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Posted: 02/02/2012
By Michael Strevens
Category: Match Reports

Bolton Wanderers 0-0 Arsenal: still no win in 2012

Team: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Song, Arteta, Ramsey (Rosicky), Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Henry), van Persie

The Short Report

A frustrating stalemate at the Reebok sees us lose further ground in our battle for a Champions League place. We should have had the game wrapped up in the first half-hour, but Bolton denied us and gave us a few scares along the way.

The AL Report

As I left the stadium on Sunday, I managed to convince myself that we had just witnessed a turning point. The players had stared into the abyss at half-time, but they came out determined to put things right and in a devastating seven minute spell, they did just that. Surely a result and performance like that would restore some self-belief and give us a bit of momentum to take back into league? Chelsea’s draw on Tuesday as well as the return of Bacary Sagna and Mikel Arteta made me feel even more optimistic before kick-off.

Once again, I’d made the mistake of letting my expectations get the better of me. As we toiled against a struggling Bolton side, I began to wonder if the hangover we have endured since our last league win on New Year’s Eve would ever wear off.

Last night’s game seemed to sum up our fortunes since the start of the season: on the verge of triumph one minute and teetering on the brink of disaster the next.

We made a bright start and had plenty of chances in the first half.  The first fell to Per Mertesacker, who saw his header from Thomas Vermaelen’s cross headed off the line. Then Aaron Ramsey was put through brilliantly by Robin van Persie, but he stretched to shoot when he had time to take a touch. Van Persie was the provider again two minutes later, slaloming in the box and teeing up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The youngster’s sliding shot fizzed past the post.

Whilst we were enjoying the bulk of possession in the early stages, Bolton always looked threatening on the break. Laurent Koscielny was finding David Ngog a handful and was outmuscled as his compatriot forced Wojciech Szczesny into a fine save. Ngog then wasted a glorious opportunity to put the home side in front when he chested down David Wheater’s flick and slotted wide with the goal at his mercy.

The closest we came to scoring was when Oxlade-Chamberlain split the Wanderers’ defence with a sublime pass to Theo Walcott. With only the keeper to beat, Walcott  fluffed his lines yet again and hit it straight at Adam Bogdan. Bolton finished the half stronger as we were frustrated by a Mark Davies dive that conned the referee into booking Vermaelen.

The second half began slowly, but was livened up some eccentric keeping from Szczesny, performing one his trademark Cryuff turns in the box. He very nearly came unstuck this time and was forced into making a last ditch clearance. Whilst his confidence is his biggest asset, there are times when you feel it will cost us dearly.

On the hour mark, Robin van Persie was desperately unlucky not to give us the lead, as he turned in Bacary Sagna’s excellent cross against the post. A minute later, the lively Oxlade-Chamberlain stung Bogdan’s fingertips with a rasping effort . It was his last major contribution before being replaced by Thierry Henry, who was unable to make much of an impact at all in his 22 minutes on the pitch.

With ten minutes to go, the skipper produced another moment of breathtaking quality that should have been rewarded with a goal. Picking the ball up on the edge of the box, he completely bamboozled Sam Ricketts before sending an exquisite chip into the top left-hand corner. Sadly, it cannoned off the bar denying RVP what would have been a Bergkamp-esque strike to overtake his fellow Dutchman and move into 9th position in our list of all-time scorers.

For their part, Bolton kept the pressure up by winning a succession of corners and they felt aggrieved not to be given a penalty when Szczesny brought down Davies. In the end, both teams had to settle for a result that did neither any favours. The search for our first league win of 2012 continues.

Man of the Match

On another night, Robin van Persie would have finished with a brace and two assists. When his chip came off the crossbar, it not only denied us the win, but a dead cert for goal of the season. If only the words to his song were true.

Player Focus

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is doing everything he can to give the boss a headache when Gervinho returns from the Africa Cup of Nations. At a time we when we’ve looked short of inspiration going forward, he offers us something completely different. Last night he caught the eye once more with some superb runs, powerful shots and an excellent pass to Walcott in the first half. His emergence has been a silver lining to the black cloud we’ve been living under over the last month.

Moan of the Match

Thomas Vermaelen was understandably livid after being shown a yellow card for brushing past Mark Davies in the first half. Davies threw himself to the ground and completely suckered Chris Foy into reaching for his pocket. If one of our players did that, you can guarantee we’d be reading about it for days.

The Final Word

To end on a positive, this season eerily resembles what happened in 2005/06. In the summer, we had sold our captain and star midfielder. We failed to adequately replace him and developed a worrying over-reliance on the goals supplied by the new skipper.  By February, we were way off the pace in the league and didn’t look like finishing in top four, but a great run in Europe lifted the gloom and we managed to qualify again for the Champions League by the skin of our teeth. So although everything looks grim now, my advice would be to book your flights to Munich!

Next up: Surely the barren run will end with the visit of Blackburn at the weekend?

Follow me on Twitter: @Mike_N5

 

Category

2011-12 | Match Reports

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