|It doesn't have to be pretty...|
All told, the first half was pretty tame stuff. Perhaps the best news for Gunners fans was the return of center-back Thomas Vermalen a.k.a. 'The Vermanator' into Arsenal's starting lineup. As usual, it was a youthful side put forth in the cup from the hosts. Arshavin was given freedom to roam behind the lead striker, much like his role in the Russia national squad. Arsenal enjoyed most of the possession in the early stages and Ju Young Park had several sharp cracks at goal in the first half. Darren Pratley led the charge as Bolton briefly asserted themselves but when as the rain began to fall, the hosts resumed dictating the pace of the match.
A wet but content crowd of almost 57,000 vocalized their support throughout the match and they were certainly given more to cheer about in the second half. However, two minutes from the restart, it was Fabrice Muamba of Bolton who would draw first blood. It would be interesting indeed to discover Wenger's thoughts as he watched the ball pop into the roof of the net, having come from the boot of a former Arsenal Academy lad. A sparkling goal and individual effort to be sure...thankfully, the Wanderer's lead would last only five minutes. Arshavin orchestrated the attack from his free-form position culminating with a retaliatory strike that leveled the game. The ever-smiling Russian shared the ball and the joy five minutes later when he fed the ball to a crashing Ju Young Park whose clever timing had kept him onside. The South Korea skipper looped a swerving shot round Bogdan that just squeaked in the far post. The Professor's face revealed his pride (and relief) but Arsenal were soon forced to defend their lead. Gary Cahill, the summer's would be Gunner, provided a constant goal threat despite his defensive role in the lineup. As Bolton pressed to tie the game, Fabianski was tested on several occasions. Bolton swapped in Chris Eagles and Robbie Blake (both signings Owen Coyle brought along from his Burnley side) and Arsenal countered with Ryo Miyachi and Oguzhan Ozyakup. Promising runs by each team, but the story of the match had already been told.
Its on to the next round for Arsenal, with eight teams left in the competition. The selection draw takes place on Saturday and odds are the Gunners will draw a stiff Premier League rival. That tie falls short of top priority at the moment, however. Saturday, the Battle for North London commences as the Gunners travel to Stamford Bridge in the London Derby, and then host Marseille Tuesday in the Champions League. Come on You Gunners!!