Finally the unbeaten run has ended. That is our 16 match unbeaten run that we had going since 27th of December 2010. Why no one is particularly enthused about this run is mainly because we’ve had so many draws during that run. 8 draws in total, 16 points drop. One look at the table and we are 9 points off United. Meaning, we could’ve lost 3 games but win the other 5 and still be within a point off United going into next week’s game.
However, those are what ifs and not the actual reality. The reality is that we lost to Bolton at Reebok. Also the first time that Johan Djourou has lost a league game with Arsenal for as long as one cares to remember. The reality is that we were undone by set pieces once again. The reality is that we had chances to put the game to bed well before the 90th minute mark and we fluffed our chances. The reality is that we did not start playing until after Bolton has taken the lead. That, in a nutshell is our season.
Arsene Wenger once again fielded his best available side. Barring the goalkeeper, this was effectively the same outfield side which destroyed Chelsea back where our unbeaten run started. But how the performance differed between that one and this. From a team playing with so much verve and desire to be first to the ball to a team that has lost all confidence in winning a game.
You really have to feel for Wojciech Szczesny. Twice he made wonderful saves to turn goals into corners and twice he conceded with the immediate set piece. It was almost as if the team in front of him is trying to tell him it was wrong to block that shot. First, Alex Song failed to track the run of Gary Cahill and allowed the Bolton defender a free header. Samir Nasri did well to block it on the line, still up to debate whether it was already over the line in the first place. Daniel Sturridge nip in to head the rebound home, again void of any Arsenal defender picking him up.
The second in injury time, Djourou failed to stick tight enough to Tamir Cohen and we conceded the winner. How is it that something which has been our Archilles heel for so many seasons now and yet we still don’t seem to be able rectify it. There it was, the final nail in our coffin which once and for all removed any lingering hopes we still have of snatching the league title. To make matters worse for Szczesny, he even saved a penalty right at the start of the second half to keep us within a chance of winning this match.
It was not all disappointment. The team did rouse themselves up at the start of the second half. The penalty save at the 46th minute seemed to rejuvenate the team. Within 2 minutes of the save, we levelled the score. Robin Van Persie worked himself into space on the left of Bolton’s defence. A quick interchange of passing with Cesc Fabregas set up the change to shoot and the Dutchman did not disappoint. In scoring, RvP notched a new record in the Premier League by scoring in 7 consecutive away games.
That achievement would be rendered meaningless by the final whistle. One could compare the face of Wenger after we lost this game and his face at the start of the season. It has aged and it is clear to everyone, the kind of strain that the team’s result is having on him. My earlier reference of the line-up to the Chelsea game is indication how the result are just as baffling to him. Without doubt, the coming months would be the biggest test in his long Arsenal career.