On paper, this is a brilliant result. In fact, the numbers from our pregame poll, 48% expected a Arsenal win, compared with 18% who predicted a draw.Going into this match, I wasn't sure what to expect. Bolton have been putting in better performances of late, but it has been so difficult to predict the Trotters this season, that any pre-match expectations should be taken for granted. Don't get me wrong, tonight was an excellent result and an even better performance, but it's difficult to see that as a point gained rather than two lost.
This is not to take away from Arsenal. Had the Gunners put away just a couple of their early chances, the match could have gone very differently indeed. Arsenal had the speed and skill to easily get behind the Bolton defense and goalkeeper Adam Bogdan was very busy for the first 30 minutes. Luckily, he stood up to the test, including in a literal sense in a one-on-one with Theo Walcott. The young Hungarian, who I doubted earlier this season, seems to have secured his starting place during Jussi Jaaskelainen's absence, as even though the usual goalkeeper was available and on the bench tonight, he got the start. After the opening period, the home side seemed more confident. While not exactly bossing the game, Arsenal seemed less of a threat and Bolton were even putting in a few nervy attacks of their own. In spite of some nervy minutes at both ends, halftime was reached goalless.
It was in the second half that Bolton really settled into a groove. Even central defender David Wheater, who has only gotten better and better this season, had a good chance in a header that went just wide. This is not to say Arsenal did not see to it that Bolton hearts went into Bolton throats, most notably from Robin van Persie. The Dutchman easily skipped past Bolton defenders, only to send his shot clattering against the post. Theo Walcott managed to pick up the rebound, but failed to do anything with it. Similarly to the first half, Bolton started to go for it towards the end of the match and Mark Davies was unlucky to earn a penalty.
By the final whistle Bolton had 8 shots on targets in comparison to Arsenal's 7. It's not a big difference, but when playing Arsenal, any numerical advantage is to be praised. Perhaps even more surprisingly, throughout the match Bolton only made 8 fouls, while Arsenal made 10. Overall, it was a pleasing performance from the home side, and every player put in at least a decent shift, if not an excellent one. Notably, Wheater was massive at the back, filling holes left by Cahill and maybe some he would have forgotten. David Ngog was also impressive up front, both creating chances and taking them, although he did not score a goal.
It seems silly to be disappointed by this result. 24 hours ago I would've taken this no questions asked. A clean sheet and a point against a behemoth of English football is nothing to scoff at. But it's difficult not to feel that Bolton really should have edged this one. Regardless, it is a point, and it will be a confidence boost for the squad. It has been a season of false dawns and too many new beginnings for the Men in White, but this run of form, having only seen one loss in the last five league games, seems to be speaking for itself. Perhaps we're not in crisis after all, maybe Owen Coyle does know what he's doing, and maybe, just maybe, we will be able to avoid relegation this season.