Bolton Wanderers 3 – 1 Arsenal
1 – 0 Faye (8)
2 – 0 Anelka (45)
2 – 1 Gilberto (45)
3 – 1 Anelka (76)
Should I bemoan the result and put it down to bad luck? Poor finishing? There are so many aspects where one could deflect blame away from the team and look for excuses for another defeat on the road; one incidentally that has to put stop to the talk of a title challenge. However, the optimism imbued by Old Trafford and the subsequent run has dissappated on the back of another defeat on the teams travels. Fingers will no doubt be pointed at Kevin Davies remaining on the pitch; even Mike Dean’s lenient application of the directive regarding a shove in the chest cannot be blamed for this defeat.
It was a frustrating match. For long periods of the second half, Arsenal dominated but the absence of Henry and van Persie was a bridge too far; the difference between the two teams was a goalscorer. The immutable law of the ex proved just that. Anelka’s cracking strike from the edge of the area and a goal reminiscent of so many that he scored in the red of Arsenal undid his former paymasters. And yet it could have been so different had the woodwork not denied Ljungberg early in the second half with the score still 2 – 1 in the hosts favour. Had that gone in, there would have been but one winner and it was not the hosts. A case of ifs, buts and maybes.
Yet it could have been so different had the defence not fallen asleep in the first ten minutes. Similar to Gallas’ goal against Liverpool, in that Faye was allowed to run a fair distance without being properly picked up, his powerful header put Arsenal on the back foot, sending Arsene’s game plan out of the window. It must be driving him to the brink of despair that the lessons learnt on the training ground are not being transferred to the pitch. For a defender brought up in the Arsenal way, Pat Rice must believe he is in one of Dante’s Seven Circles of Hell. There is someting fundamentally wrong with the defensive setup that the team concede the first goal in an alarmingly high percentage of their matches. This immediately puts them on the back foot, chasing a game when they should be building the win.
To have pulled one back so soon after conceding the second, Gilberto’s goal gave the team hope, his free header proving that defensive lapses are not the sole preserve of The Gunners. Ljungberg nearly sent the team into the interval on level terms. A frantic end to what had been a first half controlled by the hosts; Bolton dominated the opening exchanges, Arsenal fought back towards the end but by then there was a one goal deficit. Creating chances is good but if you do not take them then you will find problems. If the first forty five minutes were against them, Arsenal came out of the blocks for the second. Within ten minutes of the restart, Jaaskeleinen’s goalframe was reverberating to the sound of Ljungbergs header thudding against it.
It is not as if the team capitulated in the manner of previous visits to the North West; they worked hard. I surprised at Hleb’s ommission before the game but Walcott provided good service from the flanks, a bright spot on an otherwise average afternoon. Defensively, we were just not at the races for the majority of the game. Had it not been for another good goalkeeping display by Lehmann then the Bolton could have been two or three more. Even the usually reliable Kolo Toure suffered although that I suspect was more a symptom of the general performance than anything else. Freddie Ljungberg was the only other player to come out of the game with credit, his workrate was high and he gave glimpses of the form of yesteryear. You may feel it harsh but the misses by Adebayour suggest he is more likely to follow the path trodden by Kanu than become the legend his talent deserves. He was unlucky when he hit the post but his finishing needs to be more decisive; one suggestion would be to work on developing his left foot to stop being forced to shoot with the outside of his boot, irrespective of how good he may be able to control his shots. The midfield was generally limp, lacking a driving force to keep the pressure on their opposite numbers in the first half. Flamini worked hard with little end product whilst Gilberto played his normal game, marshalling troops but not giving sufficient protection to the back four on this occasion.
Fulham on Wednesday has proved a previously happy hunting ground but given their recent form, they are another team who will raise their game to face Arsenal and the way the past season or so has gone what once was a near racing certainty for three points, seems no longer so clear cut.