Back in London for a conference and I could not miss an opportunity to see Arsenal play Bolton tonight at the Emirates. It might just be me, but there is something special going to a match at night. For some reason the atmosphere is also better under the floodlights. And tonight was no different.
Because it was a Carling Cup tie I was able to walk up to the stadium and buy a ticket. Also, since it was a Carling Cup tie tickets were cheap, especially for kids, and as a result there were a lot of young Gunners fan in attendance.
The positive side of the different crowd, was that the Emirates was a lot louder tonight than it was against Swansea. It was night and day the difference.
Arsenal welcomed back Thomas Vermaelen tonight and Andrey Arshavin played in the number ten role behind Chu-Young Park.
TV settled in brilliantly alongside Squillaci and he makes such a difference at the heart of the Arsenal defence.
Arsenal struggled to have any sustained pressure in the first half, although they did force Bolton’s goalkeeper Bogdan to make three terrific saves while Fabianski made on good save in the first half.
Couple of reasons that Arsenal struggled in the first half was that Park got an introduction to the physical English game as Cahill and Knight mugged him every chance they could. Another reason was that Arsenal’s young fullbacks did not make many overlap runs in the first half, which caused the Arsenal attack to be very one dimensional.
The second half started horribly for the Gunners as Bolton scored after two minutes when Muamba was too strong for Frimpong and then he played a neat one-two with Martin Petrov before putting the ball into the roof of the net.
The goals stunned the Arsenal crowd, and on other nights the Gunners could have collapsed at lost this cup tie. But Andrey Arshavin did not let that happen. He took the Gunners on his back and scored a goal and laid on a goal in a brilliant three minute spell.
Arshavin picked up the ball and ran at the Bolton defence and, as Knight and Davies backed off, smashed a low shot across the face of goal and into the back of the net.
Three minutes later Arshavin was involved again when he took of on another dangerous run before feeding the ball to Park, who opened his body and curled a right-footed shot akin to that of Thierry Henry in his prime.
Long time readers of this blog know I am not a big Arshavin fan, but in the second half he was the difference between winning and losing tonight.
After going 2-1 down Bolton threw everything at Arsenal and Fabianski had to make several good saves to deny them. One save had the Arsenal fans holding their breath as a shot from outside the penalty box went throw his hands but somehow went over the bar.
But as they have done in recent weeks, Arsenal hung on for the win. These close one-goal victories have to be given the team confidence that they can win these close matches.
As for Bolton, they created enough chances to win the match, but they are a team lacking in confidence and that showed. I think they are too good to get relegated this season, but they desperately need a winning streak in order to get some confidence back. If not, it is going to be a long tough season for Bolton fans.