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The view from the stands: Bolton vs. Arsenal match report

By Phil Gregory

Well, 0-0 versus Bolton was a disappointment and a serious blow to attempts to haul in Tottenham. The odds on that front are getting near the stage where it would be irrational to expect us to overhaul our neighbour should we not shrink the gap over the next few games. Fortunately Chelsea aren’t doing much better, and the gap to fourth remains only five points.

As for the match yesterday, drawing 0-0 when you hit the woodwork twice is always a bitter pill to swallow. All the more so when you’re in the stands via a four hour round trip in possibly the coldest place on Earth, as I was on Wednesday night. Home by 1am, I still got up to put together my brief match report before my lunchtime classes: dedication to the Untold cause if there ever was.

Save for the two woodwork incidents, I didn’t get the impression we consistently cut Bolton open in attack. There were some good chances, but for a game we should be winning fairly comfortably, we have to be creating more good chances. We have been too reliant on clinical front men recently: we need to give them a bucketload of chances so that on days where it is simply not going in, we maximise their opportunities to score. Van Persie’s chance onto the crossbar was symptomatic of this.

Part of this was our passing. I got chatting to a Bolton fan at one of the stations on my way home, and he praised Arsenal’s passing football. We did move the ball well, but compared to our usual standards there were many more wayward passes than there should have been. Unnecessarily conceding possession will only have reduced our opportunities to attack the Bolton goal, and no doubt a purist like Arsène will have been equally irritated.

On that point, Bolton also played quite a high line, at least initially. I was expecting a park the bus approach, but they attempted a high line and some rudimentary pressing. The pressing didn’t really cause us any problems, and we really should have taken advantage with our pace of the space in behind their defence. Unfortunately, while our retention of the ball was good the through balls were less so – an area where I will admit we greatly miss Fabregas. Ramsey is growing and developing, but I wouldn’t be against Tomas Rosicky having a go at the playmaker’s position – we need a little more creativity in terms of forward, searching passes.

The big difference between Walcott and Chamberlain was the speed of the latter in attack. By that, I don’t mean outright sprinting, but speed of action. Chamberlain would get the ball, weave, run, turn, shoot. Theo seems to get into positions and then take just a little too long to act, giving the defence time to recover. Theo Walcott’s one on one chance was also disappointing, perhaps an indication of a youngster short on confidence.

Unfortunately for the first time i got to see the legendary Frenchman in the flesh, Thierry Henry offered very little coming off the bench. No doubt he’d been brought on to finish off a chance, but for an Arsenal side who weren’t creating enough, removing Chamberlain was a risk in my view. Though only 18 and likely not yet ready to play 90minutes of high intensity Premier League football, Chamberlain is definitely a starter in my eyes, and when Gervinho comes back it would well be Walcott that makes way…

49 comments to The view from the stands: Bolton vs. Arsenal match report

  • Good write up Phil and I find myself nodding along to all your points.

  • I am now imagining the Churchill nodding dog in front of a computer screen… ha!

  • bob

    Phil,
    You write we’ve been “too reliant on clinical front men recently”. With due respect (and I do have that for your fine work), let’s be honest about this bit: apart from our wondrous RvP, who are you referring to? In actuality, as opposed to potentiality, there is no clincality at present. Nor any move for that in the x-fer window. Nor much of any comment hereabouts concerning the x-fer window (a relative deafening silence, as if to speak of it is to be very naughty to worse, and one walks very gingerly. C’mon, ffs.)

  • bob

    p.s. if clincality can be taught – perhaps a big IF – then perhaps TH will be the means by which that torch is passed to some of our players. Perhaps, and a big IF. One lives in hope.

  • frannie

    europa anyone?

  • DC

    Great write up Phil and I commend your commitment in Baltic weather! I agree with your assessments too!
    Wrt the passing, it’s been a significant problem since the incredible injury crisis. It’s almost as if the options for the passer have reduced and the movement offf-the-ball has deteriorated. Note how Song has to keep holding on to the ball and consequently gets closed down or loses the ball more often than he did when we were on our unbeaten run.
    I agree with Rosicky, he should have come on sooner and be given a real run as playmaker, and Ramsey is rested for a while – after all, that’s the role he plays for the Czech Republic. Possibly also Arshavin can play that role as that’s where he actually belongs when he plays for Russia.
    But the finishing certainly has to improve from others to help out RVP! With better movement and passing-lanes, pressing- off-the-ball and return of our absentees, the runners from deep will assist with the distribution of goals.

  • DC

    This team was built too much around Fabregas and Rosicky’s the nearest we have to him at the moment with Jack out.

  • WalterBroeckx

    If I may stick my neck out about finishing: Arshavin. He is our best finisher apart from RVP in my opinion.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Correct DC.
    In fact there is only one reason that we are where we are for the moment. The person who despite having a long term contract wanted to go out. The person who despite he knew that the team had been built around him wanted to go out. The person that knew that we would be facing a difficult time when he left.
    I wouldn’t mind one bit if Real won La Liga this season (despite the fact that I don’t like Mourinho) and if possible if Valencia would win the cup in Spain. And then with a fresh Jack Wilshere in the squad us beating Barcelona in the CL and Jack outplaying Cesc. Well one can dream 😉

  • DC

    Absolutely Walter!
    Cesc’s impatience, betrayal and selfishness at such a stage in his young career was the basis of our poor season before it even began. Nasri’s loss is neither here nor there.
    Having known that Jack would be injured before the start of the season, if Fabregas really cared, then he should have stayed one more season at least as only one of the 2 teams he loves really needed his services at that time! I don’t think he’s actually added much else to Barcelona’s play anyway, and it looks like they will fall short in La Liga!
    I too hope we’re still in the CL and meet Barcelona in April-May when Jack should hopefully be back up to speed in that central role!

  • bob

    Walter, DC,
    We cannot agree, so that’s fine.
    So here’s your freshly revised narrative of this season looks like to me: It goes pear-shaped with Cesc as The Villain. Then it’s back to form via Jack the Savior. Ignoring that after RvP there is No (actual) Clinicality. Ignoring that Cesc’s treachery as you now call it was not a surprise in August; and it was not planned for – hence, no thinking ahead by AFC. (Dare I mention the piss-poor return in the marketplace for ex-Cesc.) And up to and through the x-fer window: No Advocacy by you for our getting another striker for (a) more scoring and clinicality [which Arteta himself] and (b) to ensure against the day/game/stretch should RvP suffer a knock. If and when, god forbid, (b) might occur, what will Cesc the traitor become? Cesc the Ferguson?

  • bob

    sorry, please read: “here’s what your” and also “[which Arteta himself advocates today]”

  • DC

    @bob,
    Cesc is not being used as treacherous “scapegoat”, as you like to call it, but we who analyse the side’s MO see how someone as “unique” as Cesc was was made the fulcrum of team to its detriment now. There is no one else out there available or not for transfer (aside from Xavi, and possibly Silva, who does it for Barcelona and Spain) who can fill that fundamental role seamlessly. Of course Jack will do that job eventually for us and for England but he too will need to adapt and learn it further to Cesc’s level.
    If you choose to analyse our tactical and formational problems then we can debate, otherwise we disagree on which personnel we need.
    The issue of “clinicality” is unquestioned and it is a problem, but then it is for any team in football at some point in time within the season! Putting the ball in the back of the net is something that ANY PLAYER should be able to do in an attacking role when confident, with RVP being the best in the world at doing that this moment, but even he will miss some chances as he did yesterday. So buying a so-called expensive “clinical finisher” or goalscorer (and if i last recall aren’t those what Torres and Carroll are supposed to be?) guarantees you nothing! Why spend crazy money on an uncertain thing in January, that almost certainly was surplus to requirements elsewhere, rather than work on the confidence and finishing of the attack-minded players you currently have?!
    Nothing that happened at Bolton last night has changed my belief of a top 4 finish and progress in the transfer market and the squad in the summer! Don’t forget, Bolton beat Liverpool rather easily only just recently with Liverpool’s clinical finishers on the field!

  • Joe

    watched the game today, we play good, well drilled pass and move high tempo football. Its the philosophy Wenger put forward and has achieved. The problem is its so predictable, there’s no creativity, no drive or urgency! The only time i get excited is when OX is on the ball, he looks lively, creative, dangerous, when everyone else is on the ball i just slump back into me chair. OX has that drive the real winner attitude which i dont see in any of the other players. This is something that specifically Walcott lacks and is why i believe he will never reach his potential (i hope im wrong). The one on one he missed today was pathetic! No need to mention RVP quality as per usual. I’ve defended wenger in my posts but, as the season goes on my mind is starting to change more and more. Something needs to be changed now or dare i say it wenger out

  • DC

    @bob,
    And wrt Arteta’s comment, I didn’t read anything indicating that we should have bought another striker in the Jan window. He was talking about taking our chances as a general observation.

  • Joe

    How the hell can all these people be blaming cesc? He gave how many seasons to us? What did the manager do to bring in world class players? The answer is NOTHING. you can bet your bottom dollar thAt rvp will be off and wwingers is to blame in its entitrety

  • I don’t understand why you are so confident of a top 4 finish,DC.We are 7th,We have 1 point out of 12 against Fulham,Swansea MU at home and Bolton.Hardly top 4 form,hell its relegation form.You are assuming the 3 sides above will drop more points than us; i can’t see it TBH.God newcastle have been picking up points without Ba,Cisse and Tiote;when they come back(this weekend for the strikers)they will only get better.I actually think Sunderland and Everton will overtake us and we will finish 9th so not even c5 for us nxt season.Maybe the team will surprise me,but a new face or two could have given everyone a lift.i’m sure we could have at least tried to get rid of some of the less useful members of the squad to make room.

  • Andrei

    @DC You are forgetting that RVP has not been a deadly finisher is he is now. In addition being an injury prone player he used to have tendency to miss from the sitters but to score some improbable goals. Yes he is in the best form of his footballing life but even best of the best have their ups and downs. Drogba was a deadly finisher and Arsenal’s nemesis just a couple seasons ago. Now he is a shadow of himself and Chelsea having failed to find a replacement/backup are struggling in the goal scoring department. I’m afraid Arsenal are pretty much in the same boat. Despite attacking style of play and having plenty of creative players the team has struggled scoring goals in the recent seasons. There are a couple of players that Arsenal are missing in front line. A poacher type goalscorer like Nistelrooy or Hernandez – Arsenal do not get many easy or fluke goals as a result. And they miss a player Berbatov who could spend quite a bit of time warming the bench and then score a bunch of goals when called upon the way he did last season when Rooney went AWOL. In doing so Berbatov was a major factor in United winning the title last season which is surprisingly under appreciated by the United fans.

    Bottom line EPL is all about outlasting the competition. Unfortunately Arsenal are not well equipped to do that.

  • Joe

    @andrei spot on

  • bob

    DC,
    Between the lines, Arteta is saying we are missing available chances. We don’t read the same way.

  • DC

    @Joe, Basil & Andrei,
    Let’s wait and see what happens at the end of May then we can debate the downfall of our beloved Arsenal!
    And Joe, yes I do criticise Cesc as he had many more years left which he could have subsequently spent at Barca after completing this project with Arsene! I still think he’s great but he didn’t leave the way he was meant to!

  • DC

    @bob,
    I guess we do read differently!

  • bob

    DC,
    And to further demonstrate the gulf between our perceptions, the lack of clinicality has been in evidence for most of this season and from obvious sources that many have been discussing. It’s not been some passing fancy as your ‘oh, all teams have it from time to time’ would have it. If we cannot acknowledge a problem, then we cannot fix it. And if the problem is serious, then downplaying it puts us in serious trouble, to say the obvious.

  • DC

    Nor do we analyse and write the same!

  • bob

    Right DC,
    And the way he was meant to leave would have been for at least the 30M that we were hearing about in August, and somehow that shrunk as well. Just curious how far apart we actually are: do you defend that number too as well, all AFC could get? Or was it a cock-up?

  • bob

    Sorry, first 50M, then 30M, then…a bag of peanuts and a season-long migraine.

  • bob

    Andrei,
    Da! Spasiba!

  • DC

    @bob et al,
    Let’s just wait till the end of the season then we can have a rational discussion about what is, what should have been and what will become Arsenal FC. We’re all just going around now in hypothetical circles!

  • Jerry

    Yes, like everyone else, I would love for Arsenal to have gotten another clinical striker to partner with RVP during the last transfer window. But in reality, where was Arsene supposed to find this clinical finisher? They are not as you would say n the US “a dime a dozen”. I read some reports online saying Arsenal made a bid for Podolski which for around 8 million which was rejected (club didn’t want to sell until summer time most likely). Gervinho is back in 2 weeks, pair with RVP, Ox or Walcott off the bench, we already have 4 starting caliber strikers. We can’t just stock pile too many strikers unless some of the less productive players are sold off.

  • RedGooner

    DC I disagree, We worked and depended on Cesc and over played him to the extent that he was taking a penalty against Barca with a fractured leg,
    We also over played wiltshire for his age till he ended up croked also and now we are over playing and relying to much on ramsey to carry the team creatively in midfield he looks exhausted and the hectic shedule has yet to come.

    We both rely and put to much responsibility on young shoulders.
    Everyone knew that Cesc and Nasri were leaving there was an oppertunity for the club to have lined up players like goetz and hazard or similar in advance.

    Young bodies cant sustain the ammount of games we expect from them and a reluctance or hesitance to move on a few players is holding us back. The summer was handled poorly and our reliance on youths to heavy.

    Now I am NOT saying go out and stop supporting Arsenal or shout for AW’s head but we need to take a long hard look in the mirror this comming summer and do what ever it takes to put the club back on track as I do believe if the right steps are taken next season could be good again.

    Just even look at RVP a player who has spent most seasons injured and how heavily we are going to have to work him all season chamak and Park the club wont even play them as they dont seem up to the task.

    We all support Arsenal but the same as we aknowledge the great achievements there is also a need to aknowledge we need changes to put us back on track.

  • critic

    @andrei gr8 comment n perspective.

  • dy

    we do have a prolific striker/poacher, Park, play 442, put Park besides RVP, that’s the way to go.

  • DC

    Red gooner,
    Let me correct some of your injury and fitness facts first:
    1. Fabregas fractured his right fibula from the Puyol’s penalty-awarding tackle just before he took the kick in 2010 – the penalty-kick displaced the fracture further.
    2. Wilshere’s ankle injury was initially sustained against Switzerland in England’s Euro qualifier last year a d not whilst playing for Arsenal.
    3. Ramsey might be tired but that’s the manager’s and coaching staff’s assessment to make and conclusion to reach if they think that’s responsible for his underperformances. I personally am more concerned about Song’s and Arteta’s fatigue (just before he got injured), and those two players aren’t youngsters any longer! Singling out the youngsters for rest instead of the older players is unfair as all need to be rotated and rested at sometime before they reach their “red-zone” of fitness and performance.
    Regarding the money for Fabregas, Barcelona have yet to pay the whole transfer fee. Furthermore, contrary to all popular belief, his sale was not inevitable (why would Gervinho have come otherwise?). New purchases were beinc chased in the summer before the events in the summer but the circus surrounding Fabregas and then Nasri (fueled and ratcheted up by the media within Spain and here in the UK, plus Barcelona and their players publicly tapping-up Fabregas) took all the attention away from the transfer market focus that had been planned by the club. Once the sales had gone through, the Arsenal board then reverted to their archetypical lethargic processes in practically assisting Arsene with purchasing his replacements. In addition, the money wanted by Lille and Dortmund (Gotze being the number one target of the summer) for the players Arsene was very interested in suddenly became much higher with no guarantees that those players would hit the ground running in the EPL. The injury to Jack also complicated things further as he was, and still is, the rightful replacement for that central and pivotal role in midfield.
    The summer was very disrupted by all of these events and the mixture of bad luck, and bad organisation and preparation from the board meant that the planned squad strengthening (that began with Ox-Chamb, Jenkinson and Gervinho and was to be followed by Gotze plus Hazard and a left back) was unable to be fully implemented. Arteta, Mertesacker, Park and Benayoun were all compensatory buys to try to add experience. Santos was a genuine buy!
    Gotze and Hazard are still on Arsene’s “want list” but he knows that he needs CL football next season to make sure he will get them in the summer. Those players were never going to come in January. PHW’s bullshit comment about we don’t need the CL is just nonsense. At least 4th place should be our priority even if we sacrifice the CL and FA Cup. Then hopefully this summer, Arsene can do the shopping he desperately wants to before he steps down at the end of honouring his contract; a very rare thing in modern football!

  • Anne

    @Walter:

    I’m behind you 100% on Madrid in La Liga and Valencia in la copa del (puto) rey.

    And you have to believe that it hurts me so bad to say that… 🙂 I hate Mourinho more than any other figure in football, but Madrid has already won la liga. It’s over. And I hate to say it, but Barca doesn’t deserve any better than that this season.

    And by that I mean… what’s the colloquialism?

    “When you dance with the devil,” or something like that?

    Ok, I’ve lost my train of thought again. Time to go to bed 🙂

    But I’ll just say this… Barca has it coming from Arsenal… and what goes around comes around in the end…

  • bob

    Jerry,
    You say “like everyone else” you’d have loved another clinical striker when, in truth, there was mainly silence hereabouts on this matter. And you’re right – they’re not a dime a dozen. However the need for a clinical striker, if only as backup for did not just come up starting in January. The clear need for a what-if RvP gets hurt type insurance has been worried out loud about on UA since August. And, as to the where are we supposed to find one begs the question, what is the worldwide scouting network up to these days. If an 8M offer for Podolski was turned down (and who knows if/what/when) then – with our war chest of 35M or 9M or 20M or who knows what – wouldn’t a better offer have been a good idea? Don’t we need someone like him? More firepower up front? More clinicality? Isn’t it obvious? Hasn’t it been? To have stood pat about this – and the need did not start in January – is not prudence but a higher stakes gamble to the point of recklessness. Gambling with dropping more points, fatiguing RvP who must play to have any chance, thereby increasing the chance of his knocks, thereby increasing the chance of him missing games, our dropping points, missing CL contention, losing 30M thereby, greasing the skids for RvP’s departure.
    Signed, Cassandra (aka Broken Record)

  • bob

    RedGooner,
    Spot on!

  • Joe

    We need a new manager. mornho coming in wenget going it

  • bob

    DC,
    “PHW’s bullshit comment about we don’t need the CL is just nonsense. At least 4th place should be our priority even if we sacrifice the CL and FA Cup.”
    Exactly! Couldn’t agree with you more this time. It means everything long term: CL continuity – as in earn 30M we/anyone needs – have a way better chance of retaining our Captain (who must have CL entering upon the last phase of his career), maintaining the prestige of our brand, attracting talent that won’t settle for a non-top 4 club, etc. And, where we have parted company, some proactive, defensive steps – even one – toward better ensuring this end could have been taken between August and February.

  • bob

    Joe,
    So well reasoned and thought through. Perhaps you’ve got a similar solution on global warming?

  • bob

    dy,
    Really curious about why Park, who you call a “prolific scorer” (and who after next season goes back to S. Korea on military service) only warmed the cold bench in a nil-nil? Any thoughts…?

  • Sammy The Snake

    Let’s not put this on Cesc!
    All of us would jump ship if we had the chance to play along Messi and we knew the ship is going nowhere fast. Arsenal haven’t been doing too well in recent years… Cesc has already won 2 trophies with Barca in a few months.
    Expect RVP to leave in the summer, that’s already guaranteed even if Gunners qualify for CL (which is looking more unlikely with each game).
    At this stage, we should be concerned about not even qualifying for Europa!
    I’m not trying to put fear into your minds, but let’s face reality.

  • DC

    @bob,
    So we have a very small glimmer of agreement on something?!

    @Sammy TS,
    So “All of us would jump ship if we had the chance to play along Messi and we knew the ship is going nowhere fast.”!
    Well I certainly wouldn’t if i’m as young as Fabregas still is and openly state how much i truly love Arsenal FC and Arsene Wenger.
    In a nutshell, Fabregas was challenged wrt his love for the club and his manager and he failed the test!

  • bob

    DC,
    yes, we do agree on that point, which is a fundamental one – not a small glimmer at all (can we agree on that too? 🙂 )

    As for whether Cesc was challenged and failed, I wouldn’t say he was adequately challenged at all. We should have had either no trade or full market value at once in our coffers.

  • bob

    Sammy the Snake,
    How do you know that RvP’s departure, even with a top-4 finish, is “guaranteed” (your words)? What inside knowledge do you have of this? The implications of that allegation are huge as to what and how we fans are to think. So, if you have something specific on it, please do share it and/or please explain the basis of your “guarantee”?

  • DC

    @bob,
    We’re on a role; our glimmer of agreement is certainly blossoming!
    I agree wholeheartedly on the Fabregas issue! The club (that is the board) should have flat-out refused or held out for Fabregas’ full market value (at least 50 mill) or else! That’s where the Spuds’ board (Daniel Levy in no small measure involved of course) wrt Modric’s summer transfer request showed the way forward when those serial “tapper-uppers”, Chel$ki, were sent packing with their tail between their legs! Our board is absolute s**t!

  • bob

    DC,
    now I buy you that drink. Cheers!

  • DC

    Bob,
    Cheers and let’s hope it’s a celebratory pint after attaining CL football next season!
    Come on you Gunners!

  • Damien Luu

    @Bob: We don’t shout or scream or whine or cry about a move for some “clinical” striker in the x-fer window because we KNOW that it is IMPOSSIBLE. Maybe it is possible for ManC, but NOT for us. You want a striker who can score goals like a machine when he is fielded, even from the bench to substitute RVP? Can you please point out ONE player like that who is available (to buy) in the x-fer window without having to pay what, 50m pounds?

    And what will happen if Arsene decides to pay 50m to buy the player you want? How much will his wage is? What will the other players in the team think? “Oh boy, his wage is five times mine! No, I won’t sign any other contract unless my wage is double.” Theo Walcott: “Sh*t! Now there will be no chance for me to play in the middle like I wish. I have to find another club maybe.” Every other strikers – all of them are GOOD in my opinion: “Great! Now there will be NO CHANCE for me anymore. I have to go or can I accept to be a fringe player forever?”

    Just like that. Besides, no 50m player want to be the substitute for RVP in the first place. Like I said, even in the Football Manager video games where I can easily win 5 or 6 trophies per season, THIS IS VERY DIFFICULT. In the real life? IMPOSSIBLE.