Arsenal produced a bright second half performance reminiscent of their glory days as they crushed Bolton. Wenger’s side amassed 20 shots compared to Bolton’s two as they dominated after the break, even before the visitors were reduced to 10 men.
There was no sign of such a return to form in the first half though as the Gunners started lethargically, seemingly carrying the after effects of the Blackburn debacle in their minds. Indeed Bolton had the best chance of the half after only three minutes in a move which once again raised serious doubts about Arsenal’s ability to deal with set pieces.
The ball was pumped into the area with Bolton only sending David Wheater and Darren Pratley forward. Arsenal had six men in the box, although it must be said Koscielny wasn’t one of them as he was off the field after receiving treatment. Wheater won the first header and Pratley reacted before anybody in a red shirt to prod the ball goalwards, denied only by a superb save from Szczesny.
I hate to labour the point I made when analysing our defensive deficiencies against Blackburn, but once more we had Mertesacker marking fresh air in the middle of the goal whilst Wheater won a header on the back post. Look at the picture above and you’ll see how easy it is to counter Arsenal’s zonal system. Our best header of the ball, Mertesacker (M) is rendered useless as Wheater (W) puts himself next to Sagna and Pratley (P) next to Gibbs. Both Bolton players easily win their aerial duels and Mertesacker’s height is wasted. We got away with it again yesterday, but all Spurs have to do next week is put Adebayor on the near post and King on the far stick to avoid Mertesacker and Koscielny and they’ll get a lot of joy. We need to switch back to a man marking system so Mertesacker can actually be of some use at set pieces.
That set the pattern for the rest of the half with Arsenal looking nervy and bereft of ideas against a massed Bolton rearguard. There was little fluency or tempo to our play except for the odd moment, such as Arteta putting Gervinho clear with a perfect through ball only for the Ivorian’s touch to let him down. van Persie curled a shot wide and Gervinho blazed narrowly over, but that apart we looked every inch a team struggling in 17th place.
I don’t know what was said at halftime but we came out all guns blazing. Within a minute we had the lead when Ramsey burst through after good work from Gervinho and passed to van Persie, who turned his man and fizzed a shot inside Jaaskaleinen’s near post.
It was as if we’d been playing in the dark in the first half and van Persie had just flicked the light switch. Suddenly everyone wanted the ball, the forwards were making intelligent runs and our passing was quick and crisp.
Within minutes Ramsey and Walcott moved the ball neatly through midfield with first time passes to release van Persie, who shot wastefully at the keeper. The Arsenal of old was flickering into life.
On 55 minutes the increasingly influential Ramsey played Walcott in behind Wheater with an excellent pass and the hapless defender tugged him back, earning a deserved red.
With extra space in the middle after Owen Coyle sacrificed Fabrice Muamba, we simply battered them. Arteta had a shot blocked after good work from Walcott before van Persie produced a magnificent save from Jaaskaleinen.
In between those chances Sagna had a shot which laid out Robinson in his own six yard box. Bolton broke clear with worrying ease but Eagles shot straight at Szczesny. With Robinson still prone, Bolton decided they’d like play to be stopped. “Too late I’m afraid, you played on so we will too,” was the attitude of the home side who streamed down the other end with Robinson playing everyone onside, resulting in van Persie curling a shot just wide. Boyata got the hump as Bolton surrounded van Persie trying to accuse him of bad sportmanship, conveniently forgetting that Petrov and then Eagles had neglected to put the ball out long before van Persie.
Finally the deserved second arrived when Walcott played a neat one-two with Ramsey and crossed expertly for van Persie to nudge home his 100th Arsenal goal. A fantastic accolade for a fantastic player who has now scored 21 times in his last 23 appearances. The fact we’ve struggled for many of those games makes that stat even more impressive.
Walcott was put clean through by Song but panicked and snatched at his shot. He has bleated on about wanting to play up front, but if he doesn’t have the composure to score that type of chance he’s not ready yet.
Song gave the scoreline a more realistic feel when he curled home number three in the 89th minute before Walcott gave the Arsenal faithful a fright when he limped off with what looked like a hammy. Thankfully it’s emerged that he tweaked his knee but has a chance to play on Wednesday.
So all in all a good day with a handsome win and an excellent performance after the break. If we can play with the confidence and tempo of the second period against Spurs next week we have a chance of getting a result up there, although I’m still very worried about our defending. A high score draw could be a good bet.
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