Monday, January 12, 2009

Arsenal v Bolton, January 10, Premier League

There is a lot of discussion and debate about the tactics that teams in the EPL employ on their travels and especially against the stronger sides. Arsene Wenger has been a long standing critic but clearly he is not causing a change of heart amongst his manager rivals since they love taunting him by doing it to his team over and over again.

If Bolton had any plans to score, they ended with the injury induced replacement of lone striker Elmander. Bolton did not earn a reputation for being Arsenal’s bogey team by keeping it nil-nil, but how they would ever score even if they kept a clean sheet for eight days is beyond me. The only attempts to get the ball forward were through desperate clearances, greeted by chants of “Hoof” at the Emirates. And the lone striker who scores from such chances would not last seven days with Bolton in a transfer window!

For the attacking team, the challenge in this situation is clear and there are approaches to reaching the objective but media comments criticizing the strategy is not one of them. Yes, in the ideal world, all teams would play all games to win them, but idealism these days exists in only Wenger the team tactician (Wenger the witness of fouls is another case all together). Football Managers today have clear cut objectives and as long as they are developing strategies permitted by the laws of the game, their approach and tactics are a matter of personal choice. No one gives them the flexibility to address ethical and spiritual issues when it comes to results. Give them the job security that Wenger has and then demand an end to anti-football.

Having said that, some time before Bendtner’s late winner was scored, as a spectator you wished that Arsenal would score. For a long time there was no fire power in the Gunners but that changed once Nasri moved into the centre of mid-field after Vela came on for Diaby. Adebayor had been having an ordinary day and though Van Persie is continuing the good form, there was nothing in midfield. That changed when Nasri got there and his pass to Adebayor should have been finished, but Ade took the amount of time I take to cover 100 meters before he shot and it was blocked off. It seemed bleak for Arsenal when their last hope for three points was in the shape of Bendtner but the tall Dane (who looks Romanian to me) for once scored after having nodded a similar chance to the goalkeeper with his first touch. It all felt all the more like an exhibition by Lady Justice as the crowd had started to semi-boo Bendtner for some mis-passes.

It may end up being a critical goal in the larger scheme of things and in spite of yet another not so great performance, they still quietly keep themselves in the title race. Yes, I insist they are still in it and dropped points for Chelsea and Liverpool over the weekend strengthen my argument. It’s a five team race to the finish and should stay so, depending on Villa keeping their form and Arsenal getting in some players. To begin with a holding mid, a creative mid, a wide right, a central defender…

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