Arsenal are top of the league and after coming from two goals down to win by two we thoroughly deserve it.
Going into the game it looked something of a formality that we would end the day on top of the table. But a half an hour into the match it appeared an unlikely outcome.
Arsenal played a strong and experienced team from the start but scrappy defending allowed Bolton to score twice, first through Gary Cahill and then through Matthew Taylor via the penalty spot. Both were the sort of concessions that will need to be eradicated before the big boys come to town but on this occasion they provided the starting point for a monumental comeback by our boys.
Bolton stacked men behind the ball for the rest of the half in the hope that they would go into the break two clear. They came ever so close but were unstuck by a moment of Tomas Rosicky magic.
Receiving a pass from the irresistible Cesc Fabregas, Rosicky ghosted into the penalty area before smacking home at Jussi Jaaskelainen’s near post. The beauty in this goal lay both in Fabregas’ ability to sneak out a pass and Rosicky’s ability to let loose a shot mid-stride to completely surprise the goalkeeper. It was a truly wonderful goal and hopefully the sort of which we may see more of as the Czech man regains the levels of performance that we all know he is capable of.
The goal before half-time absolutely changed the game. It gave us a huge boost of confidence going into the break and undoubtedly planted a seed of doubt in the minds of the Bolton players. Indeed, we may have even gone in equal at the break when Fabregas had a curling shot saved by the goalkeeper.
It was equal soon after the break in somewhat controversial circumstances.
William Gallas and Steven Davies both challenged for a ball in the middle of the pitch and while Gallas scuttled off to pick up the loose ball, the Bolton man lay prone on the turf. Gallas ignored the man down and pushed forward to help out with the attack, eventually allowing captain Cesc to waltz into the penalty area and fire home a lovely finish.
The crowd went mad with delight while the Bolton players and staff went mad at the referee.
The fallout from this incident has been absolutely ridiculous. New Bolton manager Owen Coyle called it an “assault” while the pundit covering the stream I was watching was having a minor fit about the “bad foul” that Gallas committed. For me it was nothing more that a 50-50 challenge and both players got the ball – something you can clearly see from the way the ball spins away after they make contact. Although Gallas came from the higher position and certainly caught Davies, you can see from the way that his leg snaps back from the challenge that he had absolutely no intention to hurt the Bolton player.
Had I been referee I probably would have called it a foul, but with Alan Wiley deciding it wasn’t we had every right to play on. Anyone who disagrees only needs to watch the Denilson incident against Everton a couple of games ago. It’s the referee’s job to stop play, he didn’t, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t play on. End of story.
From 2-2 you could sense that Arsenal were going to complete the comeback and they did just that when Thomas Vermaelen scored a sensational third goal. Abou Diaby challenged for the ball from a corner by Fabregas, it fell to Vermaelen and the Belgian produced the sort of technique most centre-backs can only dream about to half-volley the ball in off the post. While the fans went mental he celebrated in typical Vermaelen style, all fist pumps and pure passion.
With the top of the league in sight we should have taken the lead soon after only for Fabregas to be denied a clear penalty for the third time in two games. Regardless of whether the ball was going out of play Jaaskelainen made a lot of contact with Cesc and compared to the penalty that Wayne Rooney won against us at Old Trafford, this was a no-brainer.
In the end it didn’t matter but I have to say I’m getting fairly sick of being denied clear penalties. We’ve won just one all season and had numerous others disallowed (I can could five off the top of my head). Yes Eduardo dived earlier in the season but the consequences of that incident are beginning to get ridiculous.
We attacked relatively strongly for the remainder of the game and eventually got the goal to send us to the top of the table through Andrey Arshavin. The Russian exchanged passes with Eduardo before dinking a shot past the Jaaskelainen. He could have made it five later too but had a shot blocked by the goalkeeper with substitute Theo Walcott perhaps better placed to finish.
While there were undoubtedly flaws in our performance today the overwhelming message to take home once again is that this team have character and attitude that we didn’t perhaps believe we had before the start of the season. In short, this group of players appear to have grown a pair.
In terms of individual performances I thought Fabregas, Vermaelen and Eduardo stood out today. Fabregas for the obvious reasons (dominated the game, made our team tick, scored a goal, a constant threat etc etc etc), Vermaelen because of his unbelievable commitment and no-nonsense attitude and Eduardo because he never stopped moving up front. The three of them made the players around them play better and in the end were largely responsible for our comeback.
Nothing more to say really except WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE!
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