Bolton 0 Arsenal 2: Trotting Along Nicely
Bolton Wanderers 0 – 2 Arsenal
0 – 1 Fabregas (28)
0 – 2 Merida (78)
A good team performance has left Arsenal three points from the Premier League summit, a two-goal victory on Wednesday night over Bolton will bring that place for a week at least. Bolton played as expected and added some spite into their game, taking Kevin Davies’ inference that Arsenal were little girls to heart, pulling Cesc Fabregas’ hair early in the match, having shoved his face into the turf. On the whole and to their credit, the players kept their calm and stuck to their gameplan, passing Bolton into the bottom three of the table.
Cesc was instrumental in the victory. The depleted midfield was shored up by Eastmond’s first start in the defensive role and he did well, allowing his captain to roam forward at will, linking with Arshavin, Rosicky and Eduardo to cause Bolton problems throughout the match. It was a fine return to the team for the Spaniard, denied two clear penalties as well as scoring and being pivotal in the second, Fran Merida’s first Premier League goal.
It is his best season, statistically, in an Arsenal shirt. Yesterday’s goal was his 13th in all competitions which given the number of games he has missed is an impressive return. The opener summed up the determination with which the team had entered the match. Bolton tried to play their way out of defence and the hapless Taylor turned his back on the ball and it duly landed there. Before he had time to recover, Rosicky had pressured him, winning the ball and setting the attack in motion, swift passes and a positive surge by Diaby, found Eduardo with a flick into Fabregas’ path, the ball nestling in the net following his accurately placed shot.
Arsenal’s dominance of the first half confirmed. It could have been more. In the 12th minute, Phil Dowd proved overly munificent to Jaaskelainen when the ‘keeper tripped Fabregas, the Spaniard having dinked the ball over the advancing legs, limbs which brought the Arsenal skipper crashing to Earth. No penalty, leniency for which Tomas Rosicky would be grateful as his retaliatory trip later in the half could quite easily have been a red card rather than the yellow he received.
As half-time approached, Dowd’s benevolence turned to questionable competence, Knight’s challenge on Fabregas outside the bounds of the law and undoubtedly a penalty to all except the man in control. A second goal before the interval would have been just reward and may have quelled the second half storm which the team had to weather.
That was inevitable with Bolton being the hosts. They opened the second half more determined and afforded space, they sought to exploit Traore’s uneven performance with Lee becoming a focal point of their attacks. Yet they were kept at bay, Gallas and Vermaelen strength and determination binding the defence together. When Bolton did get their opportunities, they found Almunia in his best shot-stopping form.
When called upon, the Arsenal custodian was more than capable of coming up with the answers. Having made a couple of required saves in the first half, including an outstanding right handed save at close quarters from Klasnic, he was reliable in the second period, handling well. Taylor though should have equalised shortly before Merida struck the winner.
The Bolton midfielder found time and space behind the Arsenal defence but instead of taking the ball on, struck wide from 25 yards. Almunia did well not to have a rush of blood and force a lobbed effort from Taylor, remaining in his area rather than charging into oblivion. It was a poor effort though, indicative to Owen Coyle that his team were not going to get anything from the match.
That was confirmed when Arsenal showed the gulf in class. A Bolton attack broke down, Fabregas wrestling away from close attentions to release Merida. The youngster showed confidence to fend off three defenders to allow Sagna time to support. From there, Fabregas took over, purposefully striding to the edge of the area, releasing Eduardo on the left side. Knight deflected the Croat’s cross into the path of Merida, whose control was sublime and the calmness in the finish indicating why Wenger is keen to keep the player.
In the lead up to the match, the midfield became strained. Ramsey and Nasri’s injuries appear to be more serious than initial reports suggest with Arsene observing that both are likely to be out for three weeks, making their return likely to be at Stamford Bridge although such are the vagaries of their injuries, that might be the visit of Manchester United to The Emirates.
Eastmond’s debut is one he should be pleased with. He did the simple things well, short passes to free the ‘creative’ forces, covering for defenders when they advanced and putting himself into tackles as needed. He was not shy in using the ‘Dark Side’ either, a yellow card for a deliberate trip in the first half should have been received, good to see though that he was not intimidated by the fixture.
A further bright spot was the return of Gael Clichy, midfield though perhaps not his position. A return to left back may well be the order of Wednesday with Traore reverting to the ‘cup side’. Cesc summed up the squad in his post-match interview when talking about teams wanting to win the title, “No team will want it more“. On the evidence of yesterday, it was no word of a lie.