Larsson is not a left back and probably never will be, nor do you suspect that it has ever been one of his driving ambitions so to be, given that he is essentially a right footed midfield man. Therefore he was an obvious weakness today and Allardyce exploited our full backs just as you would have expected. That said Larsson at left back and Flamini at right back showed heroic dedication to the cause, they never gave up, never shirked a thing, never let their heads go down and gave it everything they had. Others could learn from that. Both showed the backs against the wall Arsenal attitude that we love and respect, so hats off to them both for such gutsy displays under extremely trying circumstances.
The first half where Bolton attacked the North bank was painful to watch. We were out everythinged from the word go. Within about a minute a cross from the left found Nolan in space from a well-timed run and Lehmann saved his shot well for a corner. Mayhem in our box from the corner saw them win a header that hit the bar before being scrambled away for another corner. Davies and Lehmann were already at it and I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that we could have done with Lehmann’s attitude outside our penalty area on the park. Reyes broke into their box but went down looking for a penalty. We were struggling to get into the game and as soon as we won possession Bolton had eleven men behind the ball, this was frustrating but totally legitimate and effective. The elbows were not, neither was the backing in. Adebayor was bemused that having been shoved off the ball twice he was penalised for shoving back. But that is the way it went because Howard Webb saw all our all too obvious retaliations but little or none of their altogether more professional fouls. To combat teams like Bolton who don’t play the beautiful game we need to work on these areas of our play.
Henry found Adebayor but his shot was scuffed across goal. This doesn’t worry me because we can all recall Henry being unable to hit a barn door. A ball in from the left saw Senderos and Jansen go for the ball, I think Senderos won it but the ricochet off Jansen's boot looped up fortuitously towards Nolan in space who flicked a great volley over Lehmann for a very well taken goal. 0-1 to Bolton had been on the cards. Bolton then took the game by the scruff of the neck and although we had our moments we looked exactly what we were – an out of form team with eight defenders missing trying desperately to find a rhythm against a well organised outfit who were aided by a referee who didn’t understand what was going on. Any referee can spot an obvious foul but Webb missed so many off the ball obstructions and just about every single case of a player backing in. In this respect Senderos and the Djourou were amazing in their ability to ignore the perpetual fouls that came their way. Young Johan is visibly growing in stature by the minute and looks a serious prospect, and I speak as one who saw the youngsters Neill, O’Leary and Adams in their formative years. We have a class act in this young man.
Thierry found Adebayor who crossed when he might have shot. You probably already knew that Stelios is a niggly little shit but his chop on Reyes was a certain yellow card for anyone else, but his fast building foul count went totally unnoticed by Webb. Henry’s free kick hit the wall and in the same move Fabregas’ cross to Henry was headed wide. Stelios fouled Adebayor but still didn’t get carded. A tough tackle by Gilberto however did. The crowd was totally unimpressed with Webb and told him so. Nolan took Reyes off at the knees but there was no card. Encouraged by such ineptitude from the man nominally in charge Faye steamed in with a two-footed tackle that saw Jose needing extensive treatment as the Bolton morons screamed the normal facile gibberish about Arsenal cheating. The ignorant ***ts! They still didn’t get it when Reyes was stretchered off with a possible broken leg. Faye got a yellow card, big deal. It was an obvious straight red and most of us in the stands had steam coming out of our ears. We should have been up against ten men instead we were struggling against twelve.
So it was doom and gloom at half time with one clown behind me claiming it was the worst half from Arsenal he’d ever seen. Rollocks I say! But it was certainly the worst half of football seen at Highbury since we played West Ham. Coming back against Bolton is not something we’ve exactly excelled at of late so pessimism prevailled.
Diaby was replaced by Freddie after the break who initially played like he hadn’t touched a ball for about two weeks. I didn’t understand quite why Diaby was taken off because I thought that for a new youngster in a struggling team he’d done his bit with commendable attitude and reasonable success. Gilberto was being slagged by many punters, as was Cesc, because they gave the ball away a few times. Where are the real fans when you need them? Have they all been priced out by clueless wannabe’s who couldn’t see that the other team were actually doing a good job.
An early cross from Bolton didn’t bode well but with Cesc taking up a more central role we gradually ground our way back into the match. The thing about closing down a team quickly all over the pitch is that it is very difficult to keep up for the full ninety. There would come a time when we’d get back in this game and with Cesc beginning to pull the strings we crept back in slow painful stages. Adebayor was willing to get in their box, he was chasing anything fired in his general in his direction rather than standing rooted and shrugging his shoulders. Henry eventually got the message that there was a second ball to look for with Emmanuel up front. Time wasting by Bolton was prevalent throughout the second half and commenced with immediate effect.
Jansen had a near post shot that went wide. Cesc had a shot clearly deflected for a corner that was given as goal kick by Bolton’s 12th. man. Adebayor broke well but Jaaskelainen was out well to push him too wide, his pass to Henry couldn’t be controlled but Rob drove a shot which flashed over the bar and at long lost it was game on. The crowd did what they should have done earlier and started supporting the team. Webb rescued Bolton again when a handball by a player on the floor in their box was waved on. Is it that Yorkshire refs specifically and all Northern refs in general don’t like Arsenal or what?
Henry was shoved over for a free kick and with the ball central and outside the box perfectly placed for Titi who stood over the ball. But it was Rob who hit the perfect shot which Jaaskelainen, who playing out of his skin today, saved brilliantly. It was kitchen sink time from hereon in as Arsenal swarmed towards the North Bank. Adebayor won a corner. Henry to Adebayor to Cesc who fired over when he should have done better. It was frustrating but very intense. Fabregas was carded for a foul on Ben Haim who enjoyed a good roll around on such an immaculate pitch. It took the time wasting northern bar stewards about twenty minutes assisted by three different players to take the free kick.
Senderos had a shot blocked from close range, as did Pires. Larsson was replaced by Dennis and Freddie moved to right back as Mathieu moved to left back. I felt we badly missed our overlapping full backs today down both flanks, how different we look with Lauren and Cole bombing forward. Stelios and Lehmann were at it. Hunt replaced Faye to thunderous applause, not! He took about half an hour to leave the field of play, if Webb noticed he clearly didn’t care. Dennis shot wide and Thierry won us another corner. The ball came to Pires who cut inside and fired in another perfect shot but Jaaskelainen performed the necessary miracle for Bolton by keeping it out with a stunning save. Gardner went down following a ball in his face. A low corner by Dennis was almost converted by Cesc as Bolton hacked balls off the line to keep us at bay. Senderos took yet another elbow to the head, from Davies I think; Webb of course remained oblivious.
We scored when Cesc hit a great ball in to Gilberto who got in front of his man to volley home the equaliser that felt like a winner. 1-1 but we almost clinched it at the death when Adebayor won a ball that Henry stretched well for and flicked at the goal only to see Gardener head it off the goal line. Our late rally by the old guard deserved three points but it wasn’t to be.
Bellowing from the North Bank today was my brother-in-law Stuart on a rare visit to Highbury. He’s been viewing the New Stadium’s progress with professional interest via the fabulous photos that can be seen on the Club’s website. He’d been seriously impressed, but when we walked around to Drayton Park Road to view the real thing before the game his reaction was the same as all the rest who glimpse our future. The stadium is truly awesome. I believe that if we have patience both on and off the pitch our future is awesome.