Van Persie unable to crack code as Gunners frustrated
Bolton 0 Arsenal 0
Published 02/02/2012 | 05:00
in the wake of three consecutive Premier League defeats, Arsenal may have been grateful for a point at Bolton last night. After all, the goalless draw prevented the worst league run since Arsene Wenger's began his North London revolution.
The truth is somewhat starker given the perpetual stumbling on the hard road to a top-four place. Reality is not just biting for Wenger, it is gnawing away with every wasted point.
A trip to the Reebok has troubled his most accomplished sides, so there there is unlikely to be an inquest after a stalemate which assisted Owen Coyle's survival plans more than Wenger's Champions League mission.
However, only the woodwork prevented the latest addition to the Robin Van Persie catalogue of wondrous goals this season.
Nevertheless, the recurring failings of his team -- allowing their opponents to settle when a more clinical edge would have made for a comfortable evening -- now prompt fury rather than frustration from Wenger's followers. Indeed, in the closing stages it was more a case of the Londoners holding on rather than pursuing a winner.
Arsenal should have led early on, squandering two decent opportunities within the first 10 minutes. First, Van Persie tamely headed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's cross within belting-away distance of David Wheater's right boot on eight minutes. Then the Dutch master turned provider, slicing through the Bolton defence to send Aaron Ramsey clear. Losing balance, the Welshman could only poke the ball harmlessly to Adam Bogdan.
In a relentless start, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain shot wide after more magic from Van Persie. A familiar pattern was emerging for Arsenal.
David Ngog, a lone but diligent striker for Bolton, made the first inroad into the visitors' half. He outmuscled Laurent Koscielny to fashion his side's first attempt after 20 minutes, but struck the ball directly at a grateful Wojciech Szczesny.
Ngog was both brilliant and careless with his next effort shortly afterwards, turning smartly with his back to goal, but volleying wide when the hard work looked done.
Arsenal's response should have given them a first-half lead. Oxlade-Chamberlain was involved again, this time handing Theo Walcott a one-on-one with the opposing goalkeeper. A tame finish followed, Bogdan able to block with his legs with minimum physical movement.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was increasingly influential, demonstrating why the Arsenal fans throw such tantrums at the mere thought of his being substituted.
He has pace, plenty of courage and an eye of for a pass. These are classic traits of Wenger's greatest teams. But he needs to work on his finishing like other strikers in Arsenal's colours in the recent past.
The supremacy in possession continued into the second half, but it was a cutting edge that Wenger's side needed. It was no surprise the chants for Thierry Henry began immediately after the interval. Van Persie struck a post from Bacary Sagna's cross on 63 minutes as Owen Coyle's side dangerously retreated into preservation mode, but the inevitable substitution followed.
Henry replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain, the only jeers coming from an uncharitable home crowd, failing to appreciate an ageing genius. The Frenchman was summoned as Bolton were rallying in similar fashion to the first half, Arsenal's frustration growing.
Bolton were not without a talisman of their own, with Kevin Davies replacing the fatigued Ngog. The brief for Davies was basic enough: to inflict as much mental scarring as possible on the opposing centre-half.
Had the transfer window dealings gone a different way, Davies could have been part of the Sunderland squad who were beating Norwich at the Stadium of Light and who now find themselves just one spot behind Arsenal.
Instead, he remains at Bolton, who are now two points clear of the relegation zone, while Arsenal failed to capitalise on Chelsea's slip up against Swansea and are now languishing in seventh place.
Unsurprisingly, it was Van Persie who came closest to a breakthrough. His majestic 20-yard chip seemed to glide for a minute before bouncing off the top of the bar to safety. It was nearly a superb goal, but nearly is becoming a word associated with Arsenal far too often. (© Daily Telegraph, London)