Tuesday 24 April 2018

Gunner 'Messi' fails to mask Arsenal flaws

Arsenal 3
Bolton 0

Jason Burt

With such an apparently convincing scoreline and with Arsene Wenger mentioning Robin Van Persie in the same breathe as Lionel Messi then it would appear that the good times are back at Arsenal, that the confidence has flooded in, the fantasy football also.

Not quite. Wenger understandably qualified the Messi comparison; Arsenal had endured a nerve-shredding first-half and, at times, the football was pedestrian.

Arsenal are still struggling to find their fluency and, as Bolton manager Owen Coyle ruefully commented, they were "there for the taking".

Coyle added: "Let's not get away from it, they are a fantastic team with a fantastic manager but they didn't have a shot on target in the first half."

A team in better form than Bolton -- now rock-bottom and struggling having gone into free-fall at the end of last season and the beginning of this -- would have exploited that but, eventually, Arsenal ran out easy winners with Van Persie collecting two goals to reach the century landmark at the club.

Van Persie has now scored 26 goals in 31 games this year while not being a conventional centre-forward.

"On that front, I see similarities positional-wise with Messi," Wenger said. "He comes deep, he likes to turn up up-front as well -- don't make me make a comparison with Messi! But just positional-wise he doesn't play like a real centre-forward."

Wenger praised Van Persie's growing maturity, something he hopes to accelerate further having awarded him the captaincy, and hailed the Dutchman as a "super-talent technically". No-one who witnessed this performance, and the technique shown in claiming those two goals, would argue with that.

The danger is Arsenal will become over-dependent on Van Persie, particularly because of his worrying record with injuries, and there is still something unsatisfactory about the way Wenger has set his team up.

The sight of new £10m signing Mikel Arteta becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of movement ahead of him in that first period was unmistakeable.

Arsenal's fragile state of mind meant that he, Alex Song and, significantly, Aaron Ramsey dropped far too deep, leaving a huge gap between the midfield and the strikers, which they struggled to breach until Wenger made his half-time adjustments.

Indeed the best opportunity in the first 45 minutes fell to Bolton's Darren Pratley, whose early poked volley was superbly saved by Wojciech Szczesny.

Forty seconds into the second half, Ramsey burst forward to feed Van Persie who showed that "super-talent" to manoeuvre the space and beat Jussi Jaaskelainen at his near post.

Once ahead, Arsenal grew in stature and the dismissal of David Wheater, tugging back Theo Walcott, ended any semblance of a contest.

Van Persie's second was created by Walcott -- and again owed much to the striker's technical accomplishment as he flicked the ball home -- and Song added a third by steering his shot around Jaaskelainen late on.

Bolton, without the ill Gary Cahill and unfit Stuart Holden and losing David N'gog to concussion, looked desperately weak.

Kevin Davies is a strangely subdued presence, and Coyle has failed to replace Daniel Sturridge. It could be a very difficult campaign although it has also been a tricky opening sequence of matches: next up Chelsea. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport