It was a day of shirt sleeves and shades (try saying that after eight pints of abbots), making my way to the Tavern for a couple of jars in the searing heat I had a good feeling about the game. '2-1 Cesc to score the winner,' I declared boldly, 'of course Anelka will score for the Orcs.' Those doubting my powers of prophecy need look no further than the prediction league :-) Though there was a small sense of trepidation as the Guiness was knocked back, Jon was to miss his second consecutive home game and the good luck charm was missing. Being that he is a bookie, he couldn't really get the time off work. (A bookie taking Grand National day off is a bit like Santa Claus throwing a sickie on December 25th). Football was made for days as glorious as yesterday, I would absolutely love it to be played through the summer, a season running from February to November, that would suit me. It would give me more opportunity to stand outside the Tavern, with my shades masking my wandering eyes analysing any passing talent.
There was immediately a sense that the atmospehere would be different today, for the first time in living memory singing started BEFORE kick off at a home game. The chief's rallying cry earlier in the week (Gooners YOUR club needs your voice) appeared to manifest itself in the larynxes of 60,000. From the very first minute of the game, Bolton were trying to waste time, Ricardo Gardner took an age to take the first throw in of the game, Jaaskelainen dragged his feet on goal kicks. Later on, amazingly, he would verbally lambast a ball boy for not returning the ball to him quickly enough. It was almost as hypocritical an action as Diouf hauling Eboue down and accusing him of diving. However, there was a sickening inevitability about what was to happen in the ninth minute. Campo lumped in a long free kick, Davies outjumped Eboue, leaving Nolan free on the byline. Nolan headed goalwards and Lehmann could only palm the ball back to Anelka who blasted the ball in. Gallas attempted to punch it out, but failed. Happily, the referee had the common sense to give the goal, rahther than send Gallas off. If only a certain Norwegian official had done likewise in Paris.
The Gunners' looked shaken, with Anelka's pace terrifying the back line. He received a Speed pass and veered goalwards amidst a back peddling Gunners rearguard, but dragged his shot wide. Bolton's set pieces saw the Gunners' wracked with nerves, with Gilberto tucking into left back to protect Clichy from the wayward elbows of Kevin Davies. At this point, I would have gladly accepted the draw, but Arsenal had other ideas. Given some shocking form of late, it was amazing that they could show the mental capabilities to react. We have a side of unquestionable talent, but whether we have a side of winners is an altogether different conundrum. Chelsea and United demonstrated in the week a refusal to lose, an inner determination insulating them against defeat. Well Arsenal also showed that yesterday, they refused to be ebaten. Rosicky was the catalyst, he took responsibility, receiving the ball in dangerous positions and drawing the 'oohs and aahs' of the crowd with a couple of range finders. Freddie began to dig in and do battle, making penetrative runs that put one on mind of 2002. He dispossessed Faye and made a beeline for goal, played in Adebayor, who could only blaze straight at the keeper from close range. Ljungberg arrowed a free kick that he won narrowly over. Toure launched one a couple of missiles from range, stinging the palms of Jaaskelainen.
It was a matter of time before the equaliser, and it was a gloriously un-Arsenal goal. Hleb's probing pass found Adebayor in space on the edge of the box, Ade chipped in a sumtuous cross towards the back stick and Rosicky took a Piresesque gamble, marauding into the area and barging Hunt off the ball, before scrappily tucking it beyond the reach of Jaaskelainen. There could not have been a more apt goalscorer. Game on. The Gunners' were straight back at it after the break, Gilberto's calm assurance, together with Gallas's steal and Toure's pace made for a comfortable second half at the back, but Gilberto went all creative on us with a delightful slide rule pass to Fabregas, he deftly touched it past the sliding Nicky Hunt (sounds like cockney rhyming slang doesn't it?) and collected himself. It seemed to take him an age to take another touch, make sure Ljungberg and Faye weren't blocking his view, before calmly firing into the net. He showed a coolness in front of goal that has deserted Arsenal all season. There was nothing composed about his celebration as he boxed the air in delight, his veins throbbing with relief. I always enjoy seeing Arsenal players celebrate like that. Once again, there could not ahve been a more apt goalscorer. Cesc grabbed this game by the proverbials, slammed it up against the wall and demanded it's lunch money. He was sensational, tough and committed in the tackle and gracile and balletic in possession. The change in his physical approach to the game makes St. James's Park and Goodison Park last season seem a different lifetime ago. He has gritted his teeth and sharpened his resolve, Arsenal don't get bullied anymore and this is down to Cesc and his huge desire to improve. The fact that he physically mastered Bolton to the point that Kevin Nolan was replaced perfectly chrystalised this new facet to his game.
Bolton shrunk like a flacid cock thereafter, unable to cope with Arsenal's new found exuberenece and aware that they couldn't kick us off the park anymore. Campo was switched to left back because Gardner just couldn't get to grips with Hleb, who was the orchestrator of many of our best moves. He could have killed the game off, as a Hunt clearance fell to his feet, he shimmied beautifully past Campo but pulled his shot agonisingly wide. Unfortunately, Ljungberg was to go off injured, Murphy's Law because this was his best display since the Tottenham game in December. Diaby came on and should have scored almost immediately. Adebayor collected Rosicky's pass, flighted in another precise cross only for Diaby to approach it at an awkward angle and head it wide. The odious little so and so Campo was to again see red against Arsenal after two poorly timed tackles saw him receive his marching orders. Bolton have now received seven red cards in six seasons against Arsenal, an insight into the 'tactics' the fat one adopts. Them in the Champions League? It would be a travesty. The chance that was to follow was pure folly, Fabregas split the creaking Bolton backline for Diaby to run onto. Bafflingly, Baptista tried to shrug Diaby off the ball when he was in an offside position, if Baptista had been allowed to receive the ball he would have been flagged offside. Diaby managed to shrug him off, but with his concentration having been robbed of him, he shot tamely at Jaaskelainen. Bolton went straight up the other end and won a corner and I really felt the sucker punch was coming. Hearts flew into mouths in injry time as the ball jumped up and hit Eboue's hand in the area. The look of guilt and the hasty hook into touch said it all, I think it was a clear penalty, but my heart doesn't exactly bleed for Allardyce right now. Thankfully, the final whistle sounded to a huge sigh of relief. The mental faculties of the performance, together with the quality of the football were especially pleasing. But that age old problem of finishing proved to be our hubris, we should have run up a cricket core. That is a conundrum that will have to be remedied in the summer. You want my two cents? I think we should re-sign Anelka. LD.