Wenger's latest low note is fat lady's song
Bolton 2 Arsenal 1
IT'S hard to imagine there have been too many fat ladies in Arsene Wenger's life, but yesterday he heard her sing.
The Emirates Stadium is still awaiting its first trophy and, for the second successive season, Wenger made the concession speech in Lancashire. It was dignified and measured but the words were like lead in his mouth.
Last spring it was a 3-2 defeat at Wigan that brought Arsenal's pursuit of Chelsea to a juddering halt; here they were beaten by a Bolton side that was trying to wash away the humiliation of a 5-0 defeat in an FA Cup semi-final.
After the two draws against Liverpool and Tottenham, Wenger resembled a doomed politician, trying to maintain the illusion he is in power while all the figures were stacked against him. Yesterday, nine points adrift of Manchester United with four games to go, it was all over.
These days Wenger must travel several kilometres in his own technical area.
He flapped his arms, he crossed them, he shrugged as theatrically as any amateur actor. When Tamir Cohen headed the winner in stoppage-time, he hurled a bottle of water to the ground.
When Bolton were awarded a throw-in, Wenger seized the ball and threw it to the floor.
It was significant that a man whose philosophy has always been based on the long term should have seen his horizons shrink to the extent that the award of a throw-in that was near neither goal should matter so much.
Or indeed what Cesc Fabregas may have told a Spanish magazine.
There were frustrations everywhere. Arsenal were denied a palpable penalty as early as the fifth minute when Matt Taylor brought down Theo Walcott.
Fabregas, who may or may not have said that Wenger would have been sacked in Spain for not winning a trophy in six years, then struck the foot of the post, having earlier forced Jussi Jaaskelainen to push his shot away with the tips of his gloves.
Three minutes into the second half, Robin van Persie, who is perhaps Wenger's strongest supporter in the dressing-room, fervent in his belief that Arsenal must not compromise their style, drove home beautifully after an exchange of passes with Fabregas a minute after Wojciech Szczesny had saved Kevin Davies' penalty.
Then, a ball over the top sent Samir Nasri clean through and as the Arsenal fans massed behind Jaaskelainen's goal waited for the swish of ball striking net, they heard only the thud of it slamming into the goalkeeper's chest. On the final whistle, Van Persie seemed utterly consumed by anger.
Moments earlier another emotion swept the Reebok as Cohen, who had endured the death of his father, the Israeli international Avi, at the end of last year after a motorbike accident, slipped his marker Johan Djourou to head home from a corner.
After their destruction by Stoke at Wembley seven days before, this was a show of resilience and romance. Cohen was in tears when he pulled off his shirt to reveal a picture of his father on a T-shirt; the letter of the law demanded a booking but there was a case for the law looking away.
Djourou, who had given away Arsenal's third penalty of a disastrous week, had provided more evidence of his inability to play centre-half when it mattered.
Bolton's powers of recovery had been considerable, typified by the fact that when Lee Chung-yong ran goalwards; he tried to back-heel his final pass to Taylor. Had Sam Allardyce still been Bolton manager, he would have fined him for such extravagance.
"The biggest thing was that we gave a strong performance after such a horrible day; a day that will stick with me as a manager until the day I die," said his manager, Owen Coyle, who was irked by Wenger's comment that Bolton had "delivered a Cup final performance one match late".
Wenger admitted that Arsenal's mental fragility made it important that they scored first. This they failed to do, but it explained why Fabregas shot on sight.
Bolton's first, like their winner, came from a corner that might have been prevented. Gary Cahill, who seems a better bet than any centre-half Wenger currently employs, reached the ball before Gael Clichy. Nasri may have been behind the line when he cleared the header but Daniel Sturridge, at close range, headed the ball home. Wenger stared into space.
Years ago, he had responded to Alex Ferguson's taunt that, although Arsenal had won the title, Manchester United had played the better football with the words, "Everyone thinks they have the most beautiful wife at home."
Now he was left wondering why his Helen of Troy had once more not won the pageant. (©Independent News Service)