Bolton Wanderers (0) – (2) Arsenal
Fabregas (28′), Merida (78′)
The Reebok Stadium Bolton
After the disappointing performance against Everton, today’s game was massive in terms of keeping up the pressure at the top of the table, and Arsenal didn’t disappoint and took all three points.
The return of Cesc Fabregas made all the difference, and with Song away on African Cup of Nations duty Arsene gave 19 year old Craig Eastmond his first start in the holding midfielders role.
With Owen Coyle managing his first game since arriving from Burnley it was clear that Bolton had that extra edge as the match kicked off. Within the first couple of minutes, they carved out a few decent openings and could, on another day, nicked the opening goal. After that though, Arsenal settled and managed to dominate possession.
But the game wasn’t without its fair share of scares.
With the home crowd behind them, Bolton were direct and really attacked Arsenal throughout the game. Our left hand side was particularly targeted and time after time Armand Traore struggled to cope with Lee and Steinson who managed to send in cross after cross. Fortunately, Vermaelen was in excellent form and Gallas coped with most things thrown at him.
It has to be said though that Traore had an awful game today. His positioning is woeful and for the majority of the game he looked lost. And the number of times he needlessly gave away the ball – in dangerous positions – was frightening. Even Craig Eastmond, who started his very first game in the Premier League only made a handful of mistakes. He can be proud of a solid performance today.
The main difference from last weeks game against Everton was the creativity Fabregas brings to the team and he was at the centre of things time and time again. He had a shot which was dragged wide after 5 minutes, and after 12 minutes he should of had a penalty. Eduardo played in a nice ball into the box and Cesc managed to dink the ball over Jaaskelianen who didn’t touch the ball and caught our captain. It was a stone wall penalty for me, and Fabregas had a simple tap in if he wasn’t brought down.
But on 28 minutes Arsenal got what they deserved.
In a ridiculously crowded penalty area, Cesc managed to play a beautiful one-two with Eduardo and finish the move by slotting the ball into the far corner. It was a fantastic goal, and Eduardo’s little flick to make the chance was sublime. Both players deserve great credit in keeping their composure in such a tight area but I suppose it’s this kind of intelligent play we come to expect from Fabregas these days. This guy is worth his weight in Gold.
A few minutes later Eastmond almost gave himself the perfect debut by volleying a corner towards goal but his shot was straight at the keeper. Then Fabregas was denied yet another penalty when Zack Knight clumsily clipped the Arsenal captain. Replays showed he was caught but after that the game got slightly out of hand and Cesc was targeted for some ‘special’ treatment from Matt Taylor and Paul Robinson.
Tomas Rosicky, clearly not appreciating the treatment his mate was receiving lashed out at Klasnic, but quite frankly that’s what I thought their players deserved. Owen Coyle may appreciate the beautiful game but he’s got his work cut out if he wants to completely remove the dirty aspect of Bolton’s game left by the Walrus, Sam Allardyce.
Then just before half-time, Fabregas had a glorious chance to really stick the knife in and double Arsenal’s lead. Arshavin did well on the right hand side and sent in a low cross which Eduardo dummied. Fabregas was lurking behind but didn’t expect the ball to come to him and he could only drag his lame shot wide with the goal gaping.
The second half started, and Arsenal were dreadful in the opening 15 minutes.
Lee, Steinson, Matt Taylor and Klasnic were dominating the game and really had Arsenal under real pressure. Only a combination of profligacy and last ditch defending kept Bolton from scoring themselves. Lee in particular was dangerous from the right as Traore was having a complete nightmare. Fortunately Almunia, Vermaelen, Gallas and Sagna managed to defend all of the crosses coming in.
With Bolton really controlling the match, Arsenal made a substitution on 63 minutes, bringing on Fran Merida for Craig Eastmond. On the whole Eastmond was composed and did well in front of the back four. But with Bolton overrunning the midfield Arsene decided to play the more physical Diaby back their and play Merida alongside Fabregas.
The change was almost instant as Arsenal’s ball retention improved tenfold. Merida was comfortable on the ball and kept possession well, at a time when it seemed like Arsenal couldn’t keep hold of it. Clichy then replaced Rosicky, who had just come back from injury. He came on and played in front of Traore, which was a good move because he was desperate for some cover.
Then on 78 minutes, Arsenal finally managed to kill of the game. Eduardo again turned provider and clipped in a nice cross from the left hand side. Knight managed to get his head to it but the ball fell to Merida who coolly controled the ball with his left foot and passed the ball into the corner of the net with his right – a fantastically taken goal!
After that it was a case of Arsenal keeping a clean sheet to top off the performance and they managed to keep Bolton at bay. On another day, Arsenal may have struggled but fortunately the did just about enough to take home all three points, and valuable ones at that.
Arsenal weren’t at their best, but they managed to pull out the win and were decisive in the important moments of the game. In times gone by, Arsenal would have strolled to a 0-0 draw but they did well to grind out a result. Fabregas makes all the difference in the final third and let’s hope this is a sign of things to come. When things aren’t going all your own way, it’s vital you still nick the points.
Manuel Almunia: 7/10
Made a couple of really vital saves when we were 1-0 up and overall looked solid today. Expected some kind of mistake throughout the match but it never came.
Bacary Sagna: 7/10
Coped well defensively although let Matt Taylor get the better of him a few times, which on another day could have proved costly. Crossing wasn’t his best either today but supported the attack whenever he could.
William Gallas: 7/10
Did well on the whole but looked shaky at times. Uncharacteristically gave the ball away and one clearance gifted Bolton’s Lee with a scoring opportunity. Struggled with Klasnic at times.
Thomas Vermaelen: 8/10
Very solid and cut out a lot of dangerous crosses with diving headers and by throwing himself at the ball. Kept Kevin Davies extremely quiet and for the most part won most of the aerial battles with him.
Armand Traore: 4/10
Absolutely woeful. Struggled against Everton and really struggled today. His positioning is extremely suspect a but worse was his determination to give the ball away (in dangerous areas) again and again. Very, very fortunate that one of his mistakes didn’t lead to a Bolton goal. Seems to lack concentration.
Craig Eastmond: 7/10
Very good debut for the youngster and linked up well with the midfield. Kept things simple and showed maturity in his performance. Arsene will be happy with his 60 minute shift.
Abou Diaby: 8/10
Battled hard and is becoming one of Arsenal’s main players now. Linked up play well and hardly mis-placed a pass. His presence was important against a physical side like Bolton and yet again put in a very solid performance.
Cesc Fabregas: 8/10
Gives Arsenal that special bit of creativity and didn’t disappoint. Controlled things in the final third and scored a wonderfully created goal. Was unlucky not to score a couple more, as well as have a couple of penalties awarded for clear fouls. Made some excellent defensive tackles as well and his injury hasn’t seemed to effect his form.
Tomas Rosicky: 7/10
Looked lively for the most part and created a couple of good chances. Still needs a few more games under his belt you feel but his return from injury is a welcome one.
Andrei Arshavin: 5/10
Had glimpses of class but not enough and was for the most part anonymous. Back into his favoured position on the left he didn’t have as much of an impact as you would have liked. Uncharacteristically gave the ball away numerous times and nothing he tried really came off.
Hasn’t quite got his shooting boots back yet and could have done better with a few through balls that were sent his way. But kept his head up and managed to create both goals, the first with a deft touch and the second with a nice floated cross. Looks to be improving game on game as his confidence grows.
Fran Merida: 8/10 (Replaced Eastmond 63′)
Excellent cameo and took his goal extremely well. Kept the ball well and rarely lost possession. Wasn’t afraid to get stuck in a few times as well.
Gael Clichy: 7/10 (Replaced Rosicky 74′)
Did well considering he’s been out for a while. Helped up Traore on the left and Bolton’s threat reduced significantly once he came on.
Carlos Vela: 6/10 (Replaced Eduardo 83′)
Not really enough time to make an impact.