Bolton Wanderers 2 Arsenal 1
Ever since United recovered a two goal deficit at Upton Park, the title race has felt more like a forlorn jog for the last tube. Yesterday, that exhausted saunter was put out if its misery. An ill advised night on the tiles in Southwark meant it was a dreary journey to North London come Easter Sunday morning. The talk now was of securing second place with Chelsea three points ahead of us and even the spectre of Manchester City looming over our shoulders. We arrived in Lancashire in glorious sunshine around 90 minutes before kick off. Our search for a pre match beer proved forlorn though, the Reebok Stadium is positioned in the middle of nowhere. The one pub within strolling distance did not allow away fans. So we set off the nearby Tesco`s in search of a tinny to enjoy in the sunshine. But Tesco`s was of course shut. In the end, watered down football ground beer served in grotesque plastic was our only option. Honestly, what is the world coming to?
Arsenal began the game brightly even if the atmosphere inside the ground had a flat end of season feel to it. Arsenal were denied a stonewall penalty early on when Matty Taylor took Theo Walcott out in the area. Strangely, Walcott didn`t raise much of a complaint, as Djourou didn`t when Sturridge dived for Bolton`s second half award. The likes of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand would likely have mauled the referee`s head clean off in the same circumstances. Arsenal set about trying to carve Bolton`s obstinate defence open. Well, Fabregas did. He`s pretty much the sole bastion of the ideas and inspiration department nowadays. He collected a Nasri pass and smashed a low shot from outside the area, which Jaaskelainen tipped just past the post.
But the Gunners rearguard did not exactly enjoy one of its better days and found itself sliced open when Koscielny had pushed on too far and left a gap which Sturridge`s cultured pass probed and found Young Chong Lee bursting through on goal, but he attempted to flick the ball to Taylor instead of taking on the shot and Song got back to cover. For once, an opponent had over elaborated against us. But the same combination of a Sturridge pass to an onrushing Lee unpicked the Arsenal defence again, but Szczesny was equal to Lee`s effort with a fine save. However, not for the first time in the match, Szczesny`s fine work was rather undone instantaneously. Lee`s corner saw Cahill rise above Koscielny to head goalwards, Nasri cleared off the line but Danny Sturridge was on hand to stoop and head Bolton into the lead. Another set piece another goal conceded.
Arsenal did look for the immediate response. Sorry, Fabregas looked for the immediate response. Again collecting a Nasri pass before unleashing a low shot from 25 yards, this time hitting the base of the upright. I do wonder if he and van Persie ever get tired of carrying the team once they get beyond the halfway line. Half time and some sober reflection amongst the travelling faithful, cosseted as we were in bright sunshine. What`s the opposite of pathetic fallacy? Come the early exchanges of the second half, the outlook became gloomier when Daniel Sturridge motored past Johan Djourou and, realising the ball was heading out of play, flung himself to the ground. The referee inexplicably bought it. I`d advise him to bring company next time he visits a second hand car lot. Kevin Davies, who maintained his impressive record of eleven career bookings against Arsenal, stretching his proud record for cautions against one club, tried to power his kick down the middle of the goal, but Szczesny was not foxed and beat the effort away with his feet. You felt it was a match altering lifeline.
That feeling was multiplied when the away side reconciled terms just two minutes later. Song found van Persie on the edge of the area, he tormented Muamba before playing the ball into Fabregas in the area, Cesc touched the ball back to van Persie who fired in his seventh successive goal away from home and his 17th goal in 17 games. Arsenal drove on and looked heavy favourites to win the game, but over elaboration and poor finishing would prove costly. Wilshere found Chamakh in the area with a probing pass, but Chamakh opted for a heavy flick when he had the time and space to turn and shoot. Cesc too probed into the area with a mazy dribble and played a one two with Nasri, but again opted for an easily cleared pass when the shot was on.
The Gunners should have taken the lead when van Persie`s lofted ball put Nasri clear on goal, but he blasted his first effort straight at Jaaskelainen. The rebound did not fall kindly for Nasri and his follow up attempt from a tight angle was well blocked by Gary Cahill. Arsenal were threatening to carve Bolton open and press for a winner, Arshavin again found joy by lofting the ball over the top of the Arsenal defence for Nasri, who did not realise the time and space he had in the right hand channel and hooked the ball meekly into Jaaskelainen`s arms. But with the clock ticking, you always get the impression that, no matter how dominant Arsenal are in a game at the moment, they`re always liable to gift a goal. Elmander beat Djourou in the air and scampered clear onto the loose ball, but Szczesny beat away the Swede`s effort.
Sure enough, another set piece tossed an entire season into the skip. Taylor`s wicked delivery was met by substitute Tamir Cohen on the front post who headed a last gasp winner past Szczesny on the front post. Arsenal have now conceded from 3 of the last 25 corners they have faced. They have not scored from a corner themselves in their last 47 attempts and counting. Something is not right there. In response to an earlier chant of "Bolton`s a sh*thole, I wanna go home" the Bolton support taunted us with, "Bolton`s a sh*thole, you should`ve stayed home." Being British and all, even in a dark moment I could raise a smile at that. I headed for the exit the second the final whistle sounded; I heard a lot of individual calls for the manager`s head over my shoulder on the way out. Nothing orchestrated though.
There have been plenty of easy answers and quick fixes proffered in the last 20 hours or so. From sack the manager, to overhaul the playing squad. I don`t really even think it`s a cosmetic personnel issue.. I`ve challenged talk of an overhaul a few times as to who precisely people want to sell. Always the same names, "Denilson, Almunia, Eboue." But these guys have started less than a quarter of our games this season, so they cannot be the overriding problem. I think we need to reconnect with some basics. Maybe it`s just down to confidence at the moment, but we know we can pass the ball well, it`s not deserted us. But shooting, setting up for corners, crossing; these things have let us down in recent weeks. We`re missing chances and giving soft goals away, even though in the last two games we`ve played quite well overall. But we give ourselves a better chance of winning if we keep doing the basics. It`s all a bit arse about face at the moment. Cesc and van Persie are the only two players that are looking dangerous in front of packed defences. Truth is, there are no easy answers as far as the supporters are concerned. Any issues present are more likely to be ironed out on the training ground, a place none of us ever frequent and therefore can`t really make qualified comment on. But for now, we`ve got 4 games left and we have to secure a top 3 spot. Any other diagnosis can wait until late May.LD.
53.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 20.DJOUROU, 6.KOSCIELNY, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG (29.Chamakh `64), 19.WILSHERE (16.Ramsey `84), 4.FABREGAS(c), 14.WALCOTT (23.Arshavin `72), 8.NASRI, 10.v.PERSIE. Unused: 13.Lehmann, 18.Squillaci, 27.Eboue, 28.Gibbs.
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