Arsenal creak through January

Arsenal 1-0 Bolton

Good lord it was cold at the Arsenal yesterday. Absolutely bloody freezing: indeed, it was so cold that at the beginning of the second half the entire end where I sit stood up for five minutes boinging up and down like lunatics. I don’t think it was a new incentive to improve the atmosphere; I am more inclined to believe that it was out of self-preservation. Had we all sat down motionless we might all have died in our seats.

What you need in these circumstances of course is a performance that warms the cockles like whisky. We did get a win that bizarrely enough – at least until today’s match at Utd is over – managed to edge us two points nearer to first place. But we only got a performance of any description after about 65 minutes, when Arsenal emerged from their sideways passing to finally lay siege to Bolton’s goal.

Prior to that, Arsenal huffed and puffed to make much headway at all against the massed and negative ranks of Bolton’s defence. I wouldn’t say it was painful to watch, but Arsenal lacked the incision and creative wit to break the door down. The result – and this is a classic ‘Arsenal when struggling’ trait – was bags of left-right-left-right passing across Bolton’s back line, but rarely much more. Nasri was the most likely creative outlet, but with the exception of a neat half-volley from the excellent van Persie, the first half came and went without too much excitement.

Those who argue Arsenal don’t need another creative, attacking midfielder along the lines of Arshavin might have changed their mind on the back of yesterday’s first half. It’s a rather obvious thing to say, but we desperately miss Fabregas and Walcott, and that bloke from the sepia prints wearing a stiff collar and tails – I’m told his name is Tomas Rosicky.

The second half took off like the first half ended, but Arsenal slowly picked up a bit of speed, and things perked up when Diaby was replaced by Vela and Nasri came inside a bit. Suddenly, a purple patch came to pass amid the icy tundra. We started getting past Bolton, and putting them under pressure. Adebayor dallied and missed a sitter, van Persie hit the post, Toure had a decent wallop from far out and we looked like we might just do it.

The crowd’s new whipping boy, Bendtner, then came on and got his bonce on the end of a cross straight away. It was a fair effort. He then made a couple of poor passes and immediately the crowd got on his back; absolutely ludicrous really. I mean, was he the only player to miss a pass yesterday? Did Diaby get heckled for his wayward passing in the first half? It got to the point that when Bendtner did make a pass to a teammate, the crowd cheered ironically.

Arsenal fans really can be an exacting lot. Bendtner has not had his finest season (ring any bells?) and his ego might be bigger than his performances merit, but he’s only 20 years old and there’s no denying there’s something about him, however rough round the edges that something might be.

So I was more than chuffed for him when he slid onto van Persie’s 84th minute pass and got the winner. It’s what Arsenal needed and it’s what he needed. He’s made 14 starts and has come on as a sub 10 times, and has scored 7 goals. That’s about a goal every third appearance – is that so bad?

In general, there’s still plenty to work on, even if we are unbeaten in 7 league games. We’re far from the imperious Arsenal of the early part of last season, and there’s no denying we’re struggling for fluency at times, and goals too. We’ve not scored more than twice in a league game since the 29th October. Our lack of goals means we never look as if we’re going to properly take a side to the cleaners.

But a win is a win – and just what we need as we head into three straight away games.


Arsenal since about 1979. Thick, thin and all that.