William Gallas's tackle takes shine of Arsenal's return to top of Premier League
An assault on the Premier League or, simply, an assault? Arsenal certainly threw down the gauntlet with this victory which propelled them above both Chelsea and Manchester United. But they put the boot in as well. If Arsenal's fans were angry with referee Alan Wiley for apparently allowing challenges to go unchallenged, then it was Bolton who paid the price. And is cheering off an opponent as he lay on a stretcher, and who was quite evidently badly injured, really necessary however much you want your team to win? There was an apology from Arsène Wenger for William Gallas's horrendous tackle on Mark Davies a dangerous challenge from which the midfielder will be fortunate to escape without a serious ankle injury. Yet there was defiance also with the Arsenal manager insistent that his players were correct to keep the ball in play and score the goal that drew them level in a contest from which they had trailed by two goals and went on to score four. It will be argued that, for years, Arsenal have been kicked by Bolton so what's wrong with a bit of retribution. But they haven't been kicked by a talented young player like Davies or by a team managed by Owen Coyle. It's often been said that one thing that Gallas has brought to Arsenal is a hardness and desire to win that isn't always evident among some of the younger players. And this is meant, rightly, as a compliment. Gallas, for all his previous preciousness and his clashes with those around him, is a warrior who craves winning. Just ask John Terry or Thierry Henry. The story goes that following one narrow away victory a couple of seasons ago, Gallas returned to the dressing room to see a team-mate sitting glumly. 'What's wrong?' Gallas asked. 'I didn't play well,' came the reply. '---- that, we won,' the defender said in a contemptuous, Roy Keane-like reply. They won again last night. And there was no doubting their desire to do so, their resolve. Like Keane would have done, Gallas played on. But Wenger has made much of the bad tackles his players have endured, the spoiling tactics they have faced in the past, attempts to stymie their football. At times, he has been right to complain. But to do so again last night, in defence of Gallas's challenge, was not right. 'We got some tackles, some big ones, and we had to cope with it,' Wenger said, but it wasn't really the right moment to raise the issue. Shame. Really, the focus should have been about Arsenal's resolve and desire to win, about the coruscating, effervescent football of Fabregas, who even Owen Coyle referred to as 'Fab'. Fab indeed. It should have been about a team who have won seven of their last nine league games and who have come back from the crushing defeat at home to Chelsea in November to overhaul Carlo Ancelotti's team, albeit thanks to goals scored. And what goals. Arsenal have now struck 59 times in 22 league games. And it is not just about the weight of goals but their quality also. It was an ugly build-up to Cesc Fabregas's strike but a beautiful finish. Just like the other goals. While Chelsea have dropped nine points, and United have dropped eight, Arsenal have eaten up the ground with graceful aplomb. It is all so ridiculously improbable. The victory last night sets them up for a sequence of matches that will test their credentials to the full Aston Villa away, Manchester United at home, Chelsea away and Liverpool at home before they encounter a burst of seven games against teams in the lower half of the table, a run that could truly propel them to an improbable title. They were driven towards the win last night. Arsenal create a relentless head-of-steam, waves of attacks and they are so often dictated by Fabregas. 'We are top of the league,' chanted the home supporters. And they may stay there. It should have been a joyous occasion. Except it didn't quite feel like that. Not after Gallas's challenge.
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