The way I see it - Arsenal v Bolton Wanderers

Last updated : 19 October 2007 By Jason Hogan
When you live in a country where kids who are barely in their teens are killing each other or terrorising whole communities up and down the country you really wonder what the world is coming to.

But at the end of the day, I'm someone that is more of a party animal than a political animal and above all I'm a football fan. So instead of banging on about the flaws in English society let's look briefly at another area where England also continuously fails as a country particularly when it really matters - on a football pitch.

For me, what happened to England in Moscow on Wednesday only served to remind me yet again of how underwhelming international football truly is.

Once more England expected, once more chests were puffed out both literally and metaphorically. Yet, when it was all over in Moscow, England fans across the nation were left to lament and stew over the realisation that an overpaid, overrated bunch of so called World Class players failed to adapt yet again when the chips were really down.

The names of players like Gerrard, Rooney, Owen and Lampard may make the heart of average media pundit skip a beat every week in the Premier League and may allow them in turn to gush away endlessly about their supposedly World Class talents.

But in truth, if these players were really half as good as they are made out to be, they would have made damn sure between them that England at least came away with some kind of positive result against a Russian side which could only be described as fairly decent at best.

There were no excuses for England as far as I could see. The pre-match controversy about the plastic pitch proved to be a red herring in my opinion. The truth, despite the referee's contemptible decision to award the Russians a penalty for an offence that was clearly committed outside the box, was that England didn't have the technical ability or the tactical know how to either hurt the Russians at one end or keep them at bay indefinitely at the other.

The only thing that I will say in defence of the hapless Steve McClaren (even though I really can't stand him) is that the fundamental flaws that afflicted his England team on Wednesday have been there for years.

I mean, when was the last time England put in a truly World Class display? The only that springs to my mind was the 4-1 win over the Dutch in Euro 96. I know, we beat the Germans 5-1 in Munich in 2001 but if you were to watch that game again, Carsten Jancker and Oliver Neuville both missed sitters for Germany when the Germans were already one up.

Aside from that, I cannot remember one exceptional performance England have put in either side of that one in Euro 96 and even if I say so myself that is not only a damning statement to make, it's also a starkly depressing one when you think about it.

England now only have an outside chance of qualifying for next summer's Euro tournament. But to be honest, when I'm firing up the barbeque and sinking a barrel of cold ones next summer ahead of the tournament, I won't be shedding a tear if England are not involved. Because in truth as an Englishman, I gave up on seeing the day when England showed themselves to be a true force in international long ago.

Anyway, enough about England; it's time to reflect on what I really care about and that's the Arsenal.

My heart was really gladdened on Thursday when the Arsenal board announced an extension to the lockdown period. Of course there are some ambiguous elements to the new agreement that are open to interpretation but the way I understand it is to say that predators like Usmanov and Dein have no chance of getting their hands on the club outright in the foreseeable future.

I've always said that I want us to be a club that leads and not follows and the only way that Arsenal are going to achieve is by staying the way they are with board showing some resolve and protecting what they have built in conjunction with Arsene.

Speaking of Monsieur Wenger, it appears as though he has now been immortalised in the same way that Herbert Chapman was. A bust has been made of the Frenchman. I think that they should have commissioned a statute of him outside the main entrance of The Grove similar to the one that immortalises Sir Matt Busby at Old Trafford personally.

But hey, at least Arsenal fans know that we have a permanent memorial to the legendary genius of the man. It is something that has been talked about for years amongst Arsenal fans and in my opinion this couldn't have come about quick enough. Once again the board have done well to finally recognise Wenger's influence on the club. Good on them.

Now it's time to look forward to our game on Saturday at The Grove against Bolton.

Like Iain Dowie found last year at Charlton, Sammy Lee found out how difficult is it to follow in the footsteps of a man that was a managerial stalwart. For Curbishley now read Fat Sam Allardyce and you all know what I'm talking about.

I am very much on the outside looking in of course but I got the impression that whilst Lee obviously wanted to put his own stamp on things, I got the feeling that he perhaps tried too hard to change things too quickly. The one thing that hit me straight between the eyes when Lee took over is the way that Allardyce's old lieutenants like Kevin Davies and Ivan Campo started the season on the periphery of the team.

Davies and Campo were cornerstones of Bolton's success in the league last season and integral components in the Bolton side for several seasons prior to that. Yet, of the nine games Bolton have played so far in the league this season, they have only managed to feature eight times between them.

I couldn't believe that state of affairs. Davies and Campo are no angels but in terms of playing in the Premier League these two are amongst the most streetwise performers you can get.

Speaking of streetwise performers the whole episode surrounding the appointment and premature abdication of Gary Speed's coaching role was also very curious. It was clear that Lee and Speed were not singing from the same hymn sheet when Speed relinquished the post and once again you can only deduce that there was disharmony amongst them when it came to how Bolton set up tactically on the pitch and how they interacted as personalities off it.

Even Kevin Nolan became a victim of the Lee regime. I cannot remember this boy ever being dropped by Allardyce when he was in charge at the Reebok. It was almost unthinkable. But Lee not only dropped him last time out against the PRF, he left him out of the squad altogether.

Now you can say what you like about Nolan as a player but he has always struck me as the kind of guy with the right attitude to the game and despite his Scouse roots, he a Bolton man through and through.

All in all, with the somewhat strange happenings going on behind the scenes and the highly indifferent results Bolton were getting on the pitch, it was not real surprise to me that something eventually gave and this week Lee was eventually shown the door.

And now the managerial reins have been passed to Archie Knox at least for the time being. Knox is known best for being number two to Walter Smith in his first spell at Glasgow Rangers and also having a spell as number two to none other than Old Purple Nose himself at Old Trafford.

Knox is a man who knows what it's like to work in winning environments though time will tell whether he will be able to make the step up from number two to being the main man.

A lot of Arsenal fans will see this game as a home banker but I don't agree necessarily. I think that a weight will have been lifted off the shoulders of the Bolton players thanks to Lee's departure. They will go into this game with essentially a clean slate and a mindset that their season effectively starts here.

And I also think that Knox is canny enough to put the Campos, the Nolans and the Speeds of this world in from the start and tell them and the rest of the players to come out at the Grove and do the kind of things that made them a top six side under Allardyce.

Fitness permitting we will obviously have to keep an eye on Anelka but for me the danger man will be El Hadji Diouf. This boy may be as loathsome a character as you will find in football these days but he has always been a thorn in the side whenever he has played against us,

As for Arsenal, well we will be missing Van Persie of course through injury. But as one door closes another one opens and now Eduardo and particularly Bendtner (given his recent outbursts in the media) will have the chance to show everyone what they are really made of over an extended period.

For the first time, I was actually at The Grove to see us play against Sunderland. It was a heck of a game played in one heck of a stadium. I'm going to the game against Bolton on Saturday. This time round I hope that we will make life a little easier for ourselves against the Trotters.

But, given the fact that the matches between us and them are historically tight affairs, I'm not going to hold my breath.