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Jan 10, 2009

Bendtner's late show rescues Arsenal

Arsenal 1-0 Bolton Wanderers

Maybe we have all been spoiled by Arsenal's fantasy football down the years.

After a decade of witnessing glorious brilliance from Arsene Wenger's team, you can't help but feel a little let down when they churn out tight and nervy 1-0 home wins, but thus has been the scenario against Wigan Athletic, Portsmouth and now Bolton Wanderers in recent weeks.

Instead of glory, glory football, Wenger has come up with a curious concoction that seems to be delivering modest success in a season when many an observer has written the Gunners off as no-hopers. '1-0 to the Arsenal' was a score line celebrated by fans of this club back in the 1990s and they can content themselves with the same old story again at a time when their team clearly have serious flaws.

There is a perception among some Soccernet correspondents that this humble reporter has some kind of agenda against Arsene Wenger and his team, with my recent reports from this venue inspiring the sort of abusive response you might expect if I was promoting the claims of Osama Bin Laden to be the Barack Obama's next Homeland Security chief.

For the record, my admiration of Wenger's attacking style of play is well documented in previous reports, which inspired some to complain I was a little too biased in their favour! I just feel it is a little sad to see Arsenal struggling so badly right now and this game was another story of frustration.

Nicklas Bendtner's late winner kept the Gunners in touch with an Aston Villa side who look increasingly likely to give them a major run for their Champions League money in the second half of this season. It papered over the cracks in a side lacking leadership, but at least it is another win on the board.

Injury-depleted Bolton's chief aim on this bitterly cold North London afternoon was to be as negative as possible. They were never likely to come to the Emirates Stadium with an eye on matching the Gunners in a battle of sparkling football so Gary Megson's team packed the midfield and did little more than try to frustrate Arsenal at every opportunity.

On a day when the visitors could only name three fit outfield players on their substitutes bench, Megson would argue he has little option other than to try and nullify the threat in front of them and the Arsenal of old would have been more than good enough to swat this impostor away with arrogant ease.

As it was, Bolton came within six minutes of a point they probably deserved after a hard working display that denied their illustrious opponents the space they revel in. It seems as if the opposition have found a way to counteract Arsenal's game plan and instead of passing judgement on the Gunners myself, I'll let someone else take the abuse for a change.

Former Liverpool Stan Collymore was perched just behind me in the press box doing a radio commentary and he grew more frustrated with this Arsenal performance by the minute. Stating his view that they 'sadly lack a plan B', he accused the Gunners of being devoid of the cutting edge they have been famous for in recent years.

"Wenger needs to spend money if he is to have any chance of taking this team onto the next level," stated Collymore. "They were not getting the ball wide and stretching a Bolton side they should be beating easily. This Arsenal team are a hell of a long way off from being title challengers."

Arsenal's passing was crisp, yet the front two of Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie were starved of quality service and the deflated body language of the duo as this game ambled towards a close did little to dispel the theory that both have lost faith in their team-mates.

While Arsenal deserve credit for a late rally in this game, some new faces are desperately needed and signing Russian play maker Andrey Arshavin would be a decent start. Once again, they had so much possession against inferior opposition in this game and just couldn't find a route to feed Adebayor and Van Persie.

Few players in world football would turn down the chance to work with a manager renowned for transforming players into world beaters, yet Wenger seems to be lacking the cash to compete for the type of player he wants. The word among the French press attending this game was that their compatriot is becoming frustrated by the lack of funds available to him.

Injuries to Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Eduardo are hampering the Arsenal cause, yet the facts confirm Wenger's side are 14 points down on the points total they had collected at this stage last year.

Wenger was defensive again as he faced the media. "We gave everything to win the game against a side who only had one intention and that was to draw 0-0," he stated. "They began to tire late on and the chances came for us. A bit of quality has won it in the end and we have to be pleased to have the points.

"A lot of people don't believe me, but I see the progress this team is making. We are looking a lot more solid and need to find the balance between a solid team and an attacking team. Consistency is the key in this league and we are working towards that well. We are focused, resilient and ready to fight back from our problems."

Bolton boss Gary Megson was proud of his players for the effort they had put into cause and 'bitterly disappointed' to leave with nothing, yet this display was proof that his team are working hard for a manager who has overcome plenty of negative publicity himself to make his mark in this season's Premier League.

So long as Arsenal keep winning games, the critics will have to keep reservations over their future prospects under wraps. Wenger must be grateful that the medicine his side clearly need can be administered during this transfer window.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Gavin McCann
Sean Davis was the midfield destroyer in chief as Portsmouth frustrated Arsenal a couple of weeks ago and this time it was the all-action McCann halting their progress. He was a giant for Bolton.

FOOD WATCH: Just for once, the sub-zero temperatures left the press room ice cream fridge at the Emirates Stadium redundant. The half time fish and chips offering was most welcome, as well as the supply of hot chocolate.

BENDTNER CREDIT: Many Arsenal fans have thrown plenty of criticism in the direction of Nicklas Bendtner this season, but he made all the difference in this game. His physical threat unsettled Bolton on a day when Adebayor looked less than interested. Maybe he is a decent super-sub.

P.A. MAN RETURNS: The cheesy and perm haired Emirates Stadium P.A. announcer must be one of the most annoying men in football, with his determination to shout the first names of Arsenal players in a bid to get the crowd to shout their surname - a tragic policy. He returned from his holiday for this game and was as irritating as ever!

ARSENAL VERDICT: Poor delivery from wide positions meant Arsenal's predictable attacking threat came through the middle. They only looked genuinely dangerous when Bendtner came off the bench late on. At least they got the three points they so badly needed.

BOLTON VERDICT: With a depleted squad, Gary Megson's team deserve credit for putting their heart and soul into the challenge. The Bolton boss admitted he only had ten fit senior professionals to pick from in his post match press briefing, so it was never going to be easy for them and they came so close to leaving with a point.

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