Nicklas Bendtner wins over booboys as Arsenal stay in touch

10 January 2009 07:15
Towards the end the spoiled brats among Arsenal's support, the type who booed Emmanuel Eboue into an early shower a few weeks ago - so alarmingly had his confidence plummeted that Arsene Wenger took him off against Wigan here - began to pick on Nicklas Bendtner. Within minutes they were roaring as the big Dane's goal won Arsenal the points and I imagine their glee was shameless.

Whether they deserved it or not, Arsenal merited victory over visitors as unambitious as you could imagine. Although there were mitigating factors - so depleted were Bolton by injury, illness and suspension that Gary Megson could muster only four substitutes - Bendtner's half-volley, just 10 minutes after he had replaced Eboue, would not have disappointed too many neutrals. It kept Arsenal tucked in behind Aston Villa in the race for fourth place and extended their run of Premier League matches without defeat to seven.

They are not, however, playing the football to which this stadium is accustomed and Wenger, resigned to being without the hugely influential Cesc Fabregas until March, acknowledges it. ''We have been more creative in the past,'' he said, ''but we have a good, resilient spirit. Before, I watched Villa against West Bromwich and that showed how difficult every match can be for everybody.''

To play and, sometimes, to watch. From the start Bolton invited Arsenal to camp on the edge of their penalty area while a distant Johan Elmander kept himself warm by shuttling fruitlessly from one defender to another. The Swede, having taken a buffeting from Kolo Toure during a rare moment in possession, departed before half-time. The substitute Mustapha Riga was himself to be replaced, giving way to Temitope Obadeyi with less than good grace.

An early penalty for Arsenal might have changed the nature of the afternoon, but Jlloyd Samuel, flicking out a hand as he lay at Robin van Persie's feet, escaped detection. So we reached the interval without even a hint of a goal. Indeed the first serious threat came from Bolton, Riga measuring a crafty cross from deep over Toure for Matt Taylor, whose header Manuel Almunia dived to clutch.

Arsenal were over-reliant for creativity on Samir Nasri, whom Wenger moved into a more central role after half-time, at first switching Abou Diaby to the left but soon replacing Diaby with the young and gifted Carlos Vela. Nasri then opened up the Bolton defence with an angled pass to Emmanuel Adebayor, whose attempt Andy O'Brien raced across to block.

At last the stadium came alive. Van Persie went even closer, striking a post from Adebayor's flick. But anti-climax began to descend and Bendtner, after twice passing to opponents, was rewarded for an accurate short ball with an ironic cheer. A couple of minutes later, Gael Clichy pierced the right side of Bolton's defence and Van Persie, crossing short and sweet, found Bendtner beyond the far post. The angle was tight and yet Bendtner, edging in ahead of Samuel, smacked the ball between Jussi Jaaskelainen's legs.

Asked about Bendtner's initial problems, Wenger said the below-zero temperature made life difficult for substitutes: ''It was so cold and Nicklas, coming on late in the game, had no time to warm up.'' Once again the Arsenal manager had gambled adventurously and, as he observed: ''We had to finish up with good old-fashioned 4-2-4 to get a result.'' It might have been a less palatable one. In an attacking flurry a minute after falling behind, Bolton made an opening for Kevin Davies, whose shot Almunia did well to parry. Arsenal saw out the rest without further alarms.

An unapologetic Megson, the obduracy of whose team had been epitomised by O'Brien and Dan Shittu, regretted only that his men had departed from ultra-deep defence on one occasion and it had cost them a point. Why had he been three substitutes short? It was quite simple: ''We didn't have any more players.''

There was unlikely to be much more activity in the transfer window, he indicated, but the French defender Sebastien Puygrenier has been secured from Zenit St Petersburg and the bans of Kevin Nolan and Gretar Steinsson will soon be served. Though a third consecutive defeat is a worry, there is plenty of fight left in Bolton.

Source: Telegraph