Bolton 2 (Taylor 14, 43) Arsenal 3 (Gallas 62, Van Persie pen 68, Samuel og 90)
(Diaby sent off 31)
A game of two halves is one of the most overused cliches in football, but rarely will a game have been more accurately described by the phrase than this one. It was a game of polar opposites, in terms of the performance from the players and assessment of the fans. At half time, the league title was over, Wenger was being heavily criticised, and the team were falling into the Bolton trap all over again. An hour later, the team had their first domestic win in ages, momentum had returned and the players had shown astonishing resilience in the face of extreme odds.
It started well enough, and the first fifteen minutes could’ve seen the game put to bed. But then with their first attack, Bolton scored, and it was an admittedly excellent move, Steinsson whipping in an superb cross and Taylor rising to head home from six yards. Culpability for the goal falls squaring on Toure’s shoulders for allowing Taylor far too much space.
A goal down soon became a man down when Diaby went in with studs showing and caught Steinsson’s standing foot dangerously. The red card was as inevitable as it was absolutely correct – Diaby will remember having his ankle shattered in an equally poor challenge a couple of years ago, although on that occasion there was intent from Dan Smith, and shouldn’t be going in like that. It was an appalling challenge and he had to go.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, luck was out before half time when Taylor’s shot deflected off Gallas and went in, doubling Bolton’s lead. Although the goal was fortunate, the way Gallas turned his back was extremely poor to say the least. The block should’ve been made.
Flamini missed a good chance before the break, but we went in two goals down, a man down, and staring down the barrel of another terrible day at the Reebok. Fans were angry, the players looked dispirited, and thoughts were already turning to the Champions League.
It could’ve got worse before it improved, Almunia making an excellent save from a close range header which would’ve killed the game. And then the dynamic changed – Adebayor and Walcott came on, and Bolton seemed to panic. Campo made a mess of a clearing header from a corner, and then ball feel invitingly for Gallas to sidefoot home. Say what you like about the captain, but he has come up with a few crucial goals this season and with that act swung the momentum back in our favour.
Bolton wilted, a sign of their fragile mental state, and six minutes later, the game was level, Van Persie smashing home a penalty after Hleb had been felled. After that, there could only be one winner, it was just a case of whether the goal would come. Van Persie missed a couple of glorious chances, one brilliantly set up by the improving Walcott, but the match headed towards a draw.
At that point, I was preparing to write a piece on the sequence of luck, both good and bad, that teams get, and hope that at least we’d get some fortune against Liverpool in the Champions League. But the luck came early, in stoppage time when Hleb’s cutback found Fabregas, and his shot took two deflections on its way into the net.
It was one of those magical moments you get in football sometimes, when you realise that you’ve just witnessed a slice of action you’ll remember for a long time. The fact that it was Bolton, it was raining and miserable, the sort of conditions the team supposedly struggles in, made it all the sweeter that against all the odds the comeback was achieved.
Moments later the day got worse for Bolton. They had been looking at escaping from the drop zone, but thirty seconds after Cesc’s goal, Sunderland scored a winner to leave them four points from safety. I doubt you’ll find an Arsenal fan that bemoans their now likely drop to the Championship.
Fabregas himself has been talking recently about how he believes the critics are enjoying knocking the team down:
“I feel every time we lose or we don’t play well it’s like everybody’s happy”
Imagine his delight after a half time break where the knives were being sharpened for the morning papers, that it was he (after actually playing quite poorly throughout) who stopped the pens in their tracks.
Wenger has been claiming for some time that this team has mental toughness. While it doesn’t look like it’ll be enough to win the league, as United’s form has now become ominous, he is right. Out of form teams do not stage those kind of comebacks without it.
Now for Liverpool.