We've only won two of our past ten outings with Bolton and we made minimal progress today. Their slate grey kit was as tedious as their tactics. Never run for a throw, always walk as slowly as possible to the ball and whoever is furthest away takes it. Don't make a substitution until the player being subbed is in the far corner of the pitch, then he should run on the spot for twenty minutes on his long way off. Always jump into players when heading the ball, or even when you're not. Pull shirts at every opportunity, always grab hold and hang onto the ball if your opposite number wins a free kick. If Dean is the ref throw it away. Never retreat the required distance until requested to do so by the ref and then only retreat half the distance. Always take a long throw if in range of the penalty area and always stand on the toes of the keeper. Make sure you're always in the ref's face and take a tumble every time you can. If you do go down always clutch some part of your anatomy for 30 seconds minimum before getting up and sprinting away. Holding onto players at corners is also mandatory.
Why they do it I don't know because they have the type of experienced and quality personnel who are quite capable of playing some half-decent football. Timewasting began as soon as Bolton got the ball and there was little or no football played by either team before the break. Arsenal kicked off towards the away fans and a Clichy to Henry move saw the great man hit a shot wide. Henry then almost got Flamini in with a chipped pass. Bolton played a few long throws into our box and although they had more of the play they were predictable rather than threatening. Walcott failed to get into the game much apart from one run and shot, while Rosicky didn't achieve much more down our left. We had to scramble clear, watch Almunia catch the odd high ball, see Mattie get a yellow card for a foul on Compo but most of it could have been slept through without missing a thing of note.
When we did break the ball for the all-important shot tended to fall to Flamini rather than Henry and his shots were styled on Johnny Jensen. Diagne-Faye was late on Fabregas and picked up a yellow card. All in all what football there was seemed tedious. I got exited just the once when Henry stole the ball, rounded the keeper going wide and back-heeled a goal bound effort that was cleared off the line by, I think, Miete. Apart form this it was just a matter of noting how many goal kicks were given as corners and vise-versa, or how often elbows were employed. The half was pretty dire, played in slow motion and certainly not improved by the officials, particularly Mike Dean. A bore-draw of a first half then.
Quite how we allowed it to happen I'm not sure but Bolton unexpectedly strung more than four passes together on the fiftieth minute and the Davies pass to Nolan pass found him unmarked for an easy goal. 0-1 Bolton. It was the only move of note by Bolton in the entire match. Their best player by a mile was Anelka who held the ball up brilliantly, knocked it about and was in total control whenever he had the ball. His Achilles heel remains his total incomprehension of the offside rule; perhaps he enjoys strange men waving flags at him, everyone to their own fetish eh?
Arsenal at last started to play with some urgency but still required Almunia to make a great save on the edge of his box. Henry and Adebayor carved an opening for Walcott who had a chance almost as easy as the one he had at the Lane. He was not calmness personified then, nor was he today. It's a confidence thing and his time will come I'm sure. Rosicky was on the ball in a fast break that saw us evenly matched in personnel but Hunt pulled Rosicky back when Tomas clearly had the legs on their full back. A yellow card resulted. Henry's free kick came back off the wall.
Hoyte was replaced by Baptista, with Flamini moving to right back. Bolton now had eleven men back and that's how it stayed for most of the match. They relied on breaks and the speed of Anelka, matched only by Clichy on our part. So when Anelka broke down the left against Senderos the subsequent yellow card was almost inevitable.
Meite had about four hacks and then climbed on Cesc's back before Dean finally awarded a free kick and a yellow card. Cesc's ball into the box was good, it may have caught the top of a head on its way through but Kolo was there at the far post to sling himself at the ball, connect with his head and seemingly bounce it over Jaaskelainen. 1-1 and the rest of the game was an ongoing Arsenal cavalry charge, not unlike the United game except for the happy ending. We battered away to no effect.
Like all the other slate grey shirts Anelka also worked back, taking out Flamini on one occasion. Whenever I looked towards the Bolton bench Fat Sam was in their technical area ranting, as was Sammy Lee, Fat Sam must have obscured the view for thousands of punters. Another free kick saw the Beast head the ball just wide. Vaz Te replaced Stelios, which is altogether easier to say or write than Giannakopoulos. Aliadiere, whose injury clearly wasn't as bad as it looked in midweek, replaced Walcott. Cesc was taken down yet again to a chorus of ‘Same old Bolton always cheating'. Jeremie went down and was given a yellow card, too far away for me to tell if it was deserved. Dean allowed us just four of the twenty or so minutes wasted during which Aliadiere had a shot saved. Final whistle and another return match we didn't want and certainly don't need.
I've not as yet seen any post match comments but I bet Allardyce said ‘I thought we frustrated Arsenal today' and he'll be really proud of that. Terrific stuff Sam, that'll bring the punters back in droves won't it? It's tedious to watch, a total wind up and I can't see how we still fall for it every single time. When we played at a high tempo, which we did late on, we did everything bar scoring the vital winning goal. So why didn't we play like that the entire match? Why dumb down our play to their level?
The one good thing about the replay is that it will be televised, so many of us won't have to go anywhere near the Reebok. But as its going to be live on the box don't expect more than ten thousand tight-arsed locals to turn out on the night in question unless ticket prices are reduced to a fiver. Then you might see fifteen thousand of them if you're lucky. On the other hand the one bad thing about the replay is that it will be televised and we'll have to watch Bolton yet again.