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Arsenal 2 Bolton Wanderers 1

With Arsenal slowly but surely chugging along into something resembling momentum, a plum Carling Cup home tie against struggling Bolton seemed like a good opportunity to both refresh and replenish the squad with some timely rotation and progress in a competition that has some ghosts fastened to its underbelly for the club. With Thomas Vermaelen back in the starting line up and Yossi Benayoun, Sebastien Squillaci and Andrey Arshavin on hand to give a guiding hand to the likes of debutant Nico Yennaris and teenagers Francis Coquelin, Ignasi Miquel, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Emmanuel Frimpong.

In the espirits de change of the competition, I slightly altered my pre match routine, eschewing the Tavern for a pre match drink in the Tollington Arms with many a familiar face. It may be that having rushed my 4th pint and not eaten dinner made the head a little fuzzy; but I experienced a quite genuine excitement as I entered the ground a little before kick off. But the fare on offer did not match that pre match buzz in the first half. The opening twenty minutes looked very much like a team struggling at the bottom of the table playing a team not quite familiar with one another in a new system. (4-4-1-1 as it turned out).

As is tediously typical with any young English player, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain has been hyped out of this stratosphere. But last night showed why he`s not quite ready for regular first team action yet. He struggled to make an impression on the right of midfield with Wanderers marking him tightly. This isn`t a criticism of The Ox at all. It`s to be expected at the age of 18. But I`m still astounded that football fans fall into this same ball ache of a cycle time and again; hyperbolising a young English player`s contribution and setting expectations way off the Richter scale, then using that unreasonable expectation as a stick to beat the poor young lad with a year or so down the line.

The Gunners did threaten to eke out an opening courtesy of The Ox inside the first 20; Frimpong`s cross field pass found him on the right hand side, but his heavy touch took him to the by-line and the result was a floating cross to the back post that wasn`t attacked. Bolton had settled into the game well and began to threaten themselves. Darren Pratley hit a 25 yard pile driver that stung the palms of Fabianski. The Chelsea loanee Gael Kakuta- playing on the right, twisted an angle when faced with Ignasi Miquel and hit a low shot which Fabianski got down smartly to save.

Arsenal`s only real chance of note came when Benayoun teed up skipper Thomas Vermaelen from a free kick and his powerful strike from 25 yards was beaten out by Bogdan. But at half time one was distinctly underwhelmed with the game and it was difficult to see where Arsenal would find a breakthrough. But the first ten minutes of the second half managed to compress more goalmouth incident into it than the first 45 had managed. Frimpong was caught in possession on the edge of the area by his academy predecessor Fabrice Muamba. He fed Ivan Klasnic in the left channel, who in turn cut the ball back for Muamba to elongate a lanky limb and toe the ball into the roof of the net. The virginity of Arsenal`s home Carling Cup record since the stadium move was under serious threat.

But then Arshavin- playing in his favoured role off the central striker- took the game by the scuff of the neck. He collected Chamberlain`s pass from the right, bore down on Zat Knight in the area, before surprising Bogdan with a snapshot that glided into the bottom corner. One of the most threatening things about Arshavin from a defender`s point of view is the lack of back lift when he shoots. He barely seems to draw his foot back at all. He has a subtlety that foxes goalkeepers time and again. It would be another Arshavin contribution a few minutes later which would turn the game completely on its head. This time he drifted through the centre, with Park Ju-Young powering on ahead of him. The Korean had strayed offside originally, but Arshavin had the presence of mind to delay his pass, whilst Park knowingly bent his run, allowing Arshavin to split Bolton`s back line. Park dutifully followed the path of the ball before opening his body out and bending a sublime finish past Bogdan.

Park had a rather quiet game I thought, though he was full of running. But you have to ask yourself, presented with the same opportunity, would Marouane Chamakh have provided an assured and successful finish? I have my doubts. There again, I`ve yet to decipher how much of an aerial threat Park provides compared to Chamakh. The result was far from sealed however. Many of Arsenal`s starting line up were unaccustomed to 90 minutes of this intensity- either through inexperience or the fact that they are used to being squad players. Kakuta gave Fabianski cause to worry with a low free kick, which the Pole managed to claw away.

Then Tuncay latched onto Pratley`s pass and found himself through on goal, but Fabianski was out to block smartly with his legs. Fabianski`s next save wasn`t quite so assured however. Chris Eagles let fly from long range with a shot that moved in the air and Fabianski fumbled embarrassingly. Fortunately for him, his flap drifted onto the roof of the net and not into the net. Ryo Miyachi`s last ditch tackle on Eagles in injury time drew a worthy acknowledgment from the crowd. I`ve watched Ryo in the Reserves a few times and the defensive side of his game looked very weak. Pleasing to see some work has been done there.

In the end, two pieces of class from the most talented player on the pitch made the ultimate difference. Essentially, Arshavin didn`t do an awful lot else. But if the wiliness of the likes of Benayoun, Vermaelen and Squillaci kept us in the game, Arshavin`s x factor won us the game. He`s never going to win Player of the Year, Player of the Month, probably rarely even Man of the Match. But you keep him around and last night showed why. It`s like having an Alsatian. Loveable, useless much of the time. But when someone tries to break into your house you get down on your knees and thank the Lord Dennis you have his deterring bark. I don`t think and have never thought the deployment of the 4-4-1-1 on a full time basis to be the panacea to all our ills. But it`s be nice to see us able to move to it in-game if things were going a shape of the pear. Food for thought as we contemplate our Quarter Final opponents. LD.

NB- I shall be attending Arsenal's AGM tomorrow at 11am GMT. I will be providing updates on my twitter feed and will try and do a write up here on Thursday evening.

21.FABIANSKI, 56.YENNARIS, 18.SQUILLACI, 5.VERMAELEN c (37.Boateng `84), 49.MIQUEL, 15.CHAMBERLAIN (31.Ryo `73), 26.FRIMPONG (53.Ozyakup `76), 39.COQUELIN, 30.BENAYOUN, 23.ARSHAVIN, 9.J-Y.PARK. Unused; 24.Mannone, 34.Aneke, 47.Meade, 48.Watt.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Wednesday October 26 2011

Time: 10:26AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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Nice write up Tim, much appreciated considering the distnict lack of footage of the game. With regards to your point about Chamakh and Park. I'm just wondering how much of an aerial threat Chamkah is himself. Surely to be considered an aerial threat you need to score goals, make assists or even test the keeper on a regular basis. I'm not sure he does that. Even if that isn't his fault because the lack of a decent supply of crosses (which I'm not sure that's the case) then do we even need someone who's an aerial threat? I feel bad for Chamakh, he seems like a good guy, but someone else needs to be given a chance at coming off the bench.
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26/10/2011 10:55:00

I watched the game after 10 last night on Arsenal Player and must say that although Bolton where bad you can only beat whats infront of you. Yennaris surprised me with his maturity and RB is not his usual position so even better. Another bright point was Vermalien, he showed us what we have been missing for so long.
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26/10/2011 11:55:00

Arshavin looked far more at ease with much of the burden of defensive responsibility lifted from him. He could do the running he wanted to do rather than any he needed to. It still wasn't that much but those around him were doing plenty. Midfield looked ok. Lots of pressing and closing down. Though we didn't create too much really but two well taken chances have got to be better than a dozen scorned.
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26/10/2011 12:06:00

LD, after weeks of missing your write-ups, I get hit with two in three buses and all that... Like Rocky above, I didnt catch any of the game, but it is nice to see the young guns come out firing and putting aside a strong (albeit out of form) Bolton side...bring on Chelsea!
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26/10/2011 13:57:00

Surely that was an obvious enough sign play Arshavin there more often. As mentioned, he doesn't do much, but when he does something always seems to happen.
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26/10/2011 15:27:00

How did our fullbacks play? Eager to know how both of them fared.
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26/10/2011 16:00:00

Who was that ex-Arsenal player saying Arshavin was the worst signing for Arsenal? Can someone please send him the 2 goals highlights.
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26/10/2011 19:00:00

There're plenty of signings that have been much worse than Arshavin but there's little he did last night that would bring about a significant change in anyone's opinion of him.
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26/10/2011 19:04:00

If saying something like that got his chubby little Russian legs pounding a little harder then I'm glad George Graham said what he said, often there is no greater incentive than to prove doubters and critics wrong, witness wallys form improving after Waddle or whatever no mark it was made his 'no football brain' remark (one that at times it's been hard to argue) Sounds like Fabianski one gaffe aside had a fairly solid game, Frimpong is obviously taking lessons in dawdling when in possession from uncle Alex and what a beaut from Park. Come on Arsenal keep this going and get a result against Big racist John and the Oligangster mob.
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26/10/2011 19:14:00

It's easy to forget Arshavin's incredible talent-part of it is his own fault, part of it is AW's, part of it is his teammates'. But there's a very good reason he was ranked 6th best player in the world after Euro 2008.
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26/10/2011 20:36:00

Sure, and it'll be much the same reason that players like Poborsky and Toto Schillaci's reputations were built on a handful of games in a knockout tournament
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26/10/2011 22:04:00

Regarding Chamakh: his heading ability has clearly slipped a little, although it certainly has to do with the quality of delivery he gets; one might even say lack of delivery. That said, the fact that he can only score when someone puts it on a plate for him (and then only sometimes) tells you that he's not really good enough. Park seems to be able to create opportunities for himself, actually wants to score, and apparently is not a bad header either. Park is 6ft tall according to Wikipedia.
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27/10/2011 06:41:00

A choice of Arshavin or Ramsey in the "Cesc" role isn't a bad place to be for a football squad. With Wilshere to return in the New Year, he can rotate through there also, or swap with Arteta in the second midfielder's spot. Interesting question to ponder, who would you rather have for the next 3 seasons or so, Nasri or Arshavin? Arshavin's impact has been more decisive in the past 2.5 seasons I would argue, Nasri has been a more consistent contributor though less impactful bar two or three games.
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27/10/2011 07:00:00

Arshavin doesn't have the passing ability either in accuracy or speed/frequency of pass to play the 'Cesc' role. He'd only ever suit a role as an attacking forward. The freer the better for him but not always the team. City were no mugs they wouldn't have paid £25m and 150k a week to take Arshavin ahead of Nasri.
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27/10/2011 09:09:00

That would be your opinion, I personally think he could fill that role very nicely, maybe as more of a goal scorer than Cesc was but still.
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27/10/2011 11:20:00

You're probably agreeing with me more than you'd want to think. His passing rates are a bit more than just opinion but I guess even the interpretation of stats can rely on opinion to a fair extent. He wouldn't be suited to the deeper lying aspects of central midfield that was part of Cesc's role (in my opinion) but the individual attacking abilities he has would be better suited to playing further forward without the defensive responsibilities. Trouble is that means we're only playing with 9 outfield when we don't have the ball.
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27/10/2011 12:03:00

Weather we think AA can or can't play 'cesc' role, or is better suited to the classic No10, the idea that Rambo has him to learn from and Wilshere has Arteta to learn from and Frim/Coqu have Song can only be a good thing and a balance most of us would say our squad has missed recently.
No 10
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27/10/2011 12:33:00

Great point on Chamberlain LD. It will be good to have a few average games now, to quell talk of an England place in 2012 and generally, ease him into top-flight football. Personally, I rate Arshavin as world class but he has not been consistent enough - he had a really good game and I hope this is him re-discovering form. We need such individual moments of brilliance, right now, we only have RvP who provides that.
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28/10/2011 08:13:00


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