An orchestra, but no conductor.....?
Bolton v Arsenal. Who would have thought what happened would happen? No Henry, Vieira, Bergkamp, Reyes, Pires, Ljungberg were there, but no Henry. Would Arsenal falter? Would there be a repeat of the league game, 2-2, or is another defeat looming for Wenger's boys? After Highbury on Wednesday, this was make-or-break, season over if the Gunners failed. And what happens? Bergkamp and Ben Haim, possible foul for Bolton, play on, Pires knocks it down to the running Ljungberg, the Swede knocks it past the keeper. Within 3 mins.
Then, some 6mins later, Toure jumps with Davies, one of many aerial tussles between the two, Bolton faintly wait for a foul, nothing given, the ball enters the box by Diouf, Senderos challenges him, he goes down, nothing given, Diouf incensed, then Davies goes in on Flamini and the whistle goes. Diouf is remonstrating and edging towards Steve Bennett, Lehmann trots over to Diouf, Diouf raises his right hand or forearm, it connects on Lehmann's face, the German is down clutching his face, Mr Bennett sees nothing but is informed by the linesman, and the Senegalese striker is off straight away. That's 9 mins.
Diouf meant it but it wasn't enough to fell someone of Lehmann's stature, 6ft plus (where are these goalkeepers grown, Dudek, Lehmann, Cech, Almunia, Paul Smith, Tim Howard???), but the raising of hands and/or arms is a straight red card, regardless of the impact. It may seem OK for Diouf if he is content at that point to take it on the chin and jog off as if that's the maximum effect on him. But it hampers the plans Sam Allardyce had conspired with Phil Brown to hopefully achieve a win. How much? Well, Bolton with 10 men and Arsenal with 11, it isn't fair even when it's even, at times.
I listened to TalkSport afterwards and presenter Adrian Durham castigated Bolton for fouling, dropping to the floor, hopeless passing, missed woeful shooting and physical confrontation that marred the game. That's his opinion. Mine is that within 10 mins Bolton were one man less against Arsenal, the current league champions. That will take some contingency effort to get a win now. Bolton made the game look like even sides. They hassled and harried after Arsenal, at times they were open but coped, while at the other end they constantly threatened Arsenal with close efforts in getting towards goal. Davies tussled with Senderos and Toure, Vieira kept cool in midfield though I still feel he is inclined to go down easier than expected. Reyes had his odd glimpses but looked to carry the fight to Jaaskelainen on his own.
Two moments of great one touch play by Arsenal, the set up for Reyes as he was stopped by Jaaskelainen and Ljungberg, who was equally denied. On both occasions Bolton's central defence leaked like an outside tap in winter. Second half found Bolton still hungry for that equaliser, while Reyes had his chances, Bergkamp had a nice freekick effort saved, and in injury time the Dutchman found Pires with a back heel, the Frenchman jiggled round N'Gotty and placed the usual parallel pass that always eludes keeper and defence for an Arsenal man to simply sidefoot in. Ljungberg skied it from so close, he could have scored blindfolded.
Nonetheless the win have been achieved. Arsenal, even without Henry, should have upped their play with a one-man advantage but Bolton pushed for every inch of the pitch that Arsenal could seldom settle into an easier passing-around routine. A mention for Gael Clichy, small, quick, sturdy, filling in for Cole, he was physically challenged by Bolton but didnt whine, whinge or fall over constantly, stayed on his feet, got on with the game and played very well.
The Gunners were in concerto enough to book a semi-final place for the 5th consecutive year, but another game like this, against eleven instead of ten, could find them facing the music. Without their conductor, their play seemed fair but lacking enough innovation. That could be trouble when the fat lady comes off......