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Arsenal 4 Bolton Wanderers 2: match report

Read a full match report of the Premier League game between Arsenal and Bolton Wanderers at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday Jan 20 2010.

When Arsene Wenger spoke with utter conviction last year about how this young Arsenal squad would come to dominate both the Premier League and the Champions League, his assessment was widely dismissed as not just warped but also delusional.

There was almost a sense of pity that one of the great managers should be reduced to relentlessly talking up a team that was simply not good enough.

How quickly football moves. A dramatic comeback from 2-0 down on Wednesday night has seen Arsenal overhaul Chelsea at the top of the Premier League.

The game, though, was overshadowed by a moment of considerable controversy. With Arsenal trailing 2-1, William Gallas lunged recklessly into a challenge with Mark Davies. Intentionally or not, Gallas’s studs sunk into the Bolton midfielder’s ankle and left him clearly in need of treatment.

Alan Wiley, though, waved play-on and Arsenal duly followed the letter rather than the spirit of the rules. Gallas, who was seemingly oblivious to the damage he had done, fed Bacary Sagna, whose cross indirectly bounced into the path of Cesc Fabregas to score.

Owen Coyle and his players were seething and, although the goal stood, the match had to be stopped for around five minutes before Mark Davies was carried off on a stretcher.

Coyle reacted to Sunday’s masterclass from Fabregas by reinforcing his central midfield at the expense of a striker as Mark Davies replaced Ivan Klasnic.

It left Kevin Davies as the lone forward, but ensured far less space for Arsenal’s intricate passing.

Whether it was an inspired tactical adjustment or just sloppiness on Arsenal’s part, Bolton certainly made the more convincing start and silenced the Emirates with a seventh-minute goal.

Gael Clichy, who was making his first start since October, could take most of the blame after slicing a clearance directly onto the head of Kevin Davies.

He then cushioned the ball into the path of Gary Cahill, whose left-footed volley crept inside Manuel Almunia’s post.

It was a moment to awaken Arsenal and provoke a flurry of chances. Eduardo and Tomas Rosicky’s swift exchange of passes split the Bolton defence but Fabregas – so reliable in front of goal all season – could only tamely direct the ball into the legs of Jussi Jaaskelainen.

Abou Diaby then produced a piercing long pass for Eduardo, who instantly brought the ball under his control and then grazed the crossbar with a rising shot.

Despite dominating possession, Arsenal continued to look far from secure in defence. Matthew Taylor forced a diving save from Almunia and then Denilson, who is struggling to fill the void in midfield that has been left by Alex Song, rashly challenged Chung-Yong Lee.

The tackle was badly timed and left Alan Wiley little alternative but to award the penalty from which Taylor doubled Bolton’s lead.

Even so, the pattern of the match continued. Arsenal generally pressed and probed yet lacked authority in front of goal, as well as security at the back.

Fabregas created one particularly inviting opportunity for Eduardo, but his shot was gathered by Jaaskelainen, while Kevin Davies’ defensive header cannoned off the inside of his own crossbar to safety.

Just as frustration threatened to overwhelm the Emirates, Rosicky provided Arsenal with a timely lifeline right on the stroke of half-time.

Fabregas was predictably involved, but Rosicky still had much to do as he shifted the ball quickly to his right and created just enough space from Zat Knight to force his shot inside Jaaskelainen’s near post.

Arsenal were level within seven minutes of the restart but Fabregas’s goal left a bitter taste and completely deflated Bolton.

Moments later, a corner bounced between Cahill and Diaby before dropping in front of Thomas Vermaelen, who smashed a left-footed off the post and past Jaaskelainen for his fifth of the season.

Fabregas then had a convincing penalty appeal turned down when he collided with Jaaskelainen, but Arsenal would not be denied the two goal victory that would take them to the top of the Premier League.

Yet again the build-up was scrappy, with the ball eventually bouncing off Tamir Cohen for Arshavin to seal a remarkable 4-2 win.

It is a big moment in the season, yet the spotlight on Thursday will not just fall on the Premier League table but also the questionable sportsmanship of Gallas and Arsenal.

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About Oscar Henry

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