Arsenal 3 Bolton Wanderers 0
After a rather epic drinking session in Croydon on Friday night, from which I failed to return home until shortly before 6am, I awoke in a somewhat squiffy state at around 11.45am. Remembering that I had to meet Lord Lowe at Victoria at 12.20 to go to the pub, it was an auspicious start to the day. But hair of the dog was duly supped and despatched. The Gunners were perhaps a touch fortunate to run into one of the few sides in the league in more of a funk than ourselves.
However, Bolton might have taken the lead inside the first two minutes. Steinsson`s free kick was flicked on by David Wheater and Darren Pratley responded much more quickly than Kieran Gobbs to flick the ball goalwards. Fortunately, Wojciech Szczesny`s reactions were rather more wired and he reacted to scoop Pratley`s shot wide. It is a pleasing habit young Albert is picking up. (Albert is, loosely, the anglicised version of Wojciech). Arsenal goalkeepers often will only need to make one save a match. Szczesny is definitely cut out to be an Arsenal goalkeeper for as long as he wants to be.
The first half was largely very pedestrian fair from Arsenal. The pressing on Bolton`s midfield wasn`t happening high enough up the pitch and the build up play was far too laboured. As a result, Bolton found Arsenal very easy to contain. Mikel Arteta looked the most likely to create an opening and he carved the Trotters back line in twain with a slide rule pass that put Gervinho through on goal; but the bandy legged Ivorian took too heavy a touch and Jaaskelainen scurried out to foil the chance. The Gunners nearly contrived to break the deadlock with a deceptive set piece. Arteta shaped to shoot from 22 yards, but instead shifted the ball to van Persie, who hit a curling shot narrowly wide.
David N`Gog hobbled off for Bolton, meaning that Kevin Davies entered the fray. I always feel cheated when I pay money to watch this guy. I don`t deny the more physical specimen a place in the game, but it strikes me his only attributes are his elbows and his fat arse. I really fail to see what else he offers other than that. He can barely even trap a bag of wet cement, so poor is he with his feet. Arsenal`s only other opportunity of note in a damp squib of a half arrived when Arteta nudged the ball down the left for Walcott. Theo let the ball run past Steinsson before racing to the touchline and pulling the ball back for Robin van Persie. But his shot was excellently blocked by the sprawling David Wheater.
But the second half brought a much sparkier performance, aided in no small part by an early goal which settled anxieties. Gretnar Steinsson left Gervinho in a crumpled heap on the half way line, but the referee played a good advantage as Aaron Ramsey picked up the loose ball. He moved forward before playing a disguised pass to van Persie. The Dutchman took the reins, turning Muamba inside out by feinting to shoot before unleashing a left foot shot past Jaaskelainen`s front post. A piece of individual inspiration when we needed it. A captain`s contribution.
Suddenly Arsenal had found a groove again. Arteta won possession in the centre circle, Ramsey picked up the pieces and played Walcott in on the right, Theo nudged the ball first time to van Persie, but his low right foot shot was well saved by Jaaskelainen. Bolton`s task was already difficult, given that their most attacking player has all the subtely and guile of a sledgehammer. But the job was made close to impossible when Ramsey played another fine through ball to Theo Walcott, he raced clear but was tugged back by David Wheater on the edge of the area. It was the merest of tugs, but calculated and cynical nonetheless. It`s intent is what correctly yielded a red card for a professional foul. There may be an argument that Theo did not have the ball under control, but Wheater obviously felt there was chance enough to illegally impede his progress.
It was Gervinho`s turn to cause problems for the Bolton defence when hge danced past Steinsson on the left and picked out van Persie in the area. The skipper had the strength and presence of mind to hold off Boyata, before touching the ball back for Arteta. His low finish whistled just past the post. Bolton only threatened the once when the Gunners over committed to attack, leaving Petrov to pick out Chris Eagles as he bore down on the Arsenal goal. But he took a heavy touch onto his unfavoured right foot and ended up shooting straight at Szczesny.
But there were to be no more ventricular flutters for Arsenal fans as they began to dominate a tiring Bolton side. Gervinho set up Robin van Persie on the edge of the area and his curling shot flew past the post. Then Alex Song found Walcott- who enjoyed probably his best game of the season- out on the right. His looping cross found van Persie on the back post, but his header was clawed away by Jaaskelainen. Laurent Koscielny nearly became an unlikely scorer from distance when he collected Robinson`s headed clearance and volleyed on target from 20 yards, only to see Jaaskelainen beat it away again.
A scuffle broke out when Arsenal did not put the ball out of play for the injured Paul Robinson. Of course, Bolton won the ball back in the same movement and also elected to play on. So how Bolton`s entire back four became so agitated I`ve no idea. But van Persie seemed more than willing to put them right! You could say it was a shame that it took so long for his team mates to back him up. But there again, having already picked up some stupid sendings off this season, the players have been warned not to indulge any kind of retaliation. Nevertheless, Robin`s next captain`s contribution was much more memorable.
Ramsey, who also enjoyed a very productive second half alongside the guile and experience of Arteta, found Walcott in the right channel. Walcott looked up and delivered a low cross which Robin van Persie beautifully flicked into the net with a deft touch. He becomes the 17th Arsenal player to reach 100 Arsenal goals. That`s 26 goals in 31 matches in 2011. I`ve said it before, but I think we`re watching the planet`s best striker. In a fallow period for his team, van Persie gripped the game by the scruff of the neck and won it almost all by himself. He`s one of the very few players in the top flight capable of doing so on such a perpetual basis.
By now Bolton were completely ragged and should have found themselves 3-0 down when Ramsey split their defence with a perfectly weighted pass to Walcott, who galloped towards goal untroubled. But his one on one effort was weak and easily read by Jaaskelainen. The home side did manage to put the seal on the resounding victory in the dying minutes. Ramsey found Sagna on the right, he had the presence of mind to cut the ball back to the edge of the area. Song manouvered inside Darren Pratley before curling a fine effort into the top corner to seal the three points. This was the first time Arsenal had won by three clear goals since defeating Wigan in early February courtesy of a van Persie hat trick.
Points were the premium desire but the second half display was enthusing too. Players who I think have struggled at points during this season; such as Ramsey and Walcott, enjoyed their best performances of the season. The midfield three of Arteta, Ramsey and Song looks to be rather promising. I think Arteta has very quietly brought some stability there. He has the capability and the intelligence to know when to sit and dictate from deep and when to push forward. I think he has liberated Ramsey too by allowing Rambo to play a more advanced role. Arteta is not Fabregas. He was never going to be. But he looks a fabulous team player and a welcome addition to me.
But of course the plaudits will go to Robin van Persie and rightly so. With the team toiling, he stepped up with the sort of individual brilliance we all know him to be capable of. His display was as good a captain`s performance as you`re likely to see all season. Leadership isn`t always about banging people`s heads against the wall. Let us hope he signs an extension to his contract and makes inroads towards Henry`s record. After the game I enjoyed a delightful beer or two with the man from East Lower, as well as several beverages with Gingers 4 Limparand Hayley Wright. A blogging fraternity if ever there was one! These are the rock n roll circles in which my life moves. I`ll drink to that and to the three points. LD.
13.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 4.MERTESACKER, 6.KOSCIELNY, 28.GIBBS, 17.SONG, 8.ARTETA (7.Rosicky `81), 16.RAMSEY, 14.WALCOTT, 27.GERVINHO (23.Arshavin `72), 10.v.PERSIE(c) (29.Chamakh `85). Unused: 11.A.Santos, 15.Chamberlain, 21.Fabianski, 26.Frimpong.
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