Archive for October 26th, 2011

Bolton Report: Arshavin takes centre-stage

288 comments October 26th, 2011

Park celebrates bending home the winner against Bolton

Arsenal 2 – 1 Bolton

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Arsenal went through to the Quarter-Finals of the Carling Cup for the ninth successive season with a 2-1 victory over Bolton.  It wasn’t televised anywhere in the world, so the 56,628 or so lucky enough to be in the statdium are, thus far, the sole witnesses to another encouraging victory.  If you haven’t seen the game at all, you might have an interest in this audio report I put together in the match’s immediate aftermath.

The team was the expected mix of youth and experience.  The headline inclusion was Thomas Vermaelen, though it passed almost without notice that his partner on the night, Sebastien Squillaci, was making his first appearance of the season.  Lukasz Fabianski kept goal, with youngsters Ignasi Miquel and Nico Yennaris (a debutant) at full-back.  Coquelin and Frimpong patrolled the midfield, with Benayoun, Arshavin and Chamberlain pulling the strings behind Ju-Young Park.

Arshavin had not originally been intended to play, with Tomas Rosicky pencilled for inclusion.  However, a slight injury to the Czech midfielder saw the far from slight Arshavin handed his central playmaking role.  It would prove to be the game’s crucial factor.

The first half was a relatively quiet affair.  Yossi Benayoun flashed one effort over, and on a couple of occasions Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seemed to try and do too much when released on the right.  It wasn’t a poor performance from the young winger, but it was his certainly his least eye-catching in an Arsenal shirt.  Perhaps he is feeling the pressure of expectation.

The second half started ominously, with former Gunner Fabrice Muamba side-footing in to the roof of the net to give Bolton the lead.  It was at this point, however, that Arsenal’s experienced players began to seize control of the game.  Arshavin was the key figure.  First he picked up the ball on the right, skipped infield, and fired a fizzing shot in off the far post.

Within three minutes, he’d created the winner, scooting inside from the left before playing in Park in the space that had been created.  The Korean’s finish was exquisite, opening his body and bending a first-time shot around the goalkeeper and in to the far corner.  Thierry Henry would have been proud.

Afterwards, the manager spoke in glowing terms about Park’s performance:

“He had a very, very good game. His movement was exceptional and his finishing is absolutely fantastic.

He is ready to play in league games.”

Park battled well against two experienced Premier League centre-backs in Gary Cahill and Zat Knight, and considering Marouane Chamakh’s terrible form in front of goal, is bound to get his chance sooner or later.

Arshavin, however, was the undoubted man of the match.  There were still errors in his game, but in the final third it’s hard to question his efficacy.  However, listening to Arsene post-match, we’re unlikely to see him in his favoured position again anytime soon:

“You cannot play with two wingers and two offensive players like that, you are too short in midfield. He is normally a wide player but he wants to grow in a role behind the striker.”

Whether or not that growth takes place at Arsenal or elsewhere remains to be seen.

Thomas Vermaelen departed with a solid 85 minutes behind him and whispers of a calf strain, but the man himself has taken to Twitter to dispel those fears and confirm his availability for Saturday’s game with Chelsea.  With so little match practise behind him, I don’t expect him to start, but simply having him around the squad is a positive boost at the moment.

Tonight I fly to Spain for a week of exile from, among other things, the internet.  If I happen to stumble in to a WIFI-furnished cafe I will update while I am there – if not, you’ll have to cope without me for a week.  Chins up.

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