil Dowd waved play on and in truth I can understand why. We were stationed at the other end of the pitch and looking at the incident from behind, it`s very difficult to tell of Fabregas was touched or not and in the event that the referee is unsure, he cannot rightly give it. If a carbon copy of that situation in the same circumstances plays out in the home game on Wednesday, we`d probably get it.
But Bolton did not stand idly by and tolerate Arsenal`s bright start; they applied pressure with their archetypal long ball game. Steinsson pumped a long ball to Davies, whose flick on found the tricky Klasnic, he turned and shot in one swift, gazelle like movement, but Almunia was equal to the effort. Lee continued to cause problems for a very out of sorts Traore, but Arsenal`s attack was gearing itself for goal. Arshavin`s low left wing cross narrowly evaded Eduardo`s studs. But the Gunners had their reward in the 28th minute. Diaby surged into the area, causing mild panic in the Trotters` defence, he was dispossessed but the ball squirmed its way back out to Fabregas, he played a neat one two with Eduardo on the edge of the box, before taking his time to set himself and drill the ball into the bottom corner. It was his 13th goal of the season, the sangfroid in front of goal that Wenger had been talking about in regard to Fabregas` game in recent weeks crystallized in one fell swoop of his right boot. Bolton simply had not got near him for 28 minutes, so they resorted to a characteristic contingency plan.
The Gunners nearly snatched a quick fire second; Fabregas` looping right wing corner made its way to the back post and Craig Eastmond met it with a side footed volley which Jaaskelainen just beat away as he peered through a myriad of bodies. The game threatened to boil over as Wanderers decided that the best way to stop Fabregas dominating proceedings was to kick him every time he moved- a particularly useful tactic given that Bolton play us again on Wednesday night and the intention to ensure he doesn`t play that game was obvious to all. Zat Knight looked to have felled Fabregas in the area; again Dowd waved away the claims and Matt Taylor decided to go a little postal on Cesc Fabregas` neck before pulling his hair like the delicate little bitch he is. Dowd responded by lecturing Fabregas, which then precipitated further aggravation as the referee refused to get hold of the core of the situation. Firstly, aggrieved at a perceived dive, Robinson mowed Fabregas down with a despicable stud rake down the back of his calf. Tempers were frayed and with Diaby manfully holding off three of Bolton`s precious little darlings, Zat Knight decided simply to kick Diaby`s legs away from him. Amazingly, Phil Dowd did not see that as a foul so Tomas Rosicky quickly applied the new rules (no blood, no foul Mr. Dowd?) by taking a swipe of his own at Paul Robinson. Rosicky was perhaps lucky to escape only with a yellow, though given what had proceeded that lash out; it would have been ludicrous to send him off. I shouldn`t condone Rosicky`s lash out as he could easily have been giving his marching orders, but isn`t it nice to see Arsenal sticking up for themselves rather than shrugging to the referee and whingeing in the aftermath? I`d interpret that as one of the biggest improvements in Arsenal this season, adopting Malcolm X`s assertion that "nobody can give you justice, if you`re a man, you take it." Over the weekend, I watched the Dennis Bergkamp: Legend DVD and Bob Wilson had an interesting take on Bergkamp`s dark side, proposing, "Bergkamp would never start a fight, but he would finish one." This team are showing signs of the same quality and it`s not a second too soon.
The away side demonstrated the more aesthetically pleasing and renowned of their qualities to nearly notch a second just before the interval, another breakaway saw Arshavin popping up on the right. Feeding off of Eduardo`s disguised pass into the channel and Arshavin`s low cross saw Fabregas stretch every sinew but just toe end the ball wide. There again, Bolton might have equalised on the stroke of half time, Klasnic beat William Gallas to a header from a Steinsson free kick, the ball seemed destined to break to the onrushing Matt Taylor but Almunia bravely thrust out a palm to beat the ball and the chance away. It wasn`t the first example of Almunia having the wherewithal to put his face in where the boots are flying in recent weeks. If only he could sort his kicking out, I`d be tempted to say this was a keeper who had left his early season traumas behind him. At half time our ears were once again bludgeoned into submission by an awful steel band frolicking in the centre circle. If ever you want an insight into how hopelessly self congratulatory and out of touch the people that run football actually are, look at the half time "entertainment." Seriously, does anyone know a football fan that will go home enthusing about the quality of the Greater Manchester School of Samba? Even the clubs that bring out scantily clad cheerleaders insist on deploying girls under the age of 15, so that you feel that, unless you avert your gaze instantly, you will come home to find the police raiding your hard drive and destroying your laptop. Honestly, bore off. Let`s stick to scratchy old Dad rock over the PA and cold Bovril/ warm beer at half time, per-lease.
The Gunners began the second half sloppily, ceding possession too easily in the centre of midfield. After an impressive first half, Eastmond was beginning to tire and economy of possession was not a feature of the first fifteen minutes of the half, with Bolton bringing pressure upon the Arsenal goal. The culmination of the home side`s pressure brought about the clearest opportunity of the game, Ivan Klasnic found Matt Taylor completely unmarked in the left channel of the penalty area, but his trusty left foot deserted him and he blasted the ball over the bar. Perhaps some karmic retribution there for his left foot`s apparent interest in Fabregas` neck in the first half. Arsene made the switch with the tiring Eastmond replaced by Merida. The switch was the catalyst for a subtle change of tact with Merida much more comfortable on the ball, Arsenal began retaining possession much better and becoming a cogent attacking force again. Merida danced around two players on the half way line and released the ball to Fabregas, he in turn turned the ball to Traore on the left, his low cross narrowly evaded the lunging Eduardo as Cahill managed to divert the ball away via the Croatian`s studs. That said, Bolton created another gilt edged chance when Gavin McCann lofted a ball over the top of the Arsenal defence, Matt Taylor was onside but unaware of the ocean of time and space at his disposal as he chested the ball out of the air and hit an instant snatched volley which flew wide when he had the time to bring the ball down and take his time.
Bolton were made to regret their profligacy. After yet another hack on Cesc Fabregas on the edge of the box resulted in an Arsenal free kick which Thomas Vermaelen curled onto the roof of the net. Three minutes later, Arsenal had clinched the points with a clinical finish. Once again, Fabregas was the architect, finding space in the centre of the pitch; he found a clever run from Eduardo into the left channel. In the first half, Fabregas had administered a captain`s bollocking to Eduardo for his lack of kinesis up front. Eduardo moved to the by line and chipped a cross to the back post which glanced Gary Cahill`s head before arriving at the feet of Merida who deftly controlled with his left foot before calmly slotting the ball into the corner with his right. The away contingent breathed a collective sigh of relief as the pair of Catalonians had secured the points, it was truly a victory for Arselona and now the away fans would have their fun. Mocking the home support with a chorus of "There`s one Gary Megson" and a very agreeable version of "You should`ve stayed at Burnley." Unfortunately, the reaction of a few (by no means all) of the spotty faced oiks in the Bolton enclosure in the South West corner was less than edifying, with a very audible chant of "BNP" being aimed at a section of Asian Arsenal fans in the Lower Tier. Classy stuff indeed. No wonder the PA has to blast out James Brown every time they score.
In the end, it was a very satisfying victory and one we earned with grit and determination. Those that counter that Arsenal don`t have the ability to bump and grind for points are slowly having to masticate on their words. The Gunners appear to have got their balls back and Fabregas` growing influence is being seen on this team. Not just because he now has 13 goals this season with almost as many assists, but because his spikiness and tenacity also seems to be radiating to the other players. It`s a facet of the game we shouldn`t celebrate, but when Diaby was surrounded by three Bolton orks kicking lumps out of him, that Rosicky felt keenly enough for his team mate that he was moved to respond with a "fuckin` 'ave some of that" style swipe speaks well of team spirit. Two or three years ago, we would have surrounded the referee with puppy dog eyes and complained bitterly in the post mortem. Arsenal`s lack of experience was sometimes exposed by Bolton, with Traore being given a torrid time by Lee in the first half. Eastmond can be very pleased with his first half display, but he visibly tired in the second and the introduction of Merida allowed Arsenal to regain some composure and play their possession game more effectively. Once more the fluidity of the 4-3-3 was elucidated by the fact that Diaby was asked to play two different roles in the game, but the shift in task wasn`t as traumatic as he was still in central midfield. But in Fabregas we have a growing performer and personality on the pitch; he`s been running matches for years, now we`re seeing him win them. Ask not whether he is the best central midfielder in Europe, ask how many players there are in the world you`d rather have in your team.LD.
TEAM: 1.ALMUNIA, 3.SAGNA, 10.GALLAS, 5.VERMAELEN, 30.TRAORE, 37.EASTMOND (32.Merida `63), 2.DIABY, 4.FABREGAS©, 7.ROSICKY (22.Clichy `74), 23.ARSHAVIN, 9.EDUARDO (12.Vela `84). Unused: 18.Silvestre, 21.Fabianski, 35.Coquelin, 38.Emmanuel Thomas.