Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bolton 2 - Arsenal 3 (Gallas 61', van Persie 67', Fabregas 90')

Against all odds - and circumstances

What a game at the Reebok yesterday!... In the most difficult of circumstances (the Reebok itself, torrential rain, being 2-0 down after 30 minutes of play and down to 10 men after Diaby's well-deserved red card) Arsene's kids found the resources to rise from their own (rain-soaked) ashes and produce an improbable, but well-deserved result.

In all fairness, the first hour of the encounter was at best forgettable - and at worst, most frustrating and dispiriting, the few positives (van Persie finally getting proper service from the midfield) easily outweighed by obvious negatives (van Persie wasting proper service from the midfield) Thoroughly dominated on the ground and in the air, we were a bit fortunate to get through the 60 minutes only 2-0 down.

It was after the crunch-time substitutions (Adebayor for Bendtner and Walcott for Senderos) in the 60th minute that our game started to show any hint of coordination - and fortunately, this was soon rewarded with a most timely goal from Gallas, who slipped behind Bolton's far post coverage and slotted home unattended from Fabregas's corner kick.

The dynamics of the game changed for good, and we looked like a team reborn. Five minutes later, we were level, van Persie converting a penalty kick earned by Hleb after a nice combination between Flamini and Adebayor.

At this point, Bolton started throwing players forward (their efforts handled dutifully by a suddenly confident Clichy-Gallas-Toure back line) and even though you could see the inevitable third goal coming, it was not to happen until injury time. Hleb found space on the left, ran inside the box and found Fabregas with a perfectly weighted pass. Cesc took an unconvincing shot, but a couple of deflections saw it end up in the back of the net. And that was it: the most improbable of goals to seal the most improbable of victories.

So what does this mean, realistically? Even though the title seems out of reach (with United looking incapable of dropping points at the moment) the effect on the team's morale is hard to underestimate - and it will hopefully carry over to Wednesday's game.

...To the ratings:

Almunia - 6. A sub-par performance from our unconstested first keeper. Under a lot of pressure during the first 60 minutes fo the game, he seemed too often nervous and unsure of himself. truth be told, his incredible save from the Bolton corner kick in the 54th minute saved he game (and, as it was, the points) for us.
Toure - 7. A more than pleasant surprise on the right flank - more than willing to run into the strangely wide spaces that he was afforded - and used efficiently. His crossing could use some work - particularly since he is the likely de facto right back for the remainder of the season.
Gallas - 7. Proved that he is at his most effective when he leads by example (vs. pre-game pre-game made-for-Sky in-the-huddle motivational speeches. His first goal - and his relentless surges up front - carried the torch of this most memorable comeback.
Senderos - 7. Solid, I thought. Still a bit to easy to shake off the ball at times, but overall a very solid defensive performance.
Clichy - 8. Man of the match for me. In the absence of any defensive help from Diaby (while on the field), van Persie and Hleb, controlled the defensive left side and managed to carefully time and weigh his frequent runs on the wing. Defensively impenetrable during the team's late run. A superb individual show.
Diaby - 4. And even a 4 may be too much for a player who - with every lazy and uninspiring appearance - is becoming more of a liability than an asset to this squad. He doesn't cover defensively, he keeps the ball too long, his passing is often erratic - and his judgment lapses are staggering. A well-deserved red card for a truly reckless challenge.
Hleb - 6. Somewhat more effective than in the previous games. Had a hand (a foot, actually) in both the second and the third goal. The crispness of his passes was good, but their effectiveness lacked yet again. A good effort, but once again he seemed more than eager to drift inside and let Toure fill the space on the right.
Fabregas - 6. Game in and game out, his demeanor projects the mood of the entire team, who - for better or worse - takes its attitude cues from him. This time, he covered the entire despair-to-ecstasy range - and his game followed.
Flamini - 6. Rather anonymous. To make a difference, he must bring more than just tirelesness - once again, his decision-making has left a lot to be desired.
Bendtner - 5. Equally impotent offensively, with or without van Persie's support.
(Adebayor - 5) His introduction was partly responsible for the late turnaround. He added movement and creativity that was sorely lacking until his - and Walcott's - introduction.
van Persie - 6. His movement - on and off the ball - is regaining its smooth and unpredictable flow. His "finishing touch", however, is not quite back - yet. (the Liverpool triple-header is, however, the best opportunity to find it)
(Walcott - 7) His speed made a tremendous impact - he looked dangerous and full of ideas from the moment he came on and threw the Bolton defense off-balance with every touch of the ball. He should get the start on Wednesday on the right side - he has earned it.

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