There was a point during last night’s Carling Cup 4th round at the Emirates, where i was overcome by a wave of nostalgia. Arsenal were drawing 1-1 after much ineffectual huffing and puffing against a resolute and surprisingly strong Bolton side, I was in the front row of the North Bank, freezing cold and getting rained on, having paid a tenner to get in, the crowd were loud and boisterous, and it suddenly seemed like the end of the 80s again. Then South Korean captain Park Chu-Young scored a brilliant curling finish after a strong run from the Russian captain Arshavin and two separate groups of Koreans behind me went absolutely mental…this somewhat shattered my wistful harking back to Martin Hayes and Kevin Richardson, but in a good way. Just how much things have changed was echoed even further by the introduction of Ryo Miyaichi, and the general adoration that followed despite it being only the second game the youngster has played for the club. It was as if the boy from Japan has been given the same affection as if he was born within spitting distance from the ground. One great run, some good closing down and a goal saving tackle on Gary Cahill was a decent fifteen minutes work.
Overall, the game itself was not the most engaging, particularly for the ten minutes either side of half time, where the two teams and their ball-winning midfielders and experienced defenders were rather canceling each other out. The most spectacular thing on display were raindrops caught in the floodlights, as pointed out by my photographic companion for the evening. That said, Park was busy and had a couple of good shots, one very well saved, and Bolton were certainly not without threat. The qualities of both would become more evident in the last half-hour.
Bolton took the lead as a result of Arsenal’s naivety in midfield, and Bolton’s superior strength and purpose. Not for the first time, ex Arsenal youth teamer Fabrice Muamba won the ball in an advance position before playing a one-two with Tuncay and smacking the ball into the roof of the net from 15 yards. Frimpong, who would have tracked his run, was still picking himself off the floor after the initial tackle.
The key man in the contest, however was Arshavin. After an anonymous first half of giving the ball away, and being towered over by the frankly massive bolton side, he took matters into his own hands after the visitors’ goal. Having swapped with Benayoun, in his favoured ‘numero dix’ position he took over the game with incisive running and passing. A wonderfully taken first goal; a low drilled shot into the bottom corner from a tight-ish angle despite the presence of two defenders between him and the goalkeeper, which took everyone by surprise. For the next ten minutes he terrified Bolton with his directness, including the run and pass setting up Park’s fine finish.
The key, apart from the Russian’s technical ability, was the tactical re-shuffle and the work-rate and running of Park. Arshavin started picking up the ball in the position between Bolton’s midfield and defense, allowing him space to turn and run at the back four. This space was expanded by Park’s willingness to run the channels, and keep the width in Bolton’s backline. It was very reminiscent of a lightweight Henry and Bergkamp combination, particularly the winning goal. Indeed, the Carling cup formation this year seems to be a hybrid between the current 4231 and the 442 of the invincibles team. I personally would be happy to see more of that.
Aside from the big guns, there were decent contributions at full back by our two out of position youngsters. The debutant Yennaris was tenacious despite giving up several inches to his direct opponent, and Miquel on the left continues to show great touch on the ball for a defender, although he struggled with Kakuta’s quick feet at times. Vermaelen was unsurprisingly dominant at the back on his return from injury, and Squillachi was fairly solid despite a cheap booking. Frimpong and Coquelin struggled against the similar in style but significantly larger and more experienced Pratley and Muamba, and ‘The Ox’ struggled on the right, both with his decision making and the intensity of the game in general. Benayoun was much the same as ever; busy, tidy but not particularly incisive (much like Rosicky), and Fabianski in goal made some good saves but nearly let in a howler from range. All in all, a decent performance and result, with positive signs for the depth of the squad.
Here is a decent link for the goals last night: http://football-talk.co.uk/45612/45612goals-arsenal-2-1-bolton-watch-as-arshavin-park-win-it-for-gunners/