Arsenal 3-0 Bolton Wanderers: Rocket Robin gets his century
Team: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Song, Arteta (Rosicky), Ramsey, Walcott, van Persie (Chamakh) , Gervinho (Arshavin)
The Short Report
Robin van Persie reached a centrury of Arsenal goals as we secured an emphatic win against 10-man Bolton. A dull first-half was soon forgotten as the captain scored straight after the break, before reaching his milestone. Alex Song secured the points with a sublime late strike.
The AL Report
If it seems like a long time since we won a league game this comfortably, that’s because it is. You have to go all the way back to 22nd January when we beat Wigan 3-0 at home thanks to a Robin van Persie hat-trick. Fast-forward 246 days and Robin was at it again. A magnificent brace, which included his 100th goal for the club contributed to a morale-boosting win that sees us climb five places up to the table to 12th.
Bolton, themselves struggling at the foot of the table made life difficult for us in the first half, but it was a comfortable victory in the end, with the visitors unable to compete after David Wheater saw red.
The boss made two changes from the Blackburn defeat. Kieran Gibbs, fresh from scoring his first Arsenal goal in midweek, came back in for Andre Santos, whilst Theo Walcott replaced Andrey Arshavin.
Billed by some of the mocking media as a ‘relegation six-pointer’, the first half was as dire as any basement battle and we began in the sluggish fashion we’ve become accustomed to in recent months. We would have gone behind in the first two minutes had Wojciech Szczesny not made an eye-catching save from Darren Pratley. The Bolton forward, who had a brief spell with us as a schoolboy, steered Wheater’s header towards goal only to see his effort palmed away brilliantly by Szczesny. It was yet another moment of quality from the Pole. Imagine how worse our situation could be without him?
On six minutes, Gervinho found himself through on goal but his touch deserted him, enabling Jussi Jaaskelainen to see off the danger. Van Persie went close from a free-kick moments later, but his shot fizzed wide of the post.
The visitors suffered a blow midway through the half, when former Liverpool striker David Ngog picked up an injury and made way for our old nemesis Kevin Davies, who had been left sharpening his elbows on the bench. He has been a considerable pain in the backside over the years, but he had a quiet game as we didn’t concede enough free kicks in dangerous areas for him to provide a threat.
We struggled to find our rhythm but started showing some urgency as the half-time loomed. Theo Walcott, probably our biggest threat going forward, had a shot that deflected towards Laurent Koscielny who produced a classic centre-half’s finish and sent it high into the stands. When Mark Clattenburg blew the whistle, it was met by only a few groans in the crowd, who by now were more apathetic than angry at seeing another limp display.
I trudged back to my seat, stealing myself for more of the same, but barely had time to warm it as we scored just 40 seconds after the restart. Aaron Ramsey burst forward, leaving several Bolton players in his wake. His pass found van Persie, who pulled wide, before beating Jaaskelainen at his near post. It was a superb finish from a tight angle – reminiscent in many ways of his magnificent strike against Barcelona.
It’s amazing what a goal can do. All of a sudden, we looked confident, incisive and a million miles away from the team that sleepwalked through the first 45 minutes. Robin could have scored again after being put through by Walcott, but this time Jaaskelainen was equal to it.
On 55 minutes later came the moment that definitively swung the game in our favour. Walcott, set free by Ramsey through the middle, was brought down by Wheater on the edge of the box. There were few arguments as he was shown a straight red by Clattenburg. Van Persie hit the resulting free-kick straight at the keeper, but he wouldn’t have to wait too much longer before completing a century of Arsenal goals.
Mikel Arteta and Bacary Sagna went close before Bolton gave us a scare on the counter-attack. Chris Eagles was sent clean through on goal by Martin Petrov, but his shot was easily saved by Szczesny.
On 72 minutes came the moment we had all been waiting for. Walcott found space on the right and drove forward, sending in a delicious cross for Van Persie to put away from close range. It was the most delicate of finishes to bring up a landmark that would certainly have arrived much sooner had he enjoyed better luck with injuries over the years.
Walcott had two clear-cut chances to kill the game off, but in the end it was Alex Song who put the icing on the cake. Picking up Sagna’s pass on the edge of the box, he shimmied before firing in a beautiful curler to make it 3-0 and confirm our second win of the season. A sense of humour has been in short supply during our struggles, but the crowd greeted the victory with chants of ‘We are staying up, we are staying up!’
Next up: We are back in European action on Wednesday night, taking on Greek Champions Olympiakos. Will we be able to play well in both halves this time?
Man of the Match
Robin van Persie shattered Bolton’s resistance immediately after the break and added another to reach a well-deserved milestone. Afterwards, Arsene Wenger said that he was given such a warm ovation because the crowd knew that he ‘carries Arsenal in his heart’. This is true, but the club have also shown a lot of loyalty to him over the years and it would be nice to see that repaid by seeing his signature on a new contract before the end of the season.
Theo Walcott had a mixed afternoon. Before the game, he talked once more about how he feels much more suited to a central attacking role. Yet once again, he showed why the boss has been reluctant to deploy him there. He was dangerous on the wings throughout and brilliantly set up van Persie’s second goal, but finding himself through the middle with only the keeper to beat, he fluffed his lines. Moments later he had another clear view on goal and sliced wide. In stoppage time, he pulled up with a knee strain to ensure his afternoon finished on a sour note.
Moan of the Match
An unsavoury incident in the second half came about after Bolton repelled an attack from us to break quickly. In doing so, Paul Robinson picked up a knock, and lay down injured. Sensing a chance to hit us on the break, they steamed forward with Martin Petrov sending Chris Eagles through on goal. When Eagles’ effort was saved, they suddenly decided that we should kick the ball out so Robinson could receive treatment. Zat Knight and van Persie squared up to each other, but t was hardly in the same league as previous clashes between the two sides.
The Final Word
How refreshing it was to enjoy a second half utterly devoid of any tension. Last week, a fine attacking display was cancelled out by atrocious defending. This time we managed to score three without conceding to a Bolton side struggling even more than we are. The first half was limp and lifeless, but van Persie’s early strike and Wheater’s red card made the rest of the afternoon very comfortable indeed.
With no little understatement, Wenger described the result as a “deserved win that is welcome for us because we cannot drop many more points”.
Our next task is to try to secure back-to-back league victories by winning at White Hart Lane next weekend. Before that, we have a potentially tricky encounter with Olympiakos on Wednesday night. They may look like moderate opposition, but we cannot afford to treat them lightly. Progressing from such a tough group is only likely if we win our home games. Whatever happens, the team must not play with one eye on the North London Derby, even if the fans' sights are set firmly on the clash with the old enemy.
Follow me on Twitter: @Mike_N5
2011-12 | Match Reports