Ability, attitude, and luck. That’s the stuff that title winning teams are made of. While Arsenal still have little more than an outside chance at winning the big prize, a defeat today would have surely ended our hopes for the season. A match against a desperate Bolton, played on a cold, wet afternoon, was certainly going to give Arsenal a severe test of their title credentials.
Adebayor was given a break on the bench, and Robin van Persie lined up at the front with Bendtner. The Dane has not proven to be an outright goal scorer, and van Persie is yet to wash off his rust – as was evident when he shot a great chance straight at the keeper. Fabregas produced several hopeless passes on the wet surface, getting his defenders into all sorts of trouble. Diaby on the left was completely ineffectual as expected, thankfully, Clichy was his usual rampaging best. While we managed to start bright, our spark was slowly being doused in the wet waters of the North East.
The stage was set for tragedy, and when Mathew Taylor headed home from a great Bolton move, you had to wonder if this was the end. Our woes were compounded greatly by a moment of sheer stupidity from Diaby, who produced an awful tackle and gave the referee no choice but to send him off.
The Gods were not done teasing us though, as Taylor produced his second brace against us (does that make it a brace of braces?) thanks to a wicked deflection of Gallas. The true culprits though were Clichy and Flamini for getting too cute in a very dangerous area and losing the ball.
Yet another dismal first half ended with Arsenal praying for a miracle. The omens were better as the second half began, bright sunshine peeking through the overcast sky. The Gunners could not find any openings though and soon, the rain had conquered the Reebok once again.
Wenger made his moves, bringing off Bendtner and Senderos and throwing on Adebayor and Walcott. The team slotted into a 3-4-2. It was a bold move, but one that was absolutely necessary.
Bolton are not the team they used to be under Allardyce, and a defensive mishap allowed Gallas to sneak in at the far post and tuck in a neat finish. It was another important contribution from the captain.
Van Persie and Adebayor did not look capable of scoring even with passes delivered on a platter, but still, we pulled a few tricks out of the hat and won a penalty. Ade received a lovely ball played to his feet and he produced a back heel that fell precisely into Flamini’s path. The Frenchman’s shot was blocked but Hleb charged towards the loose ball and just managed to nick in front of the defender, got caught, and went to ground. Up stepped van Persie. Sweetly struck, no problem, 2-2. GAME ON!
Given Bolton’s precarious position, they could not afford to sit back and play for a draw. But time ticked on, and it looked like both teams were in for a major setback, albeit in contrasting contexts. The match spilt into injury time and then came the moment that brought many a red and white roof down. Hleb made a purposeful run into the box and cut back for Fabregas who tried to centre the ball. He failed to find a team mate, which was probably a good thing, given their hapless shooting. Instead, a couple of deflections off Bolton players guided the ball into the back of the net to seal a phenomenal comeback.
It will still require a minor miracle for Arsenal to haul in Manchester United. But for now, the excitement of that win can keep us hoping. A triple serving of Liverpool is up next. Let us make short work of them and keep our machine rolling till the end.