Arsenal 4-1 Bolton: Good goals, terrible ref

So another three points at home yesterday means the good start to the season continues.

The manager clearly had one eye on the midweek Champions League game and rested some first team regulars. Diaby stayed on the bench, Rosicky, as expected took the place of Walcott while both Sagna and Clichy made way for Eboue and Gibbs. It meant we had a back four that had never played together before, a risky decision which would certainly have been a talking point if the result hadn’t been as positive.

That the game was 1-1 at half time was nothing short of ludicrous. It should have been over as a contest by then, the main culprit Andrei Arshavin as he missed three one on one chances. The first came very early on when Rosicky played a beautiful ball right through the Bolton defence but Bogdan made a decent save. I’d classify it more as an Arshavin miss.

We took the lead through Laurent Koscielny. Jack Wilshere’s ball to the back post found Cesc and although he lost control of it, the centre-half was there to prod it home for his first Arsenal goal. Arshavin then missed the other two great chances – one of which came after the most sublime turn and pass from midfield you’re likely to see from Cesc Fabregas. We should have been coasting. Instead we went in level at the break.

Kevin Davies beat Squillaci to a long punt from the keeper but it didn’t look as if there was any real danger until Koscielny’s rather bizarre header. I assume he was trying to nod it back to Almunia but only played it into the path of Lee. Almunia came out of his goal to cover, Lee chipped it to the back post and Elmander nodded home. It was interesting to read so many people at the time blame the keeper. Perhaps it’s a measure of how much some people want to be able to do the ‘I told you so’ thing but he was left in no-man’s land by Koscielny and Eboue’s efforts to close down the Bolton player amounted to standing there watching him. No blame for the keeper for me.

We started the second half a bit scrappily, Bolton found a bit too much space and time. Almunia made an incredible save from Davies (I think) but the whistle had gone for offside. We picked things up and went ahead again. A corner was cleared as far as Arshavin, he played it back to Cesc who clipped a beautiful ball across the box and Chamakh was there to nod it home. 2-1 Arsenal.

Then a controversial sending off. Bolton, quite rightly, thought they should have had a free kick on the edge of our box when Song fouled Lee. Stuart Atwell played on and when the ball came to Chamakh on the touchline he flicked it back to Arshavin who was clean through to miss yet another chance. However, Gary Cahill went through the back of the Moroccan and the ref produced a straight red. Bolton were furious but it was interesting that their ire was mostly centered around the fact they should have had the free kick.

It was a stupid challenge from Cahill. Chamakh was going nowhere, he jumped in from behind with two feet off the ground and although a yellow would probably have been enough I can also understand the red. I think refs have had some kind of directive regarding tackles where players go in with two feet or which are in any way reckless. Look at Joe Cole on the opening day of the season. So Cahill went and there was only going to be one winner then.

Alex Song had a quite storming final 30 minutes and scored Arsenal’s 1000th Premier League goal under Arsene Wenger. Cesc played in Arshavin who gave it to Song and the quick feet and chipped finish over the keeper were Henryesque. A fantastic goal.

Then the party piece goal – 24 passes, most of them Ol├ęd by the crowd, before Cesc dinked a ball over the top for Carlos Vela. It was funny, you could see him thinking of chipping the onrushing keeper, but he waited and calmly sidefooted home Arsenal’s fourth. A goal worth watching again – Arsenalist has the goods.

So overall a fine day, I thought we played well enough. The centre-halves dealt with Davies very well in general, Squillaci looked steady but he’ll need a few more games to get to the pace of English football. Cesc was imperious in midfield, a late chase and tackle on a Bolton player setting exactly the sort of example we need a captain to set. It might be 4-1 to us but we’re not going to sit back and coast. Rosicky had another fine game, he looks to have found some zip again and it’s great to see. Chamakh looks a better player each time I see him and had Arshavin had his shooting boots on this would have an annihilation.

Afterwards Arsene declared himself pleased overall and said of the Blackburn game, and this one:

We had two games; Blackburn and today that we wouldn’t have taken six points from two years ago. I am pleased with the performance of the whole team.

Perhaps there is a maturity in the team, perhaps there’s just more focus. One thing I’d suggest is that when you do freshen up your squad – and we had three new signings in the team as well as Wilshere who is just beginning his Arsenal career – there’s a positive effect. You have guys who are determined, enthusiastic and to whom going through the motions is not an option. It’s good to see.

Leaving us aside for the moment, let’s focus on the referee, Stuart Atwell. He is being fast-tracked as the next top man in English refereeing and yesterday he left both teams and sets of fans unhappy with his performance.

We’ve dealt with the sending off and Bolton have every right to be aggrieved with the decision not to give them a free kick in the build up to it. It was as clean cut a free kick as you’ll ever see. You can discuss the merits of the sending off if you want but as I pointed out Bolton didn’t mount much of a defence of Cahill’s tackle. From behind, two feet in the air on a player who was going nowhere.

Yet Atwell kept his red card in his pocket when it came to Kevin Davies. Already on a yellow for a nasty tackle on Jack Wilshere – which came about 2 minutes after he’d booted Rosicky up in the air – he let him stay on for a thuggish aerial challenge on Laurent Koscielny. He came charging in with no chance whatsoever of getting the ball, hit Koscielny hard and there was a fairly sickening clash of heads.

You can can argue that he was trying to challenge for the ball but if you watch it again you’ll see that’s not the case. There was no way he was getting there and if he’d been that late in a tackle on the ground he’d have had a yellow card all day long. Why should it be different because it’s in the air? Thankfully Koscielny was all right and he kept Davies pretty much in his pocket for the rest of the game which was some measure of revenge, but Davies was lucky to be on the pitch, in my opinion.

Then there was this. After coming on as a sub Abou Diaby was taken out by Paul Robinson just outside the Bolton box. Look at how far over the ball Robinson was:

Not even a booking. We got a throw. “I don’t like Paul Robinson but that was a good tackle”, said Arsenal TV pundit Stewart Robson on Setanta. He changed his mind on seeing a replay but perhaps he ought to keep his mouth shut and make judgements when he’s seen things properly. His performance on Setanta yesterday was maddening, perhaps he was trying to be as non-Arsenal as possible because of his connection to the club, but some of the stuff he said about Arsene Wenger and Cesc Fabregas was unncessary, snide and disappointing from a man who is paid by Arsenal Football Club. Someone have a word.

Anyway, the point is the Robinson tackle. Diaby got up, tried to have a go at the Bolton player until he was held back, and then went off a few minutes later. Arsene said afterwards that he was ‘not in good shape’ and couldn’t move his leg. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was missing for a long time, it was a horrendous tackle and neither the referee or the linesman did a thing about it.

I know some Bolton fans will point to the tackle by Diaby at their place a couple of seasons ago which was, I readily admit, a bad one. The small difference is that Diaby rightly got a red card. For a referee and a linesman to miss that tackle yesterday was nothing short of disgraceful. Robinson should have had a red card and his attempt to put the ref off by pretending to be injured himself was pathetic and pitiful. Fingers crossed Diaby isn’t as badly injured as I fear.

Atwell is completely out of his depth, a midget in the deep end. I can understand both sets of fans and teams being unhappy with him yesterday because he was utterly shit. Remember, this is a man who gave this as a goal. If you’re capable of that, regardless of how fledgling your refereeing career is, you have no business officiating Sunday league games, let alone top level football.

Sure, officials make mistakes, they’re only human, but there’s got to be a progression in any career. Quite why he’s being ‘fast tracked’ is beyond me. If he was an excellent referee but still a bit raw I’d understand it but he’s obviously not. You just need to look at his Wikipedia entry to see just how much controversy he’s been involved in already. Demote him, let him work his way back up if he can, because he’s the kind of referee whose ineptitude endangers players.

As for Bolton, I know they’re being painted as a more football side under Owen Coyle, but some of the stuff yesterday was the Bolton of old. Arsenal were not bullied though and that was great to see again.

Still, 4-1 at home is good stuff, I think we’d have won the game even if it had stayed 11 v 11, and it’s just the kind of result we needed going into the Champions League this week. Diaby aside I don’t think anyone picked up any kind of injury (fingers crossed) and Cesc looked to be more like his old self, even if I think he’s still a bit short of 100%.

It augurs well. Not much else going on this Sunday, time for papers, breakfast and a nice relaxing Sunday in the glow of three points.

Till tomorrow.

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