Arsenal 4 (Koscielny 24, Chamakh 58, Song 78, Vela 83) Bolton 1 (Elmander 44)
It had all the makings of a game we would have previously let slip – a physical side unafraid to put in a series of wild challenges, a hatful of missed sitters, and a sloppy defensive moment gifting them a goal. So often when those events have been combined in the past few years, they come accompanied by the bemoaning of points dropped. Not this time.
Arshavin had one of those days where he could have played until midnight and not scored, despite glorious chances being presented to him by Rosicky and Cesc. At the other end, Koscielny’s weak back header allowed Lee to cross for Elmander to score in the closing moments of the first half. Sound familiar? No matter – a sparkling display going forward ensured that we got the goals needed to render the details irrelevant, at least for today.
Koscielny may have been at fault for the Bolton goal, but it was he who opened the scoring after good work from Wilshere and a cut back from Cesc that may have been unintentional. And having missed some glorious opportunities to finish the game before half time, the attitude after the break was spot on – the chances continued to flow and eventually Bolton were made to pay.
Chamakh’s towering header seconds after missing another one-on-one put us back in command, before Gary Cahill was sent off for a tackle from behind on the same man – more on that in a moment. The red card ended the contest, and it was no surprise when the gap widened, first via a glorious chip from Alex Song, and then with a sumptuous finish from Vela after a dizzying spell of passing. By full time, Bolton had been comprehensively put in their place.
From their point of view, the main talking point was Cahill’s dismissal. Moments before, Song had clearly committed a foul (a simple trip), but that does not excuse any kind of revenge tackle, and Cahill’s lunge was careless at best, and reckless in the mind of the referee. And for all Bolton’s complaints, Cahill came through the back of Chamakh, which has been a red card offence for some years now.
Match of the Day, typically, sympathised with the defender, with Lee Dixon comparing it to a challenge by Coloccini in the Newcastle-Blackpool game, which earned a yellow. Dixon called for consistency amongst referees, but in doing so missed the point entirely – Coloccini’s foul came from a mistimed tackle from the side, not from behind. I like Dixon as a pundit, but he loses all right to call for consistency when analysing two entirely different events.
That isn’t to say the referee got things right on the day – in my view the Cahill red was about his high point. It is always a good indicator of how bad an official’s display has been when both sets of fans come away angry with him. Bolton debated the red, and also pointed to Gibbs, who could have picked up a late second yellow. Meanwhile, we were denied at least one stonewall penalty, and watched as Davies and Robinson committed horrible challenges and stayed on the pitch.
We’ve known about Davies for years, and he could have gone early in the first half for two agricultural challenges, picking up only a single booking. But in the second he charged at Koscielny, eyes on the man, in an ugly challenge that should have been his last act in the game. Atwell erred on the side of leniency.
He then did the same when Robinson put in a leg breaking challenge on Diaby. The pictures of the incident are sickening – it was a full-blooded, studs-up horror tackle at shin height. Atwell’s response? Throw in.
The young referee has been fast-tracked to the Premiership, which is a scheme that works well in many sports. But the difference is that in other sports, officials who rise in this way can be demoted again if they turn out to be a bit rubbish. Plenty are fast-tracked, only a few remain after their trial periods. It seems the FA are taking a different approach – throw him in the deep end, and ignore awful performance after awful performance. He isn’t cutting it – get him out of there.
In a way, I feel sorry for him – it isn’t his fault that he’s out of his depth. I prefer to direct my ire elsewhere, once again at Match of the Day, who decided that leg breaking challenges aren’t worthy of time on their highlights reel. There isn’t even a mention of it on the BBC match report.
In fact, that match report seems exceptionally defender-friendly, particular when mentioning that Cahill’s red was ‘only the second sending off of his career’. Since when has it been impressive that a 24 year old only has two dismissals to his name?
The ever-excellent Three and In critiques Match of the Day here. Definitely worth a read.
Overall, however, we should be delighted. Our opening fixtures have been exceptionally awkward, and we’ve dealt them very well. Chelsea might be rampant, but they haven’t been challenged yet and we’re hot on their heels. You can debate all you want about our ability to maintain the challenge, but it cannot be denied that we’ve started well.
So forgot Bolton, Robinson, Davies, crap referees and blinkered pundits. We’re doing just fine.