Weekend Roundup: Bolton Don't Get Our Best, But We Get The Best Of Bolton

Hello again, mon Arsamis, welcome back after a long weekend (at least for those of you reading in America). As it turned out, it was a nice weekend for the football, and while not all the results could obviously go my way, I can't help but feel positive at the way things shook out.

Arsenal visited Bolton for the first of a home-and-away set with the Wanderers/Trotters/Wandertrotters, with new manager Owen Coyle in charge for the first time. Never an easy task, especially with points as crucial as they are, and with Chelsea and United breezing to three more points apiece. One would have to assume that Bolton would come out and perhaps try to play a little more football considering the way Coyle's Burnley side really took it to us at Turf Moor a few weeks back. Unfortunately, it looked as though even a new manager can't teach an old dirty bastard new tricks.

Bolton from the start showed that theirs is a lineup that was assembled largely to ensure that they would kick opponents as often as they would the ball, so from that perspective, not much had changed. If anything, they played their game with more ferocity than a relegation-threatened side would be expected to, although I put that down mostly to players attempting to impress the new man in charge. Interestingly, and not coincidentally I might add, most of the rough treatment was reserved for Cesc Fabregas. This would probably be the case whether it was Coyle or Gary Megson in charge (especially seeing as Kevin Davies openly admitted that he encouraged Jlloyd Samuel to kick Walcott prior to a match last season), but one has to wonder if it's a case of the manager turning a blind eye or actively instructing his squad to do so. If it's the former, it's irresponsible and tacitly encouraging dangerous behavior; if it's the latter, it's reprehensible and has no place in the sport. Commentors (such as the team on Sunday's match) love to point out that Arsenal have had a rough time taking points from the Reebok in the past because we "don't like the physical side" of the game, which is utter bullshit. It's just that we're a football club not a pack of shitkickers, and it's very difficult to play the game when your opponent is as focused on breaking your ankle as he is on winning the ball.

We were extremely lucky when Klasnic was ruled offside as he put a ball past Almunia in the opening minutes, but just as unlucky to be denied clear penalties (and Bolton lucky to keep eleven men on the pitch) in the first half. Cesc was quite obviously tripped in the box by Jaaskelainen, who didn't even touch the ball, which is as stonewall a penalty as you're likely to see. A bit later, El Capitan Catalan Fantastico appeared to be tripped in the box, after which the Thug-Of-The-Week Taylor decided to put his knee on the back of the prone Fabregas' neck, kick him in the head a few times as he tried to get up, and then pull his hair like a little nancy girl. What kind of "hard-man" pulls hair? Seriously! I was far less outraged at the lack of a penalty call than by the lack of action taken by referee Phil Dowd on Taylor. What he did was completely out of order and has no place in football, even for a "physical" (read: untalented) side like Bolton.

The breakthrough finally came after Diaby slalomed to the box and his pass saw some neat interplay between Eduardo and Fabregas, the captain neatly finishing across Jaaskelainen into the bottom-left corner. Bolton had a few chances in the first half themselves, plenty of them created by another nightmare game from Armand Traore, who seems to have regressed during his spell deputizing at left back. Youngster Craig Eastmond in his first Premier League start in the Song role, looked capable enough in breaking up attacks, but when pressed developed an alarming tendency to give the ball to the opposition. In spite of this (and with a few near misses for Arshavin and Cesc), at halftime Arsenal held a 1-0 lead over the hosts.

The second half saw a few changes, Arsene taking off the ineffective Eastmond and bringing on Fran Merida (possibly in response to his call for more first-team time) and shifting Diaby back into the holding role. Merida did not disappoint, having probably his best appearance for the Arsenal first team outside of the Carling Cup. the youngster also ended up securing the points when he finished off a deflected Eduardo cross neatly to make it 2-0, which is how it finished. Bolton had quite a few chances and forced a still skittish Almunia into a number of saves, and on a couple of occasions really were let down by their finishing and composure, although at least they did less obvious fouling-with-intent-to-injure. Luckily they seemed to be able to sustain attacks a bit better when actually playing football, which would bode well for the future of the club as an actual footballing side.

Arsenal were not at their best on Sunday, but were able to grind out a crucial win that will keep us very much in the title race, just three points back of leaders Chelsea. A win in the home leg against Bolton would put us top of the table for the first time, I believe, since our 6-1 win over Everton on Match Day One: The Quickening. Anything but three points on Wednesday would have to be viewed as a bit of a failure, but when you're in the thick of a title challenge, every match, every point, is critical.

I've got nothing in the way of a preview, seeing as we're playing exactly the same team. The only difference is the return of Denilson from injury. Apparently Theo is also well enough to play again, but until he puts in a run of 10+ matches without another injury, I find it hard to count him as a member of the squad. Apparently he's got "dodgy shoulders," which would be one thing, but he constantly seems to pick up knocks to his legs, so I fail to see the relation between the two. It's not exactly as though you can compensate for your shoulders by using your legs, is it? Theo, time to step up and prove you can take the "physical nature of the English game." Apart from that, we're looking at the same squad, although I would expect Gael Clichy to start rather than come on as a second half sub, and Denilson will likely play the holding midfield role. I'd like to see Fabianski get a shot in goal, but I'm not holding my breath on that.

I'll have more on Friday for the Weekend Preview. Fingers crossed we'll be top of the league by then. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!

Until then my brothers and sisters in Arsenal, you stay classy.

- B, a Gooner.