Because it is an irrefutable law of football that off-form players who can't hit a cow's arse with a banjo invariably score against their old Clubs we were in trouble before the kick off. It meant that with Anelka playing for the home side Arsenal needed two goals minimum to get a result, something we haven't achieved at the Reebok for ages. And we needed to do it without Van Persie, Gallas, Henry, Rosicky, Lauren and Diaby. Hleb was on the bench. But despite all this for some strange reason I was confident of a result, more important than the result was the fervent hope that we wouldn't just role over and die.
We started well enough with a lot of early ball going to Walcott and one of his crosses set up Adebayor with a good chance, but his less than brilliant attempt was easily saved. Referee Mike Dean had the most abysmal half of refereeing you are ever likely to see. Fortune grabbed hold of Eboue as he pissed past him and play was waved on because we still kept the ball. As Eboue had been unable continue his run it was a clear case of letting play go and then booking Fortune after we won our corner. But no, not so much as a dicky bird from the hapless Dean. From this point onwards all the Bolton players felt that it was perfectly reasonable to stop runs off the ball illegally, something they did to young Theo whenever the ball was down our right. Dean and his equally useless lino saw nothing and gave nothing.
Needless to say Bolton scored from a set play, it took them about nine minutes and it came from a corner that Faye headed home because yet again no-one was manhandling him. Why oh why do we act like gentlemen for set plays? There were one or two late tackles, like Davies on Flamini but Dean let everything go, either that or he hadn't a clue what was going on. Cesc was taken out late. Adebayor laid it off to Walcott but he rushed his left foot shot. Their keeper must have been very close to the edge of his box when he handled our next attack. A couple of corners to Arsenal confirmed that we were still on top. Davies then hacked down Eboue, it should have been a card but wasn't. Eboue told him what he thought so Davies planted two hands on his chest and shoved him over backwards. In the mayhem that followed there was unbelievably no red card from Bolton's-man-of-the-match Mike Dean. Davies got a yellow card, but probably only because of the chaos that ensued. Eboue was then coined by a Bolton moron and required treatment. So because he quite deliberately chose to be hacked down, shoved over and coined the intelligentsia that sit in the Nat Lofthouse Stand booed the evil Eboue for the remainder of the match.
With the crowd now firmly in an ugly mood Freddie got kicked, got nothing from Dean and so vented his feelings in exchange for a yellow card. A crap shot from Ben-Haim. Great run and cross from Clichy. The ball went out of play for a goal kick just before Freddie netted. ‘Have you ever see Bolton win the League?' Lehmann took an elbow from Speed and was stupid enough to complain to Dean, so naturally he was carded. For a while we suffered a Bolton bombardment which included the usual long throws and we looked likely to concede a second for a while but instead we ground our way back into the match. All was looking good for Theo until the ball went out for an Arsenal throw, Theo was off the pitch and bending down to pick up the ball when he was clattered to the deck by Fortune. It looked like a knee was used to me, but whatever it was Fortune was totally reckless and so should have been the second Bolton thug to walk. Dean gave him a yellow card, but only because his lino (I'm guessing here) explained that Fortune had tried to kill Walcott with the ball out of play. After this Theo looked a bit shaken and clearly lost a bit of confidence for a while.
Flamini was getting stuck in but he's no Vieira. Senderos went on a run down the middle but played off a poor ball. So with Arsenal back in it and working some moves Anelka cut in and hit a perfect bending dipping shot that hit the underside of the bar and went in. No chance for Jens and a great shot hit when least expected. So 2-0 down and half time loomed. Surely a roll over and die scenario, but no almost immediately we attacked, won a corner and scored from it as Cesc laid one up for Gilberto's late run which he powered home with a header. 2-1 and we were still alive and kicking. Bolton had dominated the half overall but only because Dean had not sent off the two players in white who should quite clearly have seen red.
Bolton resumed play with their 4-5-1 and our first injury occurred when Freddie was trampled on and stayed down. Freddie then won a corner as Arsenal kicked towards the travelling Gooners, but a goal kick was given. Clichy to Fabregas but his shot was saved. Two Arsenal corners were followed by Adebayor almost getting through. He'd been badly supported before the break but had worked hard on his lonesome up front. Bolton now had ten men back as Theo was getting his confidence back thanks to some speedy runs and tremendous hurdling, one cross of his to Freddie was perfect and perhaps ought to have been a goal but Ljungberg's header hit the far post. Had this gone in I think we could have gone on to win the game, but shit happens. Cesc to Theo, to Freddie, to Adebayor who shot wide. Adebayor found Walcott whose goal-bound shot was deflected over the bar with Jaaskelainen well beaten. Cesc to Adebayor, almost. Compo cynically hacked down Clichy for an obvious yellow card that even Dean got right.
Flamini replaced by Baptista, I still don't see quite how or where he fits in and thought we lost it a bit following his arrival. Another Arsenal corner and another yellow card, this one for Senderos. Arsenal were still battling away but gave away possession from a foul throw by Eboue. This is a criminal waste and the sort of detail our manager should be on top of. Eboue has been getting away with foul throws for weeks now and so this was only a matter of time. It irritates me simply because its so stupid for a pro to get pulled up for such a thing, to me its almost as bad as a player not being able to tie up his laces.
Another remarkable decision by Dean as Stelios ran into Kolo and fell over. Dean awarded a free kick to Bolton and a yellow card to Kolo. Mind you it has to be said that compared to his useless first half fiasco Dean had been merely mediocre after the break. Compo dived in the box and the baying Bolton baffoons ranted on cue. Walcott made a run into their box, it was all Arsenal pressure. Great turn from Adebayor but a poor shot. Bolton were then foiled by Jens and a post. My notes at this point say that there was a Bolton free kick because Dean was an arsehole, I don't recall exactly why. Hleb replaced the tiring Freddie. Bolton broke, Compo played a great ball through to Anelka, we failed to close him and he took a low shot well. 3-1 Bolton. A twenty minute goal celebration followed as the Bolton players returned to their half of the pitch via John O'Groats moving slower than an extinct Dodo.
Cesc to Baptista, who blasted high and wide. Walcott was held yet again and not seen yet again. Gilberto tried to burst through but Clichy's cross was poor. Diouf replaced by Vaz Te. Walcott was held again and there were ironic cheers from the Gooners as Dean awarded us a free kick for a foul on Walcott some 80 minutes too late to matter. Stelios tripped Hleb just before Adebayor took his turn in hitting the bar with a shot. Fabregas had a shot blocked and Adebayor won another corner, which Jaaskelainen palmed clear. There were a few Arsenal fans leaving with 15 minutes to play, so it's not just a home thing. As Bolton wasted time Dean gave them a free kick for what was clearly an Arsenal corner. Cesc finally gave up trying to set up Adebayor and had a pop himself that clipped the post. Three minutes added time and we still tried but to no avail.
I can't remember the last time we deserved anything when playing at the Reebok but we certainly did today. The kids will have learnt a lot, especially Theo, which is all we can claim to have got out of the match.
Considering our poor first half showing I thought the travelling Gooners did pretty well at The Reebok. They certainly deserved a bit more than seeing just Gilberto and Walcott come across alone to applaud their efforts at the end of the game. Strangely I didn't feel depressed because we had given it a go, had an unbelievably crap ref to contend with and had hit the woodwork three times. Shit happens and more often than not at the Reebok.
50 years and 7 days ago I saw my first ever game of professional football. It was Arsenal v Bolton and we won 3-0. Little did I know that 50 years later I'd be paying 39 quid to see a pile of shit like Bolton? Well I did, and the best part of going to Bolton, as is usually the case, was leaving it.