This was our second win in 6 Premier League games. It pushes us up to 12th place in the league standing with 32 more games to go. The win was made even sweeter by the fact that we managed to claw back 2 points from leaders Manchester United, who drew away at Stoke yesterday. Hardly means we’re in the title race but certainly no negatives in that regard.
There were surprises even a ball had been kicked. Gary Cahill did not travel with the team to London. Conspiracy theorist would like to suggest that had to do with an impending transfer from Bolton to Arsenal, that some kind of agreement has been struck. Some reports seemed to suggest that he was ill. None of that matters now. So, judged that how you will.
Another major change, one that is most welcomed sight for us, was that club captain Kevin Davies was dropped to the bench with David Ngog starting instead. The burly striker has been a thorn in our side for seasons now and we have always struggled to cope with his physical presence. To be fair, Ngog only lasted 20 minutes before Davies was called into action.
In so many ways, even when Davies was on the field, we had him in our pocket. As expected, he preferred to go up against Laurent Koscielny than Per Mertesacker, not that it was successful in any way. Although Koscielny was bundled over a few times in the game, he held his ground and won most of his challenges.
After the troubles of last week, nothing gave me greater pleasure from the match than to see us end up with a clean sheet. It was nearly over before it even began. Kieran Gibbs was caught napping from a cross and Darren Pratley managed to sneak in ahead and flicked the ball at goal. Luckily Wojciech Szczesny reacted in time to push the ball out for a corner.
That was not the Pole first major save of the season. Szczesny has saved us on a couple of occasions and could very well earn us that extra 10 – 12 points this season. He was instrumental in ensuring that we were not exposed during set pieces. Players were more well positioned in box and everyone just seemed more alert and aware of their surroundings.
The rest of the first half however, was quite dire. Both teams failed to find the penetration to open up defence and play largely centred away from the penalty box. I must admit that I find it baffling to see Alex Song player further in front of both Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey in that first half. I was hoping that it was only for one or two particular breakaways but somehow, Song was allowed to that for half of the game is worrying.
The positioning also made Ramsey rather uncomfortable. When he was on the ball, he was being pressured by Bolton players while Arteta had Fabrice Muamba following him wherever he went. With two of our more creative players being pushed back deep into our own half, it was clear why we lacked invention going forward.
We needed the passing to be more crisp and faster in the second half. The movement from wide players in Gervinho and Theo Walcott would also have to improve for us to find any sort of opening in Bolton’s 2 banks of four. That was my wish at half time and Arsenal responded in similar fashion.
From the kick-off in the second half, we were releasing the ball quicker and the wide players made runs behind Bolton’s defence. Song moved back to a more defensive position and this allowed Arteta/Ramsey to dictate the game. The breakthrough came almost immediately after the restart.
Ramsey’s surging run and pass found Robin Van Persie. The captain looked to have ran the play too wide but somehow managed to squeeze a shot between the near post and Jussi Jaaskelainen’s despairing dive. It was reminiscent of the one he scored against Victor Valdes last season, without the volley. That was his 99th in all competition for Arsenal Football Club.
26 minutes later, RvP became a centurion. Walcott once again timed his run to perfection and ran on to a through ball played behind of Bolton’s defence. A look up and the perfect cross was delivered. RvP arrived right on cue to score the second and the tie was over at that point. Song curled one in last in the match to put the icing on the cake.
Some will argue that we won because Bolton was down to 10 men. David Wheater send off for what was a professional foul. Walcott was through on goal when he was tugged from behind by Wheater. The English defender had to walk and there’s no argument about that. But, it is also worth remembering that we were already 1 up at that point and since that early Pratley chance, Szczesny has been largely untroubled.
This is as good a win that we can hope for given the negativeness which surrounded the club after the last away defeat. Our second consecutive home victory is a most welcomed result. Olympiakos is next and a win there could well and truly turn the tide on our season. The only negative point from yesterday was the injury suffered by Walcott at the end. We’ll have to wait for further news on how long he will be out.
Till then, I’m off to play the 100 RvP goals on continuous loop.