By Patrick Grove
Relief! Sweet nectar of goals and clean sheets, how AFC needed thee? Drink in the taste of victory while it lingers.
Now that I have that out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks. Arsenal’s 3-0 beating of the Wanderers at the Emirates on Saturday was a much-needed result for the team, its manager, and the fans. The first half performance left much to be desired, but I think the credit for that has to fall squarely on the shoulders of Bolton’s battling midfield pairing of Muamba and Reo-Coker. Both players are experienced Premier League defensive midfielders that have been around for a few seasons. They were able to hassle the Gunners’ midfielders and break up the play on numerous occasions during the first half. Bolton’s defenders also put on an above average performance in the absence of Gaz Cahill blocking shots and in general making a nuisance of themselves.
Arsene’s philosophy of patience and possession paid off in major ways and I think, even with 11 players, Arsenal had the beating of Bolton on the day. The absence of the Bolton midfield in the second half was plain to see and although that was partially down to the sending off of Wheater and the replacement of Muamba, I also think the hard work of the Bolton players in the first half was making the Wanderers’ legs heavy. This game could easily have ended 6 or 7-0 if not for some last ditch defending and another assured performance by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Speaking of the final goal tally, please step up, de kapitein, Robin Van Persie. Finally, a glimpse of that vaunted form of last season that had other teams begging for another injury for him. Another player that was impressive was Gervinho. He was a constant menace when he got on the ball and although his final product still needs some work, the number of defenders he draws makes him a huge asset. Theo Walcott looked bright in the second half (missed one on one opportunity aside) and gave the Gunners a great outlet for through balls. Honestly, having him as an option to relieve pressure and chase down long balls could be an important weapon against tougher opposition who hold onto more possession.
The midfielders worked hard for each other and the team controlling the tempo, helping back on defense and coming up with some cutting edge passes. Alex Song looked especially sharp going both directions. Yes, he made some errant passes, but dangerous passes do not always connect and he made enough good ones (and scored a goal!) to atone for his mistakes. The full back also had impressive displays with both Sagna and Gibbs working hard to provide width going forward and stability going back.
However, there are still worries for me in central defense. Bolton only had 3 opportunities (2 on goal) during the match, but those opportunities were down to slack marking and little to no communication. And remember, Bolton only played one man forward and other than on free kicks, showed no ambition to get out of their own half. Against better opposition, I think our defense still would have struggled with this performance. Darren Pratley may have made the outcome very different if it had not been for a magnificent save from Szczesny. Not to mention Chris Eagles break away that was a tame effort, but still needed saving.
There is definitely room for celebration, as we needed that win and some goals to help our goal difference. I’m hoping the smiles only lasted through Saturday evening though as there is still much more work to be done.
Coming up, Arsenal have a home match with European competition against Olympiacos on Wednesday and the all-important north London derby next weekend. Although the Olympiacos match is being touted as a very winnable (in other words easy) (ed. Nothing is easy with Arsenal these days) win in the group, we cannot afford to look past them and get caught out. Our defensive performance on Wednesday will be of vital importance. Also, going forward we need to continue in the same vein of form as the second half performance over the weekend as I’m sure the Greeks will be coming with a stingy defensive approach in mind. A win Wednesday could have us started on the roll we are looking for and could increase our confidence before the meeting with Spurs.
Get back to work boys and impress us even more on Wednesday!
Patrick is a long time Gooner and football fanatic. He is active with Baltimore, Maryland’s Charm City Gooners, and continues to play football as much as he can.