Welcome to Bolton Wanderers 2010! This is the new Bolton. This is Owen Coyle’s Bolton. They don’t need dirty players like Nicky Hunt and El Hadji Diouf to commit atrocious fouls anymore. They have dirty players like Kevin Davies and Paul Robinson who can do that now!
Don’t believe the hype fellow Gooners, there was plenty of Sam Allardyce DNA in Bolton’s lineup Saturday afternoon, and they tried to spill plenty of Arsenal blood over 90 minutes. There were tough tackles, rough challenges, hard fouls, and shocking assaults. But Arsenal gave Bolton the most important beating; a beating on the scoreboard. Some pundits will surely say that the 4-1 scoreline flattered the home side, but with a little better finishing it could have been an even bigger rout.
Arsene Wenger took some chances with his starting lineup. Maybe it was because of the impending Champions League fixture, or maybe it was because of international exertions, but Diaby, Clichy and Sagna were perhaps unexpectedly rested. In their places, Wilshere, Gibbs and Eboue all started. Additionally, Squillaci got his first Arsenal start. The rest of the starting eleven was as expected, with Rosicky replacing Theo on the right side of attack.
Although we scored 3 of our 4 goals in the second half, we probably created the lion share of the chances in the first. Arshavin spurned a hat-trick of chances while Chamakh, Rosicky, and even Squillaci saw good chances go begging. The passing was crisp and thanks to Bolton’s decision to play a high line, we were able to get in behind them on several occasions. Special praise goes to Wilshere who is showing that he’s not just an English sideshow in the Arsenal XI. He looks increasingly comfortable with the pace of the game, and is showing wonderful vision. It was his lovely ball over the top to Fabregas that set-up Koscielny’s opener. I will readily admit that I questioned whether Jack was ready for a regular place in the starting eleven. While I’m not ready to say that he should start the big matches, it’s clear that he’s ready to do a job when called upon.
Andrey Arshavin’s day was particularly interesting. It would be easy to make the obligatory Bentdner reference regarding his profligacy, but I don’t think that’s fair. Somehow, criticizing Arshavin’s performances has become the en vogue thing to do as an Arsenal fan. I’m not sure I understand that. It’s true that he squandered a variety of excellent chances on Saturday, but certainly the goal keeper deserves at least some credit for that. What should be praised is the fantastic movement that got him open time and again. Moreover, the little Russian who lost his sparkle made some sparkling passes during the match. He found Song with a nice little ball before the Cameroonian did his thing. He also delivered a spectacular pass to Rosicky which was wasted when the Czech fired wide from 16 yards out.
Arshavin is never going to be the hardest working player on the pitch. He will probably always have the habit of switching on and off over the course of 90 minutes, but it would be unfair not to notice that his work rate has improved. It wouldn’t surprise me if the manager hasn’t had a word in his ear. And while he’s not always the player delivering the killer pass, he’s often the one making a key pass during the build-up to a goal. (Theo’s opener against Blackburn comes to mind). Arshavin is a very intelligent player and it’s because of that intelligence that he knew exactly how to use the space created when Chamakh drifted wide or dropped deeper. He positions himself well on the pitch and is among the best at leading a counter attack.
I’m not sure why Arshavin has become a target. Maybe the average fan thinks he’s only worth having when he’s smashing in highlight goals. But the fact remains that Arshavin has that Cesc-like ability to find the open man and the willingness to try taking his man on the dribble. We have some players that prefer to make the easy or safe pass, and Arshavin’s courage adds incisiveness to our attack.
I’m fairly confident that Arshavin will get his shooting touch sorted out soon enough. One player I’d like to see do the same is Tomas Rosicky. Rosicky’s form and durability have been one of the most encouraging surprises of the new season. His passing, his energy, and his being-fit-enough-to-play-ness have been fantastic. The through ball he delivered to Arshavin with the outside of his left foot in the 5th minutes was sublime. But Rosicky hasn’t rediscovered his scoring touch. Already this season he’s had some fantastic opportunities and failed to convert. You just feel that if Rosicky could open his account, he might start to convert his chances with regularity. Considering that he might make Theo’s position his own for the next few weeks, it’d be great to see him get among the goals.
One of the really encouraging things about Saturday’s performance, is simply that there wasn’t a weak link. There wasn’t a player who you would point at and say, “he didn’t perform today.” We started a completely revamped defense and I thought they acquitted themselves well. Koscielny made another error that lead to a goal, but once again he was excellent aside from his solitary mistake. Almunia took some abuse on twitter for Bolton’s goal, but after the heat of the moment wore off, I think most people realized that he was faultless.
Gibbs was solid in his season debut and has a lot of people calling for him to replace Clichy. While I think there’s an argument for that switch, I still think Clichy is the better tackler and I’d be inclined to stick with him a little while longer. As for the right side of defense, I don’t think Sagna has anything to worry about. But once again Eboue proved that, while he might be an underwhelming choice at forward, he is an excellent right back. It’s a testament to the player’s ability that he can spend most of his time being used as a fill-in forward without losing any of his defensive nous.
Squillaci is getting a lot of praise for his work against Bolton, and there’s already the suggestion that he should start against Braga in midweek, even if Vermaelen is fit. I’m not sure I agree. I’ve been very impressed with Koscielny’s aerial ability, and tackling prowess. He’s played well in every match this season. His two errors have lead to two goals, but they’re essentially the only things he’s done wrong in three matches. You could argue that Clichy makes more mistakes in a single match than Kos has done all season. He just doesn’t get punished for them every time.
While Squillaci was impressive, Bolton never really challenged. There were a few moments where “Seba” nearly got himself into trouble at the back, but just about got the ball clear. I realize that Squillaci has Champions League experience, but he has no experience playing with Vermaelen. Koscielny has that experience and there’s reason to believe that their partnership works. If Vermaelen is fit on Wednesday, I’d stick with the duo that have played together before.
There was so much to like about Arsenal’s performance on Saturday, even Alex Song getting Arsenal’s 1000th goal under Arsene Wenger. But the best thing about our match was the masterful performance delivered by Cesc Fabregas. Any concern that existed about the captain was laid to rest for me. He was magnificent. At one point he made a turn on the ball and delivered a pinpoint pass behind the defense to Arshavin that was so impressive that I grabbed the TV remote and watched it three times over. It may have been 24 passes that lead to Carlos Vela’s goal, but it was Cesc who deliver the perfectly weighted ball over the Bolton defense.
Cesc will never lead Arsenal in passing accuracy. In fact, his passing percentage is usually just about average for premier league players. But that’s due to the fact that he is always looking to tear defenses asunder. The passes that Cesc does complete almost always setup a teammate. That’s born out by the fact that Cesc created a scoring opportunity more often than any other player in Europe last season. Cesc’s vision is remarkable and I genuinely believe that he’s pushing Xavi for the title of best creative midfielder in the world. Since the NFL season has officially started, I can break out the “quarterback” analogy. Cesc sits in the middle, sees the entire pitch, and has the skills to make the tough pass through the defense.
It was also encouraging to see how much Cesc seemed to be enjoying himself. That was particularly evident by his reaction to Alex Song’s goal. Cesc failed to score late in the game when it seemed the opportunity had presented itself, but that was the only thing missing from his performance. At times on Saturday he was sitting deeper than he did last season, and that might have been a reaction to Bolton’s high defensive line. By sitting deeper he had a view of the pitch that allowed him to play several balls behind the Bolton defense. I’ll be curious to see if he returns to a more advanced position in upcoming fixtures, or if we’ll see him sitting back more this season. Ironically, while Cesc played from a deeper position, Song got forward more than I can ever remember. Not sure that’s something we’ll want to see in the tougher matches.
If it was a banner day for Arsenal across the board, it was a diabolical day for referee Stuart Attwell. As Arseblog wisely observed, when both teams and both sets of fans are unhappy with you as a referee, you’ve probably had a bad day. It’s almost pointless cataloging all of Attwell’s errors but a few deserve special attention.
In the first half, the reprehensible Davies committed a foul that was almost certainly a yellow card offense, but he wasn’t given a card at the time because Attwell played an advantage. As play continued, Davies then committed another terrible foul and Attwell handed him a card for the second offense. However, by virtue of committing two bad fouls in one period of play, Davies mysteriously avoided being sent off. Later in the match, when Davies decided to deliver a flying head-butt to Koscielny’s right temple, Attwell was unmoved.
The Gary Cahill’s offense was probably rightly ruled a red card, although Bolton will feel aggrieved that they weren’t awarded a free kick in the play leading up to Cahill’s raking challenge from behind. But Arsenal can feel equally aggrieved at being denied penalty kicks for challenges on Chamakh and Eboue at a minimum. The one on Chamakh particularly upset me. Marouane tried to stay on his feet as the challenge came in. Ultimately he lost his balance and went down. Had Chamakh gone straight to ground, he probably would’ve been given the spot kick. In my opinion, that kind of refereeing encourages players to go to ground more easily and increases simulation.
|I learned this move from Ryan Shawcross|
But Attwell’s most unforgivable call was the one that he didn’t make. When Paul Robinson went in on Diaby with his studs up, over the ball, he surely should have been sent off. It’s the kind of tackle that has crippled Diaby before and what made the incident all the more reprehensible was Robinson’s decision to have harsh words with the frenchmen while he lay on the ground. How Attwell missed that call is anyone’s guess but it was just the cherry on the whipped cream on the shit-flavored cake he served up on Saturday. If you want to see a slow motion replay of the attack, with commentary, you can find it here. I was pleased to see Diaby show some fight when he finally was able to get himself off the ground. Unfortunately, Diaby had to be subbed off and now it’s a waiting game to see how long the injury layoff will be for another player who was just hitting stride. Just once I would love to celebrate a win without having to write the phrase, “we’ll wait and see how long we’ll be without [insert player’s name here].”
Despite Attwell’s performance it was a great win, tempered by our usual moments of uncertainty and injury, but enjoyable nonetheless. We were able to rotate the squad a bit, get some other players involved, and really hit our stride heading into European competition. It’s the “real” football season now with matches coming thick and fast, so here’s hoping that the players put the Bolton match behind them and start thinking about Braga. As for Denilson, who got his season debut in a nice cameo on Saturday, you can see exactly what he’s up to by checking out his live video stream. It’s both boring and somewhat disturbing at the same time. But hey, it’s a chance to really “get to know” an Arsenal player.
Apparently Braga lost to Porto at the weekend in a match that Zonal Marking claims will have tired them out considerably. Let’s hope they show up at the Emirates in their pajamas and slippers.
So, all in all, a great weekend. Spuds, City, and Liverpool dropped points. United dropped points and Wayne Rooney all in one match. Fantastic stuff. And you’d have to say that we’re looking a pretty good side so far.
Hopefully we’ll get an encouraging update on Diaby soon. Other than that, it’s time to start thinking about European competition. I’m not sure which sounds better; a big win over Braga, or watching Spuds suffer an epic loss in Germany. I’ll take both please.