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Reflections on Bolton (and Lazy Pundits)
It’s the end of a very good week for Arsenal Football Club. Faced with three historically-challenging away trips in 8 days, Arsenal have come through with two wins and a draw. The last of the three came Saturday in a 3-1 win at Bolton.
Arsenal went behind early on another horribly defended set-piece, but their response showed much character. Kicking into hyper-mode, Arsenal laid seige to Bolton’s penalty area for a good fifteen minutes during which they scored 2 goals in under two minutes. The first came from a lovely ball by Bendtner which freed a slightly off-side Emmanuel Eboue to score his first Premier League goal for the club after 71 games. The second saw Denilson pull back for Bendtner who had made an incisive run to the near post. Arsenal, though pressed a bit by Bolton in the second half, held their nerve and in the closing minutes, Theo Walcott picked the ball up in his own half and started running. Six defenders surround him before he laid it off to Adebayor on the right who crossed to a rampaging Denilson.
Denilson has shown he could be the answer to the midfield question. It seems it takes about 15-20 minutes to settle into each match but when everything gets flowing, he fits in seamlessly. I’d like to see him be a bit quicker out of the box and also develop a bit more defensive tenacity, but 2 goals and 3 assists in 8 starts this season isn’t much to argue with.
As for the tackle on Clichy, I think a yellow card was fair. It didn’t seem to me to be as malicious as Martin Taylor’s tackle on Edaurdo. Yet pundits jumped to defend Davies calling the tackle “clean”. Davies had his studs up and the bruise halfway up Clichy’s shin shows the tackle wasn’t clean at all. They’re only allowed to get away with saying this kind of stuff because Davies was lucky enough to get a piece of the ball. If that had been Eboue making that tackle on Kevin Davies (or god forbid, an English international) it would be far different story. Clichy was sent to the hospital but x-rays revealed only a bruise and he traveled home with the rest of the team after the match.
Nicklas Bendtner showed that he is much improved from last season as well. His link-up play from the midfield to the box was superb. His ability to come out high meant that we lost nothing in playmaking skill by having him give van Persie a breather on Saturday. Walcott came on to great effect as well and was able to take advantage of Bolton’s tired thugs immediately. A nice save from Jaaskelainen denied him getting on the scoresheet as well. Alexandre Song deserves special notice as well as he worked hard in midfield, was denied by a nice save as well as hitting the post, and completed 91% of his passes.
It’s the obvious and significant improvement by players like Walcott, Denilson, Song, and Bendtner over last season that is our biggest cause for optimism this season. Considering that we secured a fairly comfortable victory at Bolton despite having Eduardo, Rosicky, Diaby, and Nasri injured along with van Persie on the bench shows that our depth is much more considerable than last season.
Pundits constantly talk about the trouble Arsenal have when going up North but that just shows the pundits’ lack of knowledge and preparation. This current Arsenal side have won their last three trips to Bolton (including last year when they were 2-nil down in the second half and down a man in the driving rain), have only lost once in their last five trips to Ewood Park, and haven’t lost at Wigan in over two years. Combine that with their point in Kyiv earned in the dying minutes and it shows that this Arsenal team can go anywhere and get results. If pundits want to be lazy and keep promoting the “Arsenal have trouble in tough away games” line, let them. People who actually know anything about Arsenal know better.