There were plenty of questions relating to tonight's match, most of them with unpredictable answers. One big question was would any of their home fans turn up, even at 20 quid per ticket cash on the night, or 10 pound concessions? And the answer was not that many, lots of empty seats were clear to see on the box.
Our team tonight made allowances for a number of injured, suspended and/or rested players. Henry, Van Persie, Fabregas, Gallas, Lehmann, Eboue and Senderos didn't make the trip. Which made for an interesting line up that included a midfield of Hleb, Diaby, Denilson and Rosicky up against a five man Bolton midfield with just Anelka up front in the first half. This was a half where we nearly passed Bolton to death. It was a half where we should have slaughtered them but managed just the one goal. If anyone thought Arsenal were not up for it they were proved totally wrong. In the first half we walked all over Bolton and matched them for getting stuck in. Rosicky to Adebayor with a pass that was just too hard. Rosicky nearly through thanks to a series of one twos with Adebayor. We were smooth, we were slick, we were working hard, winning balls and passing Bolton to death. Rosicky with a shot pulled wide. Nolan with a limp shot and then we saw the opening goal. Helb to Denilson to Hleb, both showing great skill and tricks in tight spaces, a nutmeg back to Denilson, to Adebayor, to Rosicky whose pass was partially cleared but Adebayor had continued his run to slot home with the help of a deflection off Stelios. A deserved 0-1 lead.
A Rosicky pass across the face of goal saw the Beast miss a great chance at the far post. Adebayor was given offside with just the keeper to beat but clearly wasn't, that would have killed the match. A Baptista deflected shot was tipped over. We continued to dominate but just before the break Bolton had three chances in the one scramble: a miss, a blocked shot and the bar coming to our rescue. Only the one goal was clearly not enough, but we had not let Bolton get a sniff for most of the opening half.
The second half saw Bolton force us back more. A great save by Almunia off the head of Diaby. Stelios beaten with a one on one chance against Almunia who was doing his job well. Ben Haim axed Hleb but there was no card. Diouf with a chance but two white shirts were caught offside. A Clichy break where Diaby made a brilliant run but showed his rustiness with a missed chance. Anelka at the other end with a great shot wide. Baptista was tripped for a penalty. Game over, or would have been if Gilberto hadn't blasted over the bar. This lifted Bolton and lifted their crowd, what little there was of it.
Denilson with great ball to Rosicky but their keeper was out to tackle well. The first yellow card of the game was awarded by referee Foy who helped make this an excellent Cup tie. It was Ben Haim got the card for his umpteenth foul. Fat Sam was steaming, which was enjoyable to see. The game was more even at this stage than in the first half.
Freddie replaced Hleb but found it difficult to pick up the pace of the game. Vaz Te shot over from an angle. Fat Sam going apeshit again. Compo carded for a very obvious dive. A couple of late substitutions for Bolton as they threw in the kitchen sink late on. But Arsenal break. Adebayor gets away, rounds the keeper but misses with a shot that hit the inside of the post and went away. I reckon it got a bobble at the crucial moment, despite the new laid pitch. Fat Sam was still moaning in the three minutes added time. A Compo header tipped onto the bar by Almunia for a corner. And on 91 minutes they scored from the corner because we allowed an unmarked Compo at the far post to head across goal for Meite to grab the vital goal with a tap in. 1-1 and our Bolton voodoo continued.
Extra time and Bolton hit the post on a break following controlled play at the other end by Arsenal. Denilson looked knackered but still kept coming back for more, his touch is superb most of the time. An Aliadiere shot skimmed off Diaby. A header by Speed from a free kick was saved. Enthralling stuff, great game. My notes say Freddie was just not in tune with the tempo. Diaby set up Baptista who either shot or a cross, who knows, whatever it was it was certainly another missed chance.
Into the last fifteen minutes and both teams had used all their subs so it was a case of last man standing wins. Diaby with along drive over the bar. A great run which started in his own half saw Aliadiere go on a decisive run, he cut in and hit a ball to Freddie who was on the sort of diagonal run that Dennis would always spot. The timing was good and Freddie's shot across the keeper with his left peg was perfect. 1-2 Arsenal and the travelling Gooners, who'd made themselves heard all night proclaimed ‘You're not singing any more'. Denilson did well as Arsenal went for a third goal. We were in passing mode once more. Freddie had a shot parried. Adebayor tracked back the length of the pitch even at this late stage, great stuff.
A Diouf header cleared. An Anelka shot over. Aliadiere to Denilson who had a very tired looking shot. Baptista broke and Ben Haim tripped him for a second yellow which should have been a straight red. Fat Sam moaned at the third official yet again. Just 80 seconds remained as the keeper came up for yet another Bolton corner. Arsenal broke and Anelka tripped Adebayor for a penalty with no one back. Why wasn't he sent off? So Baptista stepped up to clinch the game from the spot but he too fired his penalty over the bar. Arsenal then broke with four men up but lost the ball. Freddie picked up a yellow card in the second minute of added time. Finally Arsenal broke again with no Bolton palyers in sight and Baptista slipped it to Adebayor for a tap in. 1-3 to Arsenal in a remarkable tie which we could have won about five times over.
When fat Sam is moaning, growling, ranting, gesticulating, his face is going puce, steam is coming out of his ears and he's lost all sense of reason is when I enjoy watching an Arsenal-Bolton game best. And I positively loved those last few minutes of added time. Every time the cameras panned on to that big Walrus impersonator I laughed into my Scotch.
Arsenal appear to be taking on the entire Northwest in Cup ties this season. So bring them all on, we're up for it. Blackburn are next.