So what do you do when your lift to Bolton falls through and your missus has prior claims on the car? After searching in vain for a lift I joined the Travel Club. It’s been years since I did a football coach trip and it no worse than I remembered but does involve a seriously long day.
Sol, Ash, Freddie and Dennis were all available for our latest trip to Bolton and warmed up in some natty new polo training tops, but it seems we’ve learnt no lessons from previous visits. We go to Bolton and we get kicked. We go to Bolton and they pump in high balls and long throws. We go to Bolton and they battle for every ball, they deny us space to play football and get a result through brute force. To counter this the requirement is a team of battlers who will give everything for the cause and are prepared to get seriously stuck-in. Unfortunately such a team is not currently available for selection and our regular 4-4-2 has been countered by any who care to copy previous matches where we’ve been swamped in midfield.
I sat next to Maria in the upper tier so had a very good view of the numerous offsides and the pattern of play but went deaf in one ear. Maria’s were the only chants I could hear as they drown out any others if you sit beside her. Right then, that’s more than enough waffle but as you might have guessed by now I’m trying to put off the actual match report because it’s one I’d prefer not to have witnessed.
Big early hoof upfield by Bolton and the first foul was by Stelios on Hoyte. Early signs were good as Cole and Henry combined brilliantly down our left, where else, but an early chance went for a goal kick. Referee Clattenburg misses a foul on Cole as Bolton got a throw instead. A cross from their spitting specialist should have been converted by Stelios as Bolton attacked towards the travelling Gooners. Incidentally our allocation wasn’t sold out and there were plenty of tickets available outside the ground on the day. Are we surprised at a ludicrous £38 per pop?
Compo had a shot blocked before young Justin saw off Stelios. Pires, Ljungberg and Van Persie worked a decent move that was cleared. Nolan then stamped on the back of Vieira’s leg but Clattenburg didn’t rate it as bookable, considering that it was both deliberate and cynical this was a crap decision. Deliberate studs in the back of the leg seems pretty bookable to me. Toure found Van Persie for a shot. Robin looked pretty lively early on. Henry then had a pretty wild shot. ‘Arsene Wenger’s Magic Army’ from Maria who has her own words to most Arsenal songs. Diouf was happy to chase down Almunia with his studs showing. Diouf then got away with an offside decision. Cole conceded cheap possession; Ashley was way off his best today when in defensive mode.
Almunia took Speed’s cross with ease before Pat shot over from range. Fabregas to Henry who showed some great skills. ‘Come on you Gunners’ ‘Arsenal, Arsenal’ from Maria again. A Diouf dive won a free kick, which Manuel took well from Speed’s ball in. Pires and Fabregas almost broke through with a series of one-twos. Hoyte to Fabregas who’s cross won a corner. An obvious foul on Van Persie resulted in a Wanders free kick and a yellow card for Robin because he reacted. This came before Toure let the diving Diouf know he was there. ‘Come on Arsenal’ ‘Go go Gunners’ from Maria. Speed had a shot after Almunia failed to fully connect with a punch that didn’t go very far. At the other end Henry won a clever corner with a back-heel.
An iffy clearance by Almunia was very lucky to find Pat. Brilliant play by Cole gave Van Persie a shooting opportunity but Ash was looking for the one-two. Diouf offside. We were very much on top at this stage. But with Diouf on their right he kicked the ball at Campbell’s arm got the return and set up a far post cross that should have been Almunia’s. Hoyte failed to challenge Stelios sufficiently so he nodded home. Crap keeping 1-0 Bolton. Okocha axed Cole soon after but their was no card, pitiful refereeing. Diouf offside again and the ignorant Bolton fans went ballistic. Another defensive mix up where no one called and everyone left it to everyone else saw Almunia rooted and Nolan failing to capitalise. Lehmann was having words with the officials as they came off at half time but obviously I’ve no idea what about.
Bolton jogged onto the pitch for the second half and Arsenal slouched on in their crappy blue kit, the body language said it all. Kolo to Thierry to Freddie but the shot was smothered by Jaaskelainen. Diouf was clear but Almunia raced out to clear. A shot from Okocha was well wide. Diouf offside again. A foul on Vieira by Nolan preceded a great chance where Van Persie might have scored and the save came out to Rob who headed wide. Quite why Rob remained on the pitch for 90 minutes is open to question. Nolan was booked for giving the lino a lot of lip; I guess he thought there was an offside.
Van Persie took a whack long after the ball had gone but I’m not sure who ‘did’ him. Speed then gave Pat a kicking. Diouf on a fast break crossed to Stelios who headed over. Bolton broke again and Stelios fired over from wide right. Kolo took out Vaz Te but there was no free kick so I figure that’s consistently crap refereeing. The ref spoke to Pires; maybe he was asking him if he was playing. Hoyte took a knock and limped for a while but the bench seemed to ignore him. Diouf held Sol but Bolton won the free kick. We then held out for a succession of corners before Compo had a low shot saved by Almunia. Dennis and Jose replaced Cesc and Robin, reasonable substitutions you might feel but Freddie had been drifting in and out of the game, Van Persie had been lively and if Pires was on the pitch he was well hidden. Moving Pires to central midfield merely allowed Okocha to run the game unchallenged.
Diouf hauled down Vieira but it was Stelios who was carded for kicking the ball away. Arsenal did at last start to press a bit more winning a couple of corners, but Cole gave the ball away at the other end which allowed Diouf to shoot wide. Gardner tackled Freddie for a goal kick but we won a corner. Okocha now had space to show some class, which he did but he also got a bit too flash. Reyes found Henry who shot from an angle. Freddie won a corner while stewards wrestled with a prat who appeared on the pitch from amongst the Bolton fans near the halfway line. I hope they gave him a good kicking, or at least chucked some pizza at him.
Hierro came on for Nolan and axed Vieira. Diouf was caught offside for the millionth time. A shot whistled just past the post from Vieira at a time when the ball boys were running off with the ball rather than giving it to Arsenal players.
Statistics can lie because although Arsenal had more shots at goal and more shots on target than Bolton we didn’t look like scoring. As Chris Parry remarked to me at one point towards the end ‘We’ve got Henry, Reyes, Bergkamp, Ljungberg and Pires on the pitch and we don’t even begin to look like scoring’. The four minutes added time saw Allardyce doing a Fergusmoan impersonation by pointing to his watch for almost the entire time.
Reading this back I notice that I failed to mention that some pubescent cheerleaders and a few pyrotechnics preceded the match. The game was also accompanied throughout by a fecking irritating drummer. All of which are trimmings I didn’t need, I’d much rather have a choice of pre-match beers and simple things like cups of tea being available for purchase after a 214 mile journey.
What a pitiful performance!