All the formbook, expectations and predictions that Bolton would just rolled over in the return fixture was completely thrown out of the window. At the 40th minute mark, Arsenal were staring at their first defeat of the season to a bottom half team. Those expecting Arsenal to blast straight out from the blocks couldn’t be more wrong (that includes me).
Bolton stunned us with 2 goals in the first half. The first came from a defensive mix-up inside our penalty area after a Bolton corner. Diaby’s attempted header went to Clichy whose subsequent clearance dropped nicely for Gary Cahill to slam home from 10 yards out. It was really poor from Clichy who tried to keep the ball in play by booting it high. The better option would’ve been to clear it to touch so that we can regroup. Defensive naivety yet again.
Bolton’s second goal also came via a corner. This time, Lee Chung Yong got hold of the ball inside the penalty box and must have seen Denilson coming in. The Korean cooly pushed the ball past the on-rushing Brazilian and was subsequently clobbered. A dead-on penalty and Alan Wiley agreed. Matt Taylor’s shot was correctly guessed by Almunia but did not get enough contact to stop the goal.
Within 30 minutes of the game gone, we were already down by 2 goals. We could’ve taken an early lead had Diaby done better with his 5th minute chance. Bolton were pressurizing us from all corners of the pitch and it was hard to see how we could come back into the game. What we needed was something to cling on to at half time, something to raise our game in the second half. Something which Rosicky duly provided. Using a Bolton defender as a guise, his rocket-shot beat Jaaskelainen at his near post. Any other way and the keeper would’ve surely seen it. Back in the game but still all to do in the second half.
After 20 minutes of the restart, we were in the lead. First Fabregas capitalised on some static cum half-hearted challenges from Bolton to slammed the ball between the Bolton keeper’s leg to draw level. This all happened while a Bolton player was lying on the field after a studs-up tackle from Gallas. If the referee had a video replay of the incident, he could’ve easily given Gallas the marching orders. Fortunate yes but if there’s one thing we learn the past few weeks, always play to the whistle.
After 5 goals from an explosive start to Arsenal career, Vermaelen have not scored in the 22 games sinces his last strike against Blackburn. Yesterday, he came out with the goal that won the game. Diaby won a header inside Bolton’s penalty area, almost from a similar position where we gifted our first goal. This time, it was a intentional pass to the Belgian, who cleverly shifted away before volleying the ball into the net. He may have lost countless headers to Kevin Davies all night but at least he had the last laugh.
Another one who hasn’t scored for a while was the little Russian, Andrey Arshavin. Playing up front as a central figure does not really match him. The 2 Bolton game in which he was returned to wide left has seen a welcomed return to his usual self. His goal was the icing on the cake. Playing the 1-2 with Eduardo and scoring a wonderful goal to cap the game as well as moving Arsenal to the top of the league, albeit it came from a Bolton’s last touch to set him up. He even spurned a last minute chance to make it 5-2, when choosing to shoot rather than place it on a plate for Walcott.
Conceding 2 goals at home to a team that sits second from bottom is not a good sign. To allow that to happen with the first choice defense is even worse. It is so bad at the moment that even Sagna needs someone else to do the throw-ins for him. There’s just no back-up for him until the return of Eboue from the African’s Nation Cup. With the title race so tight, there’s every possibility that this will go down to the wire and goal difference may play a big part in deciding where the trophy will end up.
So, after 22 games, Arsenal are now top of the table. Of course, Chelsea now have a game in hand over us with just goal difference separating us at the moment. The next 4 fixtures would be crucial to our title challenge and where we are after those run of games would probably define our season. Till then, I will be enjoying every bit of being top, hope you are too 🙂