As an Arsenal fan, my primary focus this weekend was the game against Bolton, though the dubious pleasure of Sports Cafe allowed me to keep and eye on Chelsea vs Swansea and Liverpool vs Wolves, as well as the sensation bombardment that is Sky Sports Soccer Saturday.
First up, I have say I am delighted for Robin Van Persie to get his 99th and 100th goals for the club. A very, very gifted player, whose terrible injuries (mostly sustained in pointless international friendlies) have cost him nearly 3 years of his career, but who keeps coming back better than ever.Testament to his powers of recovery and sheer determination, but his injuries have cost him, and undoubtedly Arsenal, trophies. Over the last 3 years he’s gone from a scorer of great goals to being a great goal scorer, who though less dynamic and explosive is much more consistent these days. His goal scoring record in 2011 is incredible – He is also a strong personality, and a leader within the sqaud and one of the few players with a strong Arsenal identity (The longest serving player after him is Djourou!), so the concerns about whether or not he will sign his new contract are genuine.
As for the game, a couple of spurned opportunities apart, Arsenal seemed stuck in the same malaise of tentativeness that has afflicted them for much of the last 7 months, on and off the field, and it was only following Van Persie’s excellently taken first goal (low and hard past Jaaskelainen right at the near post), that the home side started to settle down and play a more adventurous passing game, aided by Wheater’s red card for the visitors for hauling back Walcott when the striker was about to reach a delicious through ball from the in and out Ramsey. From then on it was only a matter of time before the second goal as muscular but creatively shorn Bolton huffed and puffed. Arsenal’s best goal was Songs late cake-icing, but by then the visitors were exhausted and playing for pride and next week’s places.
All in all, solid for Arsenal, and hopefully a foundation to regain confidence before the away game at White Hart Lane.
One concern from an Arsenal perspective was the late injury to Theo Walcott, who despite being an endlessly frustrating player (as evidenced by his bizzare early shot when clean through yesterday), is slowly developing into a very dangerous player with his improved team contribution. Although he missed 2 good chances, he set up RVP’s second with a lovely off the ball run and well weighted cross (lovely balletic finish by the dutchman), and twice cleanly picked out team mates with lovely dinked crosses. His pace will always create opportunities as long as his team-mates get enough of the ball to find him, and tactically he is very important as he prevents the opposition back line squeezing up so high to press our midfield as no-one will catch him if he’s clear. This obviously gives our ball-players more time, and with Cesc no longer spotting the passes almost preternaturally, the Arsenal midfield need more time. The Guardian seems to think that it’s minor and he’ll be back for Wednesday, but anyone with more than a passing interest in Arsenal will know to take medial diagnosis from the Emirates with a pinch of salt.
Bolton have been hit by injuries to creative players in the squad, but looked woe-fully short of ideas and attacking intent. The vibrancy that Coyle had them playing with last year has vanished after consecutive defeats to the likes of Liverpool, and the two Manchesters, and with Chelsea up next, they will probably remain bottom for another week. With 8 6 footer plus players in the starting 11, they are not short of size, but didn’t have a lot else to offer. Sadly for Coyle, he lacks the spending money to bring in new faces, which makes chairman Phil Gartside’s hardball over Cahill in the summer a little curious.
In other games, Swansea continue to look surprisingly effective going forwards without ever looking likely to win away, but the real talking point was of course Fernando Torres. In terms of striking form he seems to be back, with a fantastically well taken goal and good link up play for Chelsea’s second, following on from his great goal at Old Trafford, but much as in that game, it was the negative side of things that will stick in the mind. For a striker to even attempt that kind of tackle at 2-0 up and cruising was mystifying, as it was uncharacteristically nasty and dangerous, and hard to argue with the red card. I guess, much like the miss at Old Trafford, he is just trying too hard to make up for his awful form last year to justify his price tag and unsettling affect on Drogba to the Chelsea fans, and even now has the look of a man under pressure. Given his inherent quality, I can’t imagine he won’t have won them over by the end of the year, but he needs to give himself a break.
In other games, Man City’s uber-squad rolled on, with their £120m bench changing the game after their £200m+ starting 11 struggled against Everton’s cheap as chips team. In the past 15 months, Man City have spent £140m on players compared to Everton’s £1m, and that ignores their massive splurges prior to that. How the fortunes of these two grand old clubs with great support have reversed in the last 4 or 5 years. Moyes deserves enormous credit as he has kept Everton competing when they have the second lowest net transfer spend in the EPL over the last 5 years or so. (Obviously the lowest is Arsenal, as Wenger keeps being forced into selling his best players).
Elsewhere, Crouch nodded in an equaliser against United’s suspect defense, leading to much whinging from Alex Ferguson about the human stick insect, but the old warhorse admitted a draw was fair. Demba Ba got a hat-trick for surprise high flyers Newcastle after his release clause from West Ham (was very surprised no-one else went in for him as he was the Hammers’ main goal threat last year) to sink Blackburn, Liverpool and Spurs squeaked slightly fortuitous wins against Wolves and Wigan respectively, and West Brom and Fulham crawled their way to 0-0. In Spain Messi got a hat-trick as Barcelona won 5-0 AGAIN….yawn….