Arsenal 2 Bolton 1: Bend it like Park
The spectacle of the Carling Cup graced the Emirates again and a new look typical Carling Cup side was expected from the manager that had qualified for the quarterfinals in eight consecutive occasions since Carling took over the sponsorship rights from Worthington or Worth Nothing as my pal Tomasz calls it.
Arsene Wenger made a significant amount of changes on the starting berth as well as the reserves and it was no surprise when Lukasz Fabianski emerged as the custodian between the sticks in yesterday’s tie. 12 months ago, Wojciech Szczesny’s outburst won him a place in the squad to play Newcastle United while Fabianski was sitting pretty as Arsenal’s number one but that’s football for you.
With Bacary Sagna and Carl Jenkinson out injured and Johan Djourou having the potential to pick up a mysterious strain or something close to it, Wenger handed a first senior appearance for youngster, Nico Yennaris. Andre Santos is the only recognized left full back and with Kieran Gibbs still relaxing at the club’s treatment table, Wenger gave Ignasi Miquel another chance to strut his stuff in the left back position this time.
Wenger decided to give the Arsenal fans a Carling Cup treat with his selection in the centre of the defense. He decided to pair up Arsenal’s worst defender by a far mile (Sebastien Squillaci) with its best defender and the leader of the pack, Thomas Vermaelen.
The midfield also had the perfect blend with the right mix of youth and experience with the likes of Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin providing solidity in the middle of the park while Yossi Benayoun and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain provided wit from the flanks. Wenger finally decided to play Andrey Arshavin in the position he excelled as a player in Zenit St. Petersburg, the hole behind the striker while Arsenal’s soon-to-be soldier Park Chu-Young spearheaded the attack.
The bench was reminiscent of the bench Arsene Wenger took to Old Trafford with Vito Mannone being the only player that had started a match for Arsenal. I’m pretty sure that the average age of the remaining six players in the dugout didn’t exceed 18.
Bolton threatened from the start of the match when Andrey Arshavin fouled Geitar Steinsson. Gael Kakuta took the free kick but it was handled well by the Arsenal backline. Darren Pratley made a flick that brought out the best in Wojciech Szczesny in the 3-0 victory last month but he was on hand to fire a shot that was saved by Lukasz Fabianski after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain lost possession in the midfield.
Park Chu-Young then fired a 25-yard drive that was saved by Bolton’s Alan Bogdan. The goalie had a horror outing when Bolton hosted Chelsea so he was out to impress Owen Coyle. Yossi Benayoun came close to opening the scoring but his effort just missed the right side of the goal.
Arsenal won a free kick on the edge of the area and Thomas Vermaelen fancied a chance so he drove the ball straight at goal thereby producing another good save from Bogdan. Park fired another tame effort late in the first half but Bogdan made another simple save.
At halftime, it was a goalless stalemate and both teams went into their dressing rooms to receive pep talks from the managers. It seemed as if Owen Coyle’s team talk worked a treat because Bolton began the second half with a bang. Arsenal reject Fabrice Muamba dispossessed Emmanuel Frimpong easily in the middle before driving forward and feeding in Pratley, who in turn teed up the midfielder with a return ball which was duly slammed into the roof of the net from six yards out.
The Arsenal defense was all over the place and were almost punished Gael Kakuta’s cross found Ivan Klasnic who could only nod the ball over the bar. This quick-fire attack from Bolton spurred on the hosts and the equalizer came from a player that has been under serious stick this season, Andrey Arshavin.
Arshavin made a jinking run to the box and it seemed as if he was going to pass the ball to a teammate so the Bolton defenders kept backing the little Russian and in a matter of split seconds, he was inside Bolton’s box drilling the ball past a hapless Bogdan that watched it sail past him.
That goal must have done a lot of wonders for Arshavin because it was his first goal since that gift of a goal he scored in September when Swansea visited the Emirates. The gooners were very ecstatic when Arshavin equalized but the goal that was scored was better with each passing replay.
Andrey Arshavin invited the Bolton defense to him leaving Park Chu-Young free on the edge of the area. A simply weighted pass followed but Park scored the type of a goal that the Arsenal fans witnessed week in week out from the great Thierry Henry. It was a first time sweetly curled effort that eased past Bogdan before hitting the back of the net.
The match was watched live in Korea Republic and the goal was already on YouTube seconds after Park curled in the sweet effort. One cannot underestimate the effort Asians put into watching football. I’ll never forget the Manchester United vs. Tottenham game where Park Ji-Sung and Lee Young-Pyo locked horns against each other. It was estimated that the amount of Asians watching that game on big screens on the streets of Korea were large enough to actually fill up White Hart Lane that day.
Bolton pushed on for an equalizer and they brought out the best of Arsenal’s current number 2 goalie, Fabianski. Mark Davies went really close but his effort missed by a whisker. Francis Coquelin fouled the same player to concede a free kick in a decent position for Bolton. Gael Kakuta’s effort was destined for the back of the net but Fabianski popped up to make a top drawer save.
Chris Eagles replaced Kakuta and was involved in the action with a long-range piledriver that was saved yet again by the Pole guarding the poles. The barrage on Fabianski’s goal continued with Ivan Klasnic as well as Gary Cahill but there was no stopping Fabianski who was in inspired form to keep Bolton at bay.
Park almost netted a brace but his attempt went wide. Late on Ryo Miyaichi made a last-ditch intervention to block Cahill’s effort that would sent the game into extra time. The ref blew his whistle and Arsene Wenger continued his impressive record in the Carling Cup by making the quarterfinals yet again.
Arsenal last won the competition in 1993 but Wenger has come close twice by losing to Chelsea in the 2007 final before losing to Birmingham last season. Wenger had a few things to say at his press conference:
“The first half we had the chances. Second half they caught us and scored. From then on we were tested. The more experienced players took control of the game – Arshavin, Park and Benayoun. They turned things around. When we were 2-1 up with 20 minutes to go our legs had gone a bit. Some of these players had not played at this intensity before.”
He also made a comment about the injury returnee Thomas Vermaelen:
“Vermaelen will be a bit short for Saturday. It didn’t look too bad but he came off with a slight calf problem. I didn’t expect the game to have this kind of intensity. It was big pressure for a centre back.”
Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have been doing okay in his absence so I have utmost confidence in both players when they play against the rejuvenated Fernando Torres. The Arsenal bad omen, Didier Drogba has been suspended so that’s a major plus if you ask me.
Wenger also had sweet words for Park, Miyaichi and the Chambered Ox.
Arsenal is back in business.
Next stop, the Stamford Blue London bridge.
I hope we’ll be able to sing that nursery rhyme after 90 minutes,
“London bridge is falling down, falling down…..”