For the first time in a long time, I walked out of the Arsenal stadium yesterday afternoon having thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon’s proceedings. Robin van Persie had completed a century of goals (making sure he took the match ball with him) and, in beating Bolton 3-0, the pressure had been lifted from Arsene Wenger’s shoulders, at least momentarily. Crucially, perhaps the Arsenal fans in the stadium had remembered what it is to support the team. No matter what.
Jo and I set off for North London at around 1pm, getting on the train, I spotted The Sun’s Saturday pull out. I can’t remember the exact wording, but they seemed to be taking great delight in Arsenal’s lowly league position, talking about a relegation dogfight. In September. I said to Jo that I hoped the players and manager had seen this, because it made me feel angry. I’m all for criticism where necessary, but a media in thrall to the big spending Premier League clubs seem to be taking far too much pleasure in Arsenal’s current plight. Perhaps I’m being oversensitive, I don’t know.
Anyway, London Bridge- Charing Cross- Oxford Circus and soon we were on the premises of a certain global burger bar who once paid me £3.25 an hour to work in 100° heat. I’ve had two dreams about this place this week, which is a bit odd. We dashed our meals and then proceeded down Holloway Rd, me with a can of Becks in my hand. We arrived at turnstil N and watched as someone clearly new to the ground put his card in the turnstile reader, got the green light and then pulled the turnstile towards him. Jammed. A bottle of Gaymers and then we took our seats in the Clock End, in time for the pre match video for once. Gets me every time.
Arsene had picked the team most would have predicted (although not me), sticking to the 4-3-3, with Arshavin missing out- presumably he’s being kept back for Olympiakos in midweek. Good to have Sagna back in the team. There was no Gary Cahill for the visitors, which I thought was quite interesting and our old friend Kevin Davies was on the bench. Bolton had the first chance of the match, a foul awarded against Koscielny as he jumped for the ball about 40 yards from our goal. The ball was pumped forward flicked on and Szczesny had to get across and down very quickly to parry Jason Pratley’s volley. That would be the sum total of Bolton’s attacking threat in the first half. Gervinho was played clear on goal, but inexplicably failed, as he ran towards us, to do anything with the ball.
It was tough going out there, with Arsenal looking to work little one twos around the penalty area, but too often being crowded out, or misplacing a pass. Gervinho worked some space around the edge of the penalty area before firing just over, Arteta teed up van Persie from a free kick to curl just wide and Walcott curled wide before half time. Some in the crowd allowed their frustration to get the better of them and booed as the half time whistle went, but the majority of the crowd had stayed with Arsenal. They would be swiftly rewarded.
As supporters made their way back from their half time ministrations, Gervinho was blocked off by Steinsson just inside the Bolton half, Clattenberg played an excellent advantage as Ramsey picked the ball up and drove towards the penalty area, van Persie moved from the centre to left and collected Ramsey’s pass, one touch, two touch and from an angle not dissimilar to the one he beat Valdes from in February, he had lashed Arsenal into the lead. So often in the past, we’ve seen games turn away from us in the opening part of the second half, but yesterday it was our turn. Ramsey then released Walcott, who flashed past David Wheater only to be tugged back. Wheater was the last man, so there was an air of inevitability about the red card that followed. A goal up, with a man advantage? There could only be one winner now, surely?
A swift Bolton counter attack, which saw Chris Eagles shoot straight at Szczesny when he surely could have done better, kept us honest. Arteta, twice, went close for us, Jaaskelainen beating away his fiercely struck volley; van Persie could have had his second when played in down the right, but his shot was too close to Jaaskelainen who smothered. It was getting a bit silly now. But cometh the hour, or the half hour (it was 4.30), cometh the man. Ramsey played Walcott in down the right. Walcott did something right for once, fired in a low cross and van Persie was there to flick home his 100th goal for the club. As he would later observe himself, he is only the 17th player to have achieved this honour. One wonders how many goals he would have scored for us if he hadn’t spent so long on the treatment table, nevertheless, it’s a special achievement and one that everyone in the stadium rose to acclaim.
“Robin van Persie! Robin van Persie!” rang around the stadium for a while and then “We love you Arsenal we do!” and then, as belief (or was it relief?) seeped through the bones of every Arsenal fan in the stadium “One Arsene Wenger!”, which the boss was quick to acknowledge. It was fun being in the Clock End yesterday, repeated demands for Szczesny to “gissa wave”, which “Poland’s number one” was more than happy to do. Mainly cos he had bugger all else to do, I suppose.
Walcott should have scored when put clear by Song, but his finish was tame and too close to Jaaskelainen. Too much time? Maybe. He then screwed hopelessly wide when well placed leading someone behind me to observe that he had the wrong boots on, he’s wearing flippers, I said. Two nil was a good score but scant reward for the total domination of the second half, and so it fell to Alex Song to give the scoreline a more realistic shine in the last couple of minutes. Again, Ramsey was involved, working the ball right, it came back his way, flicking off his shin and into the path of Song who trundled inside, worked the ball into a shooting position and curled the ball into the corner of the net. Sweet, lovely, lagers with Asa beckoned.
The only negatives from the day? The fact that Walcott had to leave the field with a knee injury, all three substitutions completed and the fact that Laurent Koscielny seemed to be struggling towards the end of the match. Oh, and the fact that, had we scored the goals our second half performance merited (for the second league match in a row, 20 shots on goal resulted in just 3 goals), we’d now be in the top half of the table, rather than 12th. Still, 12th is better than 17th, Move On Up indeed.