Freddie refocuses Arsenal ambition

Bolton Wanderers 0 - Arsenal 1
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The Independent Football

When Bolton's manager, Sam Allardyce, said before yesterday's feisty FA Cup quarter-final that he wanted his team to get into their opponents' faces, he presumably did not mean the instruction to be taken quite as literally as El Hadji Diouf's interpretation. The habitually irresponsible Senegalese forward was duly sent off after only nine minutes for catching Jens Lehmann with an arm; and as his side were already a goal down, hopes of the underdogs having their day effectively went with him.

When Bolton's manager, Sam Allardyce, said before yesterday's feisty FA Cup quarter-final that he wanted his team to get into their opponents' faces, he presumably did not mean the instruction to be taken quite as literally as El Hadji Diouf's interpretation. The habitually irresponsible Senegalese forward was duly sent off after only nine minutes for catching Jens Lehmann with an arm; and as his side were already a goal down, hopes of the underdogs having their day effectively went with him.

Bolton, characteristically, gave it a good go thereafter, causing confusion from long throws and crosses in a visiting defence often at sea in the absence of Sol Campbell. For surprisingly long periods their 10 men were able to push Arsenal back, though on the counter-attack Arsène Wenger's team were as dangerous as ever. Missing the injured Thierry Henry, who has played in only one of their FA Cup ties this season, proved a less serious handicap than Campbell's absence. Wenger employed Jose Antonio Reyes as the main striker, with Dennis Bergkamp using all his guile in hovering in the space between the back four and Fernando Hierro, Bolton's holding midfielder. In addition, Fredrik Ljungberg and Robert Pires broke from wide positions with threatening diagonal runs through the middle, one of which brought the Swede's early goal. The home side never quite came to terms with either tactic.

Ljungberg failed to double the winning margin in added time with one of the misses of the season and Pires, who laid on that chance, could also have had a goal himself but for taking a ridiculous dive in the penalty area of the sort that seems almost instinctive to him. He rightly received one of the game's 10 yellow cards.

Patrick Vieira, especially in the first half, was a much more influential figure than in the insufficiently convincing win over Bayern Munich in midweek and will now have visions of lifting the FA Cup again to prevent a rare season without an Arsenal trophy. In five weeks' time, they will play their 25th FA Cup semi-final - a new record - and a fifth in succession, equalling Manchester United's run between 1962-66.

A team of lesser spirit than Bolton, missing their one creative spark in Jay-Jay Okocha, might have given up the day as lost within 10 minutes of the 12.15 kick off. After a bright start, they were undone by Arsenal's first attack, in which Bergkamp in midfield was allowed to feed Pires, Ljungberg making one of his darting runs between two static centre-backs for a clever, dinking finish.

Six minutes later Diouf became the latest miscreant to let his team down with a sending-off in a high-profile game, following Everton's James Beattie - who was dismissed even earlier against Chelsea at Goodison - then the Southampton and Arsenal pair, David Prutton and Robin van Persie. Wenger, fearing that his team would lose their numerical advantage as they had at St Mary's, said he was pleased with their discipline this time, though four of them were booked along with Bolton's six.

After the goal, Jussi Jaaskelainen made a series of excellent saves, notably from Reyes and Ljungberg in the first half, each having played a smart one-two reminiscent of the champions' more free-flowing autumn. In the second half the goalkeeper kept out Reyes' 20-yarder and Bergkamp's dipping free-kick, before blocking Bergkamp in the final minute and watching in disbelief as Ljungberg side-footed over the bar from two yards.

But the home side, spurred by their history of coming from behind to hold Arsenal - as well as beating them in the Premiership two months ago - had two identical chances from the archetypal Bolton move: a long throw flicked on at the near post for Stelios Giannakopoulos, who headed the first at Lehmann and the second too high. It was a brave effort overall, which only added to Allardyce's disappointment, and his frustration with Diouf. "We've let a great opportunity slip of beating Arsenal again because I felt they were there for the taking," he said. "But we needed 11 men to do it."

"You know what to expect when you come here," Wenger said. "The fact that they lost a man didn't affect them in their build-up, they just kicked the same long balls into the box. We needed a lot of character, especially after the disappointment of Wednesday night, and without that we would have gone out."

There was an additional issue for each manager to deal with as well: Allardyce being touted as Manchester City's next manager and Chelsea's alleged tapping-up of Ashley Cole.

The Bolton manager was able to brush the subject of City off with: "I've listened to the chairman of Manchester City saying he's appointed a manager [Stuart Pearce]. I just want Bolton to finish as high as they've ever done and see what happens in the summer, what's available and whether we're in Europe or not."

Wenger was less equivocal about his left-back, who had been kept on the substitutes' bench yesterday because of a hamstring problem. Following Chelsea's apparent, belated admission that their representatives met Cole in a London hotel last month, the Arsenal manager said more strongly than he has done before: "I'm convinced the meeting took place, but I have to let the Premier League make their inquiry. The timing of the meeting was not very good; two days before we play Manchester United your players are tapped up." But he was smiling again at the end of a difficult week.

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