Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Match-winners Arshavin and Park shine as Vermaelen is crocked again

Morning Gooners.

Crisis? What crisis? That's how we might look back on this period in our history many years from now as Arsenal win their 7th game out of their last eight with a 2-1 victory in the Carling Cup against Bolton.

As Orbinho pointed out on Twitter last night, it's fair to say Arsene Wenger does take this competition seriously having put out a team which has progressed to the quarter finals for the ninth season in a row. And you could see from the team sheet the manager wanted us to win the tie with the likes of  Thomas Vermaelen, Andrey Arshavin and Yossi Benayoun all picked to start the game.

I wasn't at the game so my thoughts on it come from the highlights I've watched and the radio commentary I listened to. But it's clear that whilst we sometimes expect to see our young players come to the fore on these nights, it was our experienced players who won us the game.

The first half seemed to be a pretty even affair. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain with one of the Gunners better chances if he had chosen to shoot early when in acres of space rather than try and beat Zat Knight. His shot/cross eventually going high and wide.

The commentary I was listening to on Five Live Sports Extra gave me the impression we've signed a replacement for Emmanuel Adebayor in Ju Young Park, in the way the South  Korean was caught offside. Perhaps it's the way Arsenal prefer to play the ball around and about rather than play that defence splitting pass early that made Park stray off side but in another way it's a good sign he's getting in the right sort of areas.

From the middle of the first half it appeared that Bolton came out of their shell and started to make some serious attempts at breaching Arsenal's goal. Lukasz Fabianski having to be at his best to stop efforts from Darren Pratley and Gael Kakuta testing the Poland international.

The guile of Benayoun was evident as he tried to put Wenger's men in the lead, twisting and turning on the left and firing in a shot which went just wide. The home side's next effort on goal came from Thomas Vermaelen who fired in a vicious free kick which must have stung the palms of the Bolton keeper Adam Bogdan.

Park was next to test Bolton's flame haired keeper with a low shot. I think it was fair to say the South Korean was warming up for the second half and finding his feet in his second start for the club since he signed in August.

Two minutes into the second half the Gunners were a goal down. And what is it with our former players scoring against us at the moment. First Sebastian Larsson and now Fabrice Muamba. The former youth team player robbed Emmanuel Frimpong of the ball outside the area, played a neat one-two with Ivan Klasnic and slammed home his shot into the roof of the net.

Bolton had their tails up and were in the driving seat. You were left wondering who out of this crop of players would stand up and make the difference and we didn't have to wait long to find out. Within five minutes of Muamba putting Owen Coyle's men ahead, Arsenal had pulled them back level again.

It was Andrey Arshavin who found the back of the net. He collected the ball from Oxlade Chamberlain on the right, dribbled at goal and with Knight not attacking the ball, fired it low between his legs and into the far corner, with Bogdan having no idea the shot was coming.

The goal was something we've not seen from Arshavin's locker for quite a while. He last scored for the Gunners last month, but we should really expect a player of his quality score many more goals for us.

And within nine minutes of going behind, Arsenal were ahead. Again Arshavin was involved. Park had strayed into an offside position as the Russian took up the ball. The South Korean realised he couldn't be played through and got back on side. Arshavin spotting the space played Park in and the striker finished the move with a stunning right footed shot which he curled Thierry Henry style into the far corner, beating Bogdan diving to his left.

The home side backed off their attacking style and it was the Fabianski show as Bolton put the heat on. The goalkeeper had to be at his best to stop a vicious shot from Chris Eagles. A Gary Cahill downward header next to be saved as the England man got above Sebastien Squillaci.

The Gunner held on to progress into the last eight of the competition in front of a crowd of 56,628 – a record for this season’s competition.

I was personally impressed with Arshavin and Park. I thought they both had a lot to prove prior to the game and I hope with the Russian especially he come back into some really good form now. We saw from his cameo against Stoke at the weekend he can change games and he did so again last night when we needed someone to step up.

The South Korean as well did well. For all of his roaming offside, he made up for it was a peach of a goal. A cracking strike which any player would be happy to have as their first ever Arsenal goal. It will be interesting to see now how the pecking order for the strikers shapes up, with Marouane Chamakh not even included in last night's squad.

Special mention must go to both Nico Yennaris and Ignasi Miquel. Both were played out of  position as full backs last night and neither had a bad game. It shows Arsenal do have strength in depth, although I would imagine neither would really like to play in those positions again.

However we do have an injury to Thomas Vermaelen to be concerned about. Wenger revealing post match the Belgium international suffered a calf strain which forced him to be substituted with four minutes to go. The Frenchman said he could be "short" for Saturday's match with Chelsea but would be at the training ground today for an assessment.

Update: Vermaelen has since tweeted the substitution was down to cramp - however that still doesn't explain Wenger's comments. I would expect some caution over the defenders condition ahead of Saturday.

Reviewing the match, Wenger said:
"In the first half I believe we had the chances. In the second half we were caught straight away losing the ball in our own half and they scored. From then on of course they tested us. The more experienced players then took charge of the game, especially Arshavin, Park and Benayoun - they made the difference. 
"I have to congratulate the team because we had two young full-backs who are usually central players. In midfield we were very young and we have shown good spirit against a good Bolton side."
All in all a good work out last night for some members of the first team squad who haven't seen many minutes in these last few weeks.

We march on to the last eight, with the draw taking place on Saturday lunchtime prior to the kick off at Stamford Bridge. What's the betting we draw Andre Villas-Boas' men who face Everton at Stamford Brigde tonight?

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