Arsenal 4 (Rosicky 43, Fabregas 52, Vermaelen 65, Arshavin 85) Bolton 2 (Cahill 7, Taylor pen 28)
Say what you like about this Arsenal team, you can’t deny the mental strength. Fighting back from two goals down on a night where all eyes are on you because of a) the lack of games elsewhere and b) the chance to go top of the league, is no mean feat, especially against a side out for revenge after the weekend.
But fight back they did. Admittedly the fightback was a necessary consequence of an awful start – some amateurish defending from Diaby and Clichy ensured that a routine cross was turned into a scramble, Gary Cahill eventually turning Davies’ knock down into the net, before a clumsy challenge from Denilson gifted Bolton a second from the spot. In between, Almunia saved well from Taylor’s free kick, while at the other end Cesc and Arshavin came close.
And then something clicked. We upped the pace, and started to carve out clear chances, the only trouble being the wasteful finishing at the end of it – Eduardo missing a gilt-edged chance while Cesc came even closer, his deflected free kick hitting the bar. You sensed a goal would set the second half up perfectly, and it duly arrived when Rosicky hammered home a near post effort that took Jaaskelainen by surprise. Game on.
The second half was what this Arsenal team is all about. Comebacks against Liege, Liverpool and West Ham have instilled a belief in the side that previously lost causes are points to be earned, matches to be won, and messages to be sent to rivals. We no longer roll over.
That the equaliser came was no surprise, that it was Cesc who scored it – a terrific finish between Jaaskelainen’s legs from a tight angle – even less so. But it is impossible to escape the controversy – Gallas was certainly late on Mark Davies in the build up, a point Bolton fumed about. But the post match condemning has gone too far – it was late, without being malicious. It was certainly not the assault Owen Coyle suggested.
Once the equaliser went in, a winner became almost inevitable, and having been superb in defence again, Vermaelen was the man to get it, letting the ball come across him before lashing it in off the post with his left foot. It was the finish of an accomplished striker.
It also won me a few bob – I had rejected my favoured bets of 5+ goals, and Cesc scoring, because the odds were so poor, and plumped for the Belgian to strike at some point. Double delight.
If three points looked a long way away when 2-0 down, ending the night top of the league looked a distant dream. But after a series of mesmerising one touch passes, Arshavin showed strength beyond his physique to muscle his way into the box and fire home. 4-2, top of the league, job done.
The only blot was another injury to Diaby, a cruel blow given how his form has improved over the last month. Finally we are beginning to see the player he can become, so hopefully he won’t be out for too long.
In the meantime, we’ve defied the critics, the pundits, and even ourselves – after the Chelsea defeat I said we were playing like a side destined for third – not quite up there with Chelsea and United, but better than the rest. And here we are, only seven weeks later, top of the league. To be in this position with the injury list we’ve suffered is an astonishing achievement.
We have a tough run of games now, but what better position could we be in?