The Return of the Gunners

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ArsenalThe match between Arsenal and Bolton could be described in one simple word- Stunning. It was filled with screams of delight and anguish; a roller coaster ride of emotions and amazing football skill. After a disappointing string of results in the English Premier League for the past two months, a troubled Arsène Wenger and the Arsenal Captain, William Gallas, looked to salvage some pride and gain some confidence back as they look ahead into the Champions League. The team in the previous game against Chelsea looked low on confidence and were desperately searching for leadership on the field. Critics have started calling Wenger uninspired and mundane.

Currently at the third spot, Arsenal did not want to plummet down to fourth. The nightmares of the previous season were haunting each and every of this North London club. The Gunners have been more than accommodating visitors for the past four seasons- by never winning at the Reebok; the record was discouraging. In this fixture, Wenger made bold moves and tried to modify the attack and strategy by making radical changes in the line up. The Arsenal team management rested their star and out of form forward Emanuel Adebayor and fielded Bendtner in the starting line up, Adebayor after having a great start to the season had fallen away and unable to complete any passes. Bendtner has been having a marginally better time in the last few months. Robin Van Persie was the other forward- coming after a long lay off; the forward is getting stronger with each passing match. Senderos took up as center-back for the injured Sagna. Sagna was the sole goal scorer against Chelsea last week.

Bolton, on the other hand, were in danger of being relegated, with just one point from safety, they needed to exploit the bad form of the Gunners to squeeze out a draw and get themselves closer from being pushed down to the first division. The wanderers had come out looking for a fight! If the statistics were looked at, in the first half, the ball was controlled by Arsenal 80 per cent of the time, out playing Bolton in almost every section of the game. But statistics can be misleading. El Hadji Diouf fed Steinsson on the right, who put in a cross to the near post where Taylor stole a header, a typical Arsenal error. Arsenal had been caught on the wrong foot. Taylor pushed another one in after it took a deflection from William Gallas’s knee and Bolton had scored two pushing Arsenal on the mat. Struggling and trying to take the game in a friendlier direction Arsenal suffered another huge setback- a 31st minute red card to Abou Diaby for an ugly challenge sent Arsenal reeling. Nothing short of a miracle could save Arsenal. Arsenal came out itching to hit back and find some form; they had their work cut out for them. Second half Bolton was firmly on the defense- soaking up the pressure and resisting the attack by Arsenal by Fabregas and Van Persie.

Like many a games before this, Arsenal was playing catch up. Reduced to ten men, Arsenal was struggling and another disappointing defeat was looming on the horizon. The clock had ticked down to one hour, Arsenal brought out the very talented Walcott and Adebayor in place of Senderos and the very unlucky Bendtner. Bendtner had had scoring opportunities but none of them came off. And much to the dismay of many fans, an obvious foul was un-allowed. The attack was mounted with Adebayor’s skill and the incredible pace of young Theo Walcott. This is when Van Persie won Arsenal a corner. Fabregas took the corner curving one artistically towards Gallas, who rallied it into the far corner opening the account. Arsenal continued the battle, Bolton had stopped attacking, Bolton were looking nervous, the presence of Adebayor, Walcott, Van Persie and Fabregas were making up for the fact that Arsenal were playing a man short.The equalizer came off when Adebayor passed one to Flammini and Al Habsi made a fine save. However the ball fell loose, Hleb beat Cahill to it and the Belarus man tumbled over the Bolton defender’s challenge. Van Persie converted from the spot- his first goal since late October explaining why he warrants a place in the line up.

Arsenal had equalized and things were looking better, Wenger looked happier, there was an obvious urgency in the Gunners style. The attack had a sting to it, the passes were coming off better and the team looked formidable.The match felt like heading to another very familiar draw but that is when in the closing moments of the game the winning goal came off, Hleb passed one to the Fabregas, the champion playmaker put on towards the net, which got then came off another defender and passed on as an own goal. The seconds ticked down and time ran out for Bolton sealing this one for Arsenal. After being two goals and a man down the Gunners had pulled it off- a sparkling victory which will put Arsenal back onto the right track.This ended a six-game winless streak and kept Wenger’s side on the heels of Manchester United and Chelsea at the top of the table.This victory took a long time coming but Arsenal might take inspiration from this famous win and head back to Emirates stadium where Liverpool lies in wait.

Patanjali Pahwa

[image courtesy: http://soccernet-att.espn.go.com/design05/DJ/20070214/arse_lg.jpg]

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