Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bolton v Arsenal, September 20, Premier League

Arsenal’s Bolton jinx is definitely a matter of the past. It left well and truly when Big Sam did and today was just confirming the trend. An emphatic three goals to one victory for the visitors and they are top of the table at least till Chelsea have played United tomorrow. And it’s a position I am not yet willing to bet is one they can’t hold on to. For all that the unbelievers will say about last year’s ‘lack of depth’ problem catching up with them again this year at some stage, I think that barring a few positions, they are reasonably well covered. That they might have it in them to challenge on all fronts (the great Big Four cliché) this year. That Arsene knew all along.

Today he started without Van Persie and Walcott and of course somewhere in the horizon are Eduardo and Roscisky. But the players he did use did their job fabulously. Bendtner partnered Adebayor up front and it was a midfield of Denilson and Song to partner Eboue and Fabregas and what a fine job they did.

Bolton did take the lead through a set piece and Kevin Davies and Arsenal’s fragility to lobbed balls was exposed many times through the game, but in the first half they were thrashed by the Gunners. In the few minutes before they scored the equalizer, Arsenal ripped the Bolton defence apart their usual slick pass and move play, as well as more direct feeds to Adebayor. Ade had a brilliant chance to score but he hit the post with the goalkeeper to beat and Song found the other post from a corner soon after. Bendtner could have scored but eventually it was Eboue who did. And even though the goal should have been disallowed for offside, it was clearly coming with all the mayhem that was created in the Bolton area.

The second came soon after with a Bendtner finding the striker’s instinct on a low cross from the left from Denilson. The Arsenal performance of course went beyond the goals. There seems to be a little bit of Cesc Fabregas in all of them. Each man can make measured passes, get involved, move, create, anticipate and the Arsene Wenger Project 3 is up there with some of the best football projects in terms of quality. The Oscars are what remain to be picked by this one. Of course, Cesc Fabregas has more of himself in him than the others and it shows. He was as usual everywhere: making plays, collecting passes, keeping possession, defending and controlling play.

Adebayor is maturing in the role of a target man and he is the closest to Drogba in terms of sheer box-presence. Arsenal have added the ‘ball to Ada’ as a new dimension to their game and are served well by having it. And they keep it well mixed to not get predictable or lose their essence. There are a lot of things about their play that you just have to love.

Bolton came back well in the second half and used their own lon ball expertise to good effect. Looked dangerous from set pieces and cosses but they also played the ball around well around Arsenal’s box. With better finishing abilities they would have found the equalizer. Sub Vaz Te had a great chance to draw them level but he scoffed it when he had enough time to set himself upo and shoot from six yards.

And Arsenal went a little off the boil as well. Clichy was lost through a bad Davies tackle just before half-time. That created a little more hesitancy at the back and Sagna also lost consistency to allow Bolton some dangerous possession. Song, Denilson and Eboue all became just a bit subdued before Wenger made the change that sparked some life back into them.

Walcott has been the talk of everyone connected with English football and his dozen and a half minute presence on the pitch justified the billing. The third goal came through his burst of speed and a well set up pass to Adebayor on the right who curled in a brilliant ball for Denilson to finish. Walcott played in the centre today and his utility in the hole-role is no less to his impact on the right and with so many versatile players at disposal, there is a lot of options for Wenger to move players around with few specialists.

Eboue is one of the most versatile having played centre, right and left (today) midfield having started in Arsenal as a full back. I think he will e the preferred central midfield partner for Fabregas in the long term. What he needs to add to his game is ninety minutes of drive like Fabregas for he definitely calmed down in the second half after an inspired first fifty minutes or so.

Other notes for Arsenal: Clichy got injured and one hopes its not for long. Defence is the one area where Arsenal truly seem to lack adequate cover, though their saving grace may be their ability to win with a less than clean sheet on most occasions. The other question mark will be their ability to cope without Fabregas at some stages this season and I would like to see Wenger try out a Cesc-less midfield one of these days.

For Bolton, there’s hope and it was a good second half performance. They’ll need to continue doing that at the Reebok and away. Their big problem will be finding the next Anelka because someone apart from Davies has to chip in with goals. The January window could decide which league they play next season.

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