February and all we’ve collected from 2012 is a solitary point in the league. Unfortunately for a club the size of Arsenal and the ambitions that we harbour, that is not good enough. 7th is where we are right now in terms of the league standings and hopes of staying with the top pack and clinching that vital Champions League position is not mathematically out of grab. But there must be a lot of organic material being smoked if anyone believe that we’re a certainty for it now.
Arsene Wenger reinstalled Bacary Sagna into the first eleven for his first start since that away defeat to Tottenham. The fact that someone who has not had too much training ended up being one of our best player on the pitch, sums up a lot of this Arsenal team. Per Mertesacker, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Robin Van Persie are just about the other players who would score above average points in the draw with Bolton.
Profligacy is the word we’re looking for here. We had chances to score but we didn’t take them. Results elsewhere meant that we needed to keep pace with Newcastle and Liverpool while there was a chance to slightly bridge the gap between us and Chelsea. Yet again, we failed to take advantage of it. For much of this season, when we needed a positive response from the team, close to little has been delivered.
If you’re looking for positives, then it’s the clean sheet. It wasn’t a trouble-free night for the defence as well. Wojciech Szczesny decides that he’s auditioning for an outfield position, dallying on the ball and trying to dribble David Ngog. Laurent Koscielny was having his worst performance in an Arsenal shirt. Not that I don’t want to have a dig at him but such is his consistency and high level of performance this season, it would be unfair to have a go at him for one lousy 90 minutes.
In midfield, Mikel Arteta was restored to the starting line-up together with the almost ever present Alex Song and Aaron Ramsey. Song has been in a downward spiral since the end of 2011. Caught in possession numerous times, the usually dependable Song became the polar opposite of that. Adjustment must be made in that area, it’s not as if we do not have the ideal replacement for him. Francis Coquelin must be wondering how long can Song keep up with this lackadaisical display before he gets a chance.
I didn’t expect Ramsey to play this one if I’m being honest. Much has been made prior to the game on how Jack Wilshere has suffered another setback and will probably not be seen on a football field till next season. A classic case of a young player being burnt out by the constant appearances that he has to make. Yet, Ramsey was making his 19th out 20th consecutive game starts. We grumble about the amount of injuries that the team seemed to suffer season upon season but we insist on exhausting them.
It’s blindingly obvious to everyone that Ramsey has looked tired for a good few weeks, if not months. Why not afford him some rest when there’s Coquelin, Tomas Rosicky or even Yossi Benayoun on the bench? Some will argue that these are different types of players. Fair point but players adapt to plays. It doesn’t mean that apart from Ramsey, no one else can play in that position. We can mix it up by alternating the playmaking between Arteta and whoever that comes in.
While I’m adamant that we’re not a one man team (because if we are, then with Robin Van Persie’s record and displays, we must surely be higher than 7th), it is no big discovery to learn that if RvP don’t score, we generally don’t. RvP had his chances and the two best chances hit the metal object and bounced away from goal. Reminiscent of his effort earlier in the season, that chip with his right foot that hit the cross bar really deserved to be a goal.
Those at either side of him in AOC and Theo Walcott were not converting chances of their own. Both had shots to take inside the penalty box and neither found the back of the net. AOC’s one was hurried and he sliced it wide while Walcott had more time than he though when he hit the shot straight at Adam Bogdan. Both were a threat in the 1st half but reduced to sparse contribution in the second as Owen Coyle told his full backs to keep a closer eye on them.
When a goal was needed to win us the game, Thierry Henry was called upon. Yes, we will forever remember the goal he scored versus Leeds but this loan stint has hardly been a success. He replaced AOC when Walcott was the preferred substitution (by everyone apart from Wenger) but sticking to wide left isn’t to his preference. He constantly moved into a more central position which made for easier marking by Zat Knight and David Wheater. When RvP had the ball, the option was always to play it to the right to Walcott and we couldn’t have made it easier for Bolton to defend.
Success and failure is on the borders of a very fine line. Had we been more clinical in front of goal or had the goal had actually been wider and taller, then we might have won the game. Looking at the possibility of finishing in a Europa League spot isn’t out of the question or unbecoming of a fan, it’s about being pragmatic. On this form and especially with this squad, “bitter pill” and “swallowing” will be terms to be made into a sentence.
Season is far from over but it’s hard to be optimistic now.