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Arsenal 4 Bolton 2: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Arsenal 4 – 2 Bolton Wanderers

0 – 1 Cahill (6)
0 – 2 Taylor (28 pen)
1 – 2 Rosicky (43)
2 – 2 Fabregas (52)
3 – 2 Vermaelen (65)
4 – 2 Arshavin (85)

Hey boss, you’ve been telling everyone how good we are. Do you really believe that?
Mais oui, mon petit capi
Arsene leaves dressing room
Right lads, give ’em a two goal head start…and then we’ll marmalise ’em

This Wasn’t In The Script

Were that it was so simple. With the summit of the Premier League at stake, a Dury-esque moment almost overcame Arsenal with a bout of first night nerves on this one night stand. Fortunately this morning, we are not discussing What A Waste last night was although it could quite easily have been so. Champions, we are frequently told, are made of steel and can retrieve losing situations. Arsenal gave another indication that they have the mental resilience to bridge the gap between winners and the rest.

Of course, there is a counter-argument that they should not have allowed a two-goal deficit to emerge in the first place. A sluggish start was duly punished by Gary Cahill’s sixth minute opener. That it was self-inflicted to a certain extent is as much the issue, the ball not cleared initially by Diaby before Clichy hoisted an ‘an up and under‘ as the late, lamented Bill McLaren would have said. Davies unsurprisingly won the resulting header, the ball falling for Cahill to swing at and bury past Almunia. Before that and immediately aftewards, the Arsenal strikeforce and midfield forced saves from Jaaskelainen.

Almunia was called into action rarely but when required, made the saves, a strong right hand turning away Taylor’s freekick as the first quarter of the match passed and he very nearly prevented the same player from doubling the visitors advantage from spot after Denilson had clumsily challenged Lee. No argument from anyone about the decision is possible but the criticism of Almunia for failing to stop the kick is baffling. A penalty should never be missed and when they are, it is down to the poor technique of the taker. If a goalkeeper is able to take advantage of that, fair enough but to if not, the outcome is only as it should be.

If the first goal penned Bolton into their own half, the second saw Arsenal fencing them in, herding them like sheep by recovering possession quickly. Errors abounded, Davies fortunate to see his header hit his own bar with the ‘keeper stranded and then bounce to safety.

The Charge Of The Slight Brigade

More shots peppered the goal but still the breakthrough would not come until half-time approached, Rosicky shepherded wider on the right of the area by Knight hit a powerful shot to the near post, the only part of the goal he could see. Jaaskelainen was apparently unaware of the Czech’s abilities to find a good strike, watching in awe as it flew into the net.

I wonder whether Arsene re-iterated Graham Taylor’s infamous half-time team talk. On entering the dressing room as his Aston Villa charges trailed by two goals at Crewe in an FA Cup tie, the much lambasted former England boss walked over, took a seat and said, “Gentlemen, you got us into this mess. You get us out of it.

Within seven minutes of the restart, that was completed. Gallas gave the ball away midway in the Bolton half and went in late on Davies, who had been effective in the midfield battle as Coyle sought to smother – unsuccessfully – Arsenal. The ball pinged its way to Fabregas, Bolton had every opportunity to clear as the Spaniard and others bundled into the area, taking advantage of ricochets. When the shooting opportunity came, the angle was acute and the gap between Jaaskelainen’s legs wide enough for the ball to be passed into the net.

One way traffic beforehand became unstoppable, momentum behind the home team. Eventually the pressure told as the Bolton defence crumbled. The third was inevitable and it fell to Thomas vermaelen in an almost carbon copy of Cahill’s opener, the difference being that the Belgian let the ball bounce across his body before decent technique allowed him to half volley the ball home via the upright.

The third was the signal for the side to take a breather of sorts and to close out the match, which they were successful in doing. Pressure continued on the visitors, Fabregas denied a clear penalty for the third time in the two matches against Bolton when Jaaskelainen brought him down. The lack of awareness of the rules on the part of officials and pundits is alarming; it is irrelevant if the ball is heading out of play, that Fabregas had it under control before the Bolton custodian fouled him means that a penalty is instantly awarded. Obviously not if you are Alan Wiley.

The top of the league for the first time since the opening month of the season still beckoned, Arshavin the one to accept the invitation. Similar to Fabregas’ goal, the ball was bundled through weak and ineffective challenges before the opening arrived, the Russian burying the chance enthusiastically.

It sparked Arsenal into life, a fifth almost added when Vela sent Arshavin away. Walcott accompanied him in a 2 v 1 break, waiting for the pass, staying onside. The Russian decided otherwise and looked to be scoring one of the goals of the season until his finish let him down. Walcott was despondent but had no guarantee of scoring either.

The win showed the lessons of the past have been learned. No longer can teams with lowly positions come to The Emirates, mass the midfield and shut out Arsenal on a regular basis. Belief in the style of play, adherence to passing will bring results eventually. Sometimes, route one can be mixed in. Confidence though is high and not surprising with an eleven point gap removed until Chelsea play their game in hand. That home defeat to the second placed team seems a long time ago suddenly.

It Was Late And Bad

There can be no defence for the tackle which started the move which led to Fabregas’ equaliser, even if the incident was unintentional on Gallas’ part. The tackle was bad. If you hand out criticism when a player is the recipient, you take it as an offender.

Sarcasm from Coyle about the event, “The fact the referee’s not seen that, and the lad’s prostrate on the ground, and Arsenal being full of ‘fair play’ as we keep hearing yet carried on playing and score on the break“, shows a lack of understanding and gross hypocrisy on his part.

The amount of fouls suffered by Arsenal is ignored, save to ridicule Wenger for complaining. That it was one of his own players who suffered is not particularly surprising given his captain stoked up the matches by claiming before Sunday’s encounter that ‘Arsenal scream like little girls‘ after tackles. The lack of intelligence in his own leader on the pitch shone through although Davies is proof that little talent is no bar to having a long professional career.

As for not stopping the move, Fifa removed the ‘Sporting Behaviour‘ rule after it was seen to be abused and, let’s be honest, Bolton get little enough possession of the football in matches as it is, so if they kicked the ball out every time they fouled someone, their dwindling crowds would diminish further, failing to see their ‘heroes‘ kick the ball save for restarts. A signal that Arsenal are treating others as they are treated themselves. I believe it is called ‘English Grit‘ by pundits, something we have been accused of lacking.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Villa did win the cup-tie, 3 – 2 at Gresty Road. ’til Tomorrow.

Bolton Preview: Not So Nice To See You Again So Soon

Having disposed of Bolton Wanderers in an entirely professional manner on Sunday, the same opponents provide the latest barrier to Arsenal returning to the pinnacle of English football. Bolton venture to The Emirates on the back of Sunday’s defeat, seeking their first league victory at Arsenal since January 1962. Disconcertingly for the visitors, they have never won a fixture against Arsenal that was played on the 20th of any month.

Arsene has been focussing on injuries, not surprising really with a mixed few days. Losing Nasri and Ramsey until around the time of the visit to Stamford Bridge was not the start to the weekend, adding Merida into that mix with a minor knock on Sunday would have soured his mood further. That was offset by the returns of Denilson and Theo Walcott.

With any other opponent, there would be less of a sense of trepidation on the part of those coming back. Bolton though are going to take a while under Owen Coyle to shed the physicality of their game, a trait which showed a niggardly streak with hair pulling and a number of off-the-ball incidents on Sunday.

Given the manager’s complimentary comments about Arsenal, if he has enough time, we may even start liking Bolton. Actually, probably not but perhaps despising them less.

The injury list is quite lengthy at the moment with eight players noted as missing although Bendtner is close to a return, Merida and Wilshere peripheries at the moment although in times of need, no-one can be described as such. However, four games in ten days requires everyone to be fit.

This point was acknowledged by Wenger who praised the squad for responding to the adversity caused by the situation:

it gives a lot of credit to the players that despite all that has happened we are still there.

However, he needs people to stay fit, something which has been a particular issue this season with returnees often picking up strains and pulls soon after their comeback. Does this mean they are not ready or to use a Wengerism, “rushed back“? In some cases, I suspect there is an element of that but the lengthy nature of Eduardo’s injury and the mystery of Rosicky’s ailments render this hardly surprising.

The team itself will show few changes from Sunday. Denilson will return in midfield, Clichy at left back giving Traore a breather before resuming his post at Stoke in a much changed back four from tonight. Elsewhere, you would not expect much tinkering with the lack of choice apparent.

It is too soon for Walcott to start but he can give Eduardo a bit of a breather whilst getting a chance to run at a tiring Bolton defence late on. It might be that Vela starts instead of the Croat but that seems unlikely given the runaround he gave the visitors at the weekend, a performance that showed he may not be at his best but his performance level is still above a huge swathe of other strikers.

I would expect the starting line-up to be:

Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Denilson, Fabregas, Diaby; Rosicky, Arshavin, Eduardo

There would be a temptation to treat the match with some complacency on the part of the players, no matter how unintentional and I suspect that is something that Arsene and the coaching staff have been looking out for. To counter that, the inspiration would be going top of the league, something Arsene spoke of following Sunday’s victory; “a psychological blow” is the phrase he used if Arsenal go top.

To some extent it is, re-affirming to the top two that this is a three horse race and not the procession they have become too used to in recent seasons. Is it something that could work in reverse if the required victory is not achieved? Absolutely. Yet Wenger gave the reason why this should not be the case:

We have won nothing yet. But we have won some credibility. However, that is not enough.

We want more but at least we are in a position to fight for it and have a go. I have the confidence that my team will give absolutely everything.

I trust their hunger, I trust their appetite and I trust their spirit, knowing of course that there is a long way to go

And that is the reason, combined with the technique, that Arsenal can win the title this season.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

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.

’til Tomorrow.

Bolton Preview: Stand And Deliver

A throwback to ‘The Good Old Days‘ this week with two fixtures against Bolton Wanderers, reminiscent of Christmas’s long ago when home and away clashes with the same opposition took place within 48 hours, usually 24. The two clubs have had this proximity of fixtures before, November 1919 saw two 2 – 2 draws in the space of a week.

Christmas 1922 saw Arsenal slump 1 – 4 only to win 5 – 0 the following day; September 1927 saw a 2 – 2 draw at Burnden Park, 5 days later 2 – 1 to The Arsenal at Highbury; September 1958, a 6 – 1 Arsenal victory was followed by a 2 – 1 defeat. But enough of that tangent, for it is of no relevance to this afternoon, merely an interesting aside.

Injuries dominate the Arsenal skyline, Samir Nasri pulling a muscle yesterday in training rendering him doubtful which makes the midfield interesting to say the least, given Denilson and Aaron Ramsey are reportedly not available. Which probably topped Arsene’s Saturday off, with Chelsea and Manchester United both having comfortable wins, expanding the gap at the top, hopefully only on temporary basis though.

A win is always vital when fighting for the title, to keep up with rivals or to capitalise on their mistakes. Six points this week will, in all likelihood, take Arsenal top, four goal victory margins required in total to ensure that happens. It would leave Chelsea with a game in hand but put pressure back on them. This is the crucial aspect of this afternoon; how Arsenal handle that pressure.

There is no ‘get out clause‘, claims that the squad is inexperienced do not wash. The players will-to-win needs to be evident, backing up their talk, to ensure that the results are delivered. And, on paper, they should deliver comfortably. Sadly football is played on grass and the apppointment of Owen Coyle as manager will invigorate the previously lacklustre players of Bolton.

We have been here on numerous occasions before, most notably when Stuart Pearce took over at Nottingham Forest, a similarly insipid shadow of previous glories, inspired them to an unlikely win over Arsenal. Pearce admitted afterwards that his initial line-up looked good until his wife pointed out the absence of a goalkeeper might be a flaw in his plans. That afternoon, Pearce could have left out a goalkeeper so blunt was the Arsenal attack but it also gave an indication of the turn his managerial career might take.

The robustness of Bolton’s play used to be something they could build upon but this season, they have precious little in attacking threat, Gary Megson preferring defenders as his signings, a policy which ultimately cost him his job.

Kevin Davies, one of the most booked players in the Premier League, remembers this and having seen yellow on 9 occasions against Arsenal alone, has been keen to whip up that mentality. He seems to have forgotten that Abou Diaby was more than capable of making his Bolton foes ‘scream‘ – to use Davies’ own description about Arsenal players after they have been tackled.

Crucial to a win will be avoiding the slips which have been costly at Bolton in the past. Yet for all that, Arsenal has won the last half-a-dozen or so games, home and away, against them. Some have been comfortable, some dogged and two years ago, 10 men oozed class to come back from two goals down and win. These performances are the ones which are relevant to this afternoon, as has been the ability to win at traditionally difficult venues this season.

Sol Campbell’s Arsenal return is pencilled in for next Sunday’s visit to The Potteries, William Gallas’ niggle will presumably be covered by Mikael Silvestre in the event that he is not fit for duty today.

If it is a choice between today and Wednesday, Gallas should be picked this afternoon, his experience vital for a patched up midfield. Vermaelen could move into the defensive position in the central triumverate but I believe this would be unsettling for the defence, already likely to change with Gael Clichy available, Abou Diaby more than capable of fulfilling defensive duties.

The line-up I would expect to see is:

Almunia; Sagna, Vermaelen, Gallas, Clichy; Rosicky, Fabregas, Diaby; Vela, Arshavin, Eduardo

If Wenger wants more midfield presence rather than three strikers, Merida could drop into the Rosicky role pushing the Czech further forward at Vela’s expense. Both the Mexican and Spaniard are due big games and this afternoon is as good a platform as any. Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.

’til Tomorrow.

Arsene on Transfers and Bolton Preview

Transfer Talk

Arsene spoke yesterday of the ongoing negotiations for Andrei Arshavin:

At the moment I cannot give you any good news but in this job no news is good news. Nothing has fallen through. We are on alert in the transfer market…We are a little short because we wanted a player like (Tomas) Rosicky to play 80% of games and he has not played at all.

It is little little surprise that nothing has moved on the Russian Front. Dick Advocaat, Zenit’s manager, mentioned the other day that he had identified Arshavin’s replacement already so I suspect it is rather like a house sale, everyone waiting for a deal further down the line to complete. Slow moving it might be but better than nothing at all.

Wenger discussed the possibility of adding a defensive player, specifically Upson:

I like personally Matthew Upson. But there again I would not like to come out on that. However at the moment, we are not looking to buy on the defensive side of our game

Which is about as definitive as it gets as far as the back four is concerned. It reinforces the notion that no-one is leaving although with three weeks still to go that can change.

Later in his interview, Wenger will no doubt have sent alarm bells ringing through the ears of many:

We want to spend money but as everyone knows, and as the the chairman has said, we have money available but we have limited resources, and you want to spend it in the best way possible.

No doubt this will be interpreted as Arsenal being stoney-broke but too many people are willing to believe that the inflated figures bandied about in the summer were true; too many willing to believe that the transfer chest equated directly to the £60m or so that the club had in the bank at that point. The truth is harder to ascertain because it would be commercial suicide for anyone in authority to let the selling clubs know how much Arsenal had available to spend.

The Squad

Wenger once more publicly defended his charges, something that would be no less than expected:

Nothing is missing [from my squad] but you always want to add some quality to what you already have. I am very happy with the quality of the players I have and I believe that at the moment we are a bit short number-wise. If we can add one or two players then we will do it but the squad I have is not lacking quality; we have enough quality.

He is short of numbers simply through the ever large injury list. Actually the treatment room is not that busy with “short-termers”, it is the number of long-term injuries that is of concern. They are key personnel who are in there. The importance of Fabregas to the side is clear but Walcott, Rosicky and Eduardo are equally so. The first two names on that list provide flair, pace and the intelligence in attack, particularly the Czech international. His guile has been sorely missed since he was injured. Walcott it seems will be the first of the trio to return at the end of next month with Fabregas and Eduardo a month or so later.

Bolton Wanderers Preview

Bolton visit The Emirates this afternoon, looking to abscond with the points from what will undoubtedly be a physical encounter. Gary Megson promised as much before criticising Arsene Wenger for constantly bemoaning the tackles that Bolton make during these encounters. In an attempt to make good relations between the two clubs, Megson said:

Whenever we play Arsenal, it always seems to be overshadowed by an incident, which is usually a tackle. My players call it “in yer face” football and, yes, we try to get in everybody’s face, but always in a fair manner. Kevin Davies is the most fouled player in the Premier League

He is also one of the players who commits the most fouls as well, a fact that Megson was curiously keen to overlook. The Bolton gaffer should have taped over his mouth at this point before claiming that the tackle on Gael Clichy was not as bad as it seemed because the Frenchman was training on the Tuesday after this season’s encounter at The Reebok. Well, that made Davies’ scything challenge alright then because nobody really got hurt by the tackle.

Team news is mixed. Gallas and Silvestre are both out but Toure, Denilson, Song and Clichy return to the squad. It will be interesting to see whether Arsene continues with Ramsey although I doubt it. For the purposes of today’s game, it is more likely that we will see Eboue on the right to give some physical presence to the midfield. Centrally, Denilson will start but the choice will be whether he is partnered by Diaby or Song.

I would expect the starting line-up to be something like:

Almunia; Sagna, Toure, Djourou, Clichy; Eboue, Denilson, Diaby, Nasri; van Persie, Adebayor

With a bench of:

Fabianski, Vela, Bendtner, Ramsey, Song, Gibbs, Wilshere

Three points are vital. Villa take on West Brom and Liverpool are at Stoke, games that the top four teams would be expected to cruise through. They might not but it would a surprise if they emerge with less than three points each from those encounters. A gap can be closed, with an Arsenal win, on United or Chelsea or both with their meeting on Sunday. Every weekend is going to be like this though. The team must win their games and hope that others are less conscientious in order to create a pressure situation on those above them in the table. Unfortunately, this weekend it is Arsenal who will probably be under pressure given Villa’s lunchtime kick-off.

Arsenal Class Brushes Aside Bolton

BOLTON WANDERERS 1 – 3 ARSENAL

1 – 0 Davies (14)
1 – 1 Eboue (26)
1 – 2 Bendtner (27)
1 – 3 Denilson (87)

Many people believed that this would Arsenal’s first real test of the season. I am not quite sure what constitutes a test for a football team because, for me, they face such conditions every time they enter the playing arena. A number of others believed that coming from behind would be the first test, simply because it had not happened this season. There is some merit in that argument because it is a mental hurdle that all teams must overcome to enjoy success at whatever level it is gauged.

I will settle for this being a good win, particularly following on from an arduous trip in the middle of the week. As well as taking the top spot in the Premier League – always a nice feeling whatever stage of the season it happens – the victory also stops the media rot that Arsenal are a soft touch ‘oop North’; seven goals in two games puts paid to that theory rather nicely indeed.

Arsene rotated Walcott and van Persie, bringing Eboue and Bendtner into the starting line-up but the stability that is brought to performances through continual playing time for the team was duly rewarded. His pleasure at the performance can be gauged by his post-match comments,

It was a convincing, united and classy performance. We dominated the game and showed great qualities. We showed aspects of our game that made me think we are maturing very quickly but youy can always improve

He will have been particularly satisfied with the fact that the goalscorers all broke their Premier League ducks for the season. Not only that, the goals were from somewhat unexpected sources. Barn doors felt safe last season when Eboue lined up any attempt at the goal from whatever distance. Bendtner and Denilson have goals in them but perhaps not frequently enough. There is much advantage to be gained in terms of belief though that the three of them are on the scoresheet and not one of the regular finishers managed to emulate their feat. A good evening’s work all round.

As is usual in visits to The Reebok, things did not start as well. Bolton forced the pace initially but not to the extent where they overran Arsenal as in the past. Nolan’s opportunistic strike forced a good save from Almunia but the hosts opener will have disappointed Wenger. Toure seemed to be held back slightly by Steinsson, allowing Davies to improve on his aerial advantage over the Ivorian and get his arms onto the defender’s shoulders for a free header from close range, inevitably finding the back of the net.

If Bolton thought that it was the start of one of their straightforward wins, they were sorely mistaken. Quite simply, Arsenal dominated and an goals for the visitors became inevitable as the hosts were penned into the last third of the field, defending their goal as the passing and movement on display threatened to overrun them. Adebayor served the first warning, unlucky to strike the post from the edge of the area when put through on the ‘keeper by Bendtner following Clichy’s hacked clearance. Song also struck the post before, inevitably, the equaliser came but from an unexpected source.

Eboue looked along the line and ran offside, picked the ball up from Bendtner’s pass on the left edge of the six yard area and scored coolly at the near post with a sidefooted shot. He belied his obvious joy initially in the celebration, unsure perhaps of what to do, but the smiles of his teammates show his popularity at the club.

Whilst that goal was down to close passing and constant pressure, the second a minute later was created by the midfield speed of thought and movement. The quartet were all involved as Fabregas won a tackle in the middle, Denilson flicked to Song, who slid the ball forward to Eboue, onto Adebayor who found Denilson on the left and an excellent low centre saw Bendtner’s boot beat that of the defender to score. All over in the blink of an eye and a reverse turned into a lead that always looked like being extended and well-defended.

Several chances went begging, profligate finishing or good goalkeeping the reason why the Arsenal tally stayed at two until the final five minutes when Theo set off on a run, taking six Bolton defenders and midfielders with him as he released Adebayor on the right. His cross ‘took out’ defence and goalkeeper en route Denilson for a simple tap-in. Except he finished with a Brazilian flourish, emphatically scoring into the roof of the net and with the widest grin of all in the afternoon. There was still time for Walcott to force a good save when perhaps on this occasion a simple pass to Adebayor on his right may have left a wider margin of victory.

That there were three points garnered is in no small part due to some excellent tackling and shackling in defence. Toure may have been naive in allowing himself to be penned in for the first goal but more than made up for that in the remaining seventy-five minutes, one astounding tackle in particular on Gardner in the first half, reminiscent of Bobby Moore’s on Pele in the 1970 World Cup. Alas, the coolness of that incident was not matched by the Arsenal defence, Nolan bringing another good save from Almunia.

A criticism of the Spaniard in the past has been the feeling that he was not capable of being the difference between a point and a win. Yesterday he proved that he could be with some good work throughout the afternoon. Maybe some can look again at their opinion of him. That will not happen for detractors will seize upon the weak flap at a corner that let Vaz Te have a good opportunity, Almunia redeeming himself by capitalising on the Bolton player’s weak effort.

Many positives from the afternoon, dominating possession, retrieving a goal deficit and defending a one-goal advantage for a large portion of the match. One area for improvement ought to be corners. I cannot remember an away game where Arsenal forced so many yet there was little end result, Song the closest with his header against the post.

Another who merits commendation for his performance is Bendtner. It cannot be easy for a striker coming in and out of a side but the physical aspects of Bolton’s defending will not have bothered him, more the slotting in and out. Harshly, you feel that despite the excellent all round game he had yesterday will not be enough for him to retain his place for the visit of Hull, a leading role in the Carling Cup tie with Sheffield United might be the best he can expect for the coming week.

Of course, it would not be a visit to Bolton without the usual physical brutality. Davies may have won the ball in his challenge on Clichy – fortunately the weeks rest might enable the injury to heal – but the follow-through was simply reckless. Both feet off the ground and studs showing, taking out both of your opponents legs is not a hard, solid challenge of yesteryear nor is the injured party a ‘Jessy’ as Mark Lawrenson suggested. Quite simply, comments like that show the standard of punditry to have slumped to all-time lows. It is not even scraping the bottom of the barrel, it is through into the wet sod underneath.

Shallow thought has long been the altar at which former professionals worship but even by their standards, criticising a current player who is injured in such a challenge is beyond words and sums up the low moral standards by which the populist media judge incidents. Shame ought to be his reaction this morning yet the inescapable conclusion is that all Lawrenson would say is that in a ‘real man’s game’, such tackles be considered part and parcel, forgetting how many of his predecessors, peers and successors have suffered appalling injuries through such callous disregard for opponents.

Megson though showed the siege mentality that Lawrenson probably admires by claiming,

The booking was ridiculous. [Davies] never did anything bad and it is nonsense to suggest anything else. It was a fair challenge and he won the ball

The only nonsense is that spouted by the Bolton manager and his grammatical sense. His attitude suggests that a limited player has evolved into a limited manager.

Encouragingly on that incident, journalists have condemned Davies for his tackle. Arsene was restrained, preferring to put the onus on the player to explain his intentions. In his defence, I do not think he intended to injure Clichy but to paraphrase a certain American politician, you can put all the gloss you want on a bad challenge, it is still a bad challenge.

Three points, top of the table, the sun is shining, the tinnies are in fridge and the papers beckon, reward for mowing the lawn and some weeding. ’til Tomorrow.

FINANCES, BOARD ROOM CHANGES AND BOLTON PREVIEW

FINANCIAL RESULTS

The financial results of the Group were released yesterday and most media outlets focus on the ultimately meaningless ‘Football Rich List’, deriving misplaced pleasure from seeing the club rise to third in these rankings. To what purpose? The listings are occupied by those who have success but comparisons are ultimately meaningless. What is with necessity to see who the top twenty or one hundred clubs in Europe are? They can be guessed from titles and league positions.

Up until about five years ago, Arsenal struggled to get into the top five of English clubs yet were the second most successful in the decade previous when the list started with more trophies than Tottenham, Newcastle and Liverpool, all of who regularly finished above us when it was compiled. Now it is simply a case of showing the rich getting richer, opening a wider gap on the rest. Even with Manchester City’s new owners, it is a list they will struggle to make impact upon. In terms of overall wealth, measured by Balance Sheet strength, they will probably shoot to the top but the question this will beg is whether or not it equates to success on the pitch?

As far as the revenue figure is concerned the most interesting aspect is that it shows the continuing dependency upon broadcasting and commercial activities related to the club. Last year, one of the key features of the Financial Statements was that unlike the rest of Europe, Arsenal derived more than half of their top line from gate receipts, 51% of football turnover with broadcasting revenues 42%. For 2008, the ranking has changed with the percentages being 46% and 48% respectively. It is a return to the trend that existed at Highbury and no doubt, one that will continue with the final year of the current broadcasting deal being 2009/10 and the returning the highest yield of that contract. The new deal will be a more competitive environment with Setanta in a seemingly stronger position given that it provides the platform for in-house broadcasting for the top four. The cost to the purchaser will no doubt collectively rise. It is still nowhere near the levels of the Italian clubs, the Milanese both relying for up to 70% of their income from television.

The debt levels will have Platini and Blatter jumping around in their chairs as if they were sitting on a pile of hot coals. Yet there are emminently serviceable, Mancunians no doubt envious of the fact that interest payments were a relatively small £17m. Moreover, borrowings are £100m lower than the value of the assets which they helped to create. Crucially, the club has financed the Arsenal Group separately. From this, it is a logical assumption that the property and football club borrowings are not dependent upon the other for servicing or guarantee purposes, keeping the club distant from the property loans. Whether the legal reality would offer such protection is open to debate.

The debate over transfer dealings will no doubt rear its head again, the misconception that cash or profit is equal to the fund available to Arsene. The two are not completely unrelated but the majority of deals these days are funded over the course of three or more years. It will not stop the carping about how there is £90m (£60m after deposit commitments are taken into consideration) sat in the bank, ignoring the oldest accounting trick in the book to gear your cashflow to having huge sums at the close of business on that day and being recorded in officialdom, only for it to be substantially reduced within the following weeks.

KROENKE JOINS THE BOARD

More will become apparent when the full documents are issued on Monday. Meanwhile Stan Kroenke joined the Board, a move designed to head off more interest from Alisher Usmanov and provide more protection for the current directors. It is, as is always the case, with Kroenke it is not quite that simple. He is not tied into the lockdown agreement and there is nothing stopping him either selling out to, or buying, Usmanov. Nor joining forces for that matter. It would make it easier for any existing board member to sell to him once April 2009 has passed, possibly more acceptable to the rest of the directors. Maybe that is the outcome that is being set up here.

BOLTON PREVIEW

And then the football rears its’ ugly head. And the head is quite possibly the ugliest of them all with the visit to Bolton this teatime. For once, the extra hour or two between kick-off times might work in Arsene’s favour with the squad getting more rest; one hopes that the rest does not convert to lethargy and we have a repeat of last season’s first half performance. Ninety minutes-worth of the second half fight back would be acceptable as there is little doubt that it would yield three points. With United and Chelsea meeting tomorrow, three points would be most welcome. It is hard to decide what the best outcome from that fixture would be, indeed it is perhaps too early in the season to know.

Arsene observed yesterday that there will be no returnees today so the squad that went to Kyiv plays. Tinkering is possible, depending on recovery times but it would be no surprise to see Bendtner in the starting line-up, probably at the expense of van Persie. This would necessitate either Walcott or Vela on the left, Eboue on the right, and with the Carling Cup taking centre-stage next week, most of the squad will be rested for a week before the visit of Hull City to The Emirates.

Denilson has been praised by Arsene,

Denilson has different qualities to Flamini but if you look at the numbers at the end of the season you will see he is a very good player. You look at the assists he has had since the start of the season, the balls he wins, the interceptions he has and the distance he covers. He is maybe not a flashy player but he is an efficient player

The statistics back his assertion up with Denilson riding high in the early stages of the season in the ubiquitous tackles, passes and assists tables. Were he to add a couple of goals perhaps his qualities might gain wider recognition. Once again Diaby is losing out on his chance to shine due to injury and Denilson has to be commended on taking the opportunity presented to him in the Frenchman and Alex Song’s absence. Unlike Flamini, he has more competition for places. Song is back at the club from internationals and can fit in snugly providing more defensive cover whilst Diaby is expected back in a couple of weeks. The centre of midfield though is crucial to the team and it is not a position where much rotation should be expected, the partnership taking time to gel. If Denilson maintains his form, he will keep his place.

Song meanwhile seems to have changed Arsene’s mind. Barely six months ago, he was viewed as more of a long-term choice for the centre of defence. Now, the manager seems less certain,

Alex is capable of doing it. When I signed him I liked] his personality, his technical quality, his composure, his strength in the one against one, the way he uses his body in the fight and, overall, his intelligence. He is a good centre back and he is a good central midfielder. I believe in him.

The last sentence is the crucial one. It is a case of belief, not just in Song but in all of the players. I am no different to anyone else, in that there are players who at times you do not have total confidence in. Mine is Denilson over the course of the season and the concern over his physical endurance to last a campaign is the same that Arsene had over Alex Song earlier in 2008. That may have disappeared and this is the sort of game where you might expect him to be chosen ahead of Denilson. Form suggests that this might be a mistake though and a midfield quartet along the lines of Kyiv should not be ruled out. It would rob the team of a certain natural width if Denilson were pushed leftwards but putting Eboue and Song alongside the Brazilian / Fabregas combination adds steel.

One interesting comparison will be that with Muamba. He was deemed highly promising at Arsenal but never came back from his loan. Motiviation to show Wenger what he has missed will be high but it is up to the midfield to outpass him and once through, Bolton do not have the strongest defence.

For all of the debate though, an unchanged line-up is probably the outcome. The team has time to recharge and is playing well as a unit, something that will prey on Arsene’s mind. The adage of never changing a winning team does not seem too relevant in these days of rotation but tinkering around the edges is the most we will get.

As for Tomas Rosicky, he might well be Santa’s present to Arsene,

He is not close to playing again and he has not had any real setback, but the evolution [of his injury] is very slow. The recovery process is slower than we expected at the start. It doesn’t look worrying, but the delay is longer than expected. However, I am optimistic that before Christmas you will see him in a good shape

Most of the frustration that has emerged over the player is that Rosicky is known to be a genuinely world-class attacking midfielder. A full recovery is all that can be wished for. Much the same with Eduardo,

He is still very much on course and could be a very good surprise because he is a little ahead of schedule

The same wish for recovery as Tomas to Eduardo. And Arsene, don’t bring either back before they are ready.

A win today keeps momentum going, maintains a top three spot, on the shoulder of the leading pack. Frankly it would be a good position to be in once the final corner of the season is in sight and the whippersnappers can then sprint past the opposition.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

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