Arsenal's title challenge is ended by Bolton, who miss a penalty but score from two corners
Good afternoon, world. I hope you're out somewhere, enjoying the bumper bank holiday sunshine and preparing to follow this afternoon's game and engage in some email-based banter via a mobile device. I'll sit inside and watch TV, friends, so you don't have to.
Well, Arsenal probably can't win the title this season. That situation won't change even if they win today, but if they don't, we'll be able to exchange the word "probably" with "definitely". Bolton, arses still stinging from last week's FA Cup semi-final hiding from Stoke, simply must be beaten.
The teams are in – and we're told that Johan Elmander will line up in central midfield for Bolton.
Bolton: Jaaskelainen, Steinsson, Cahill, Knight, Robinson, Lee, Elmander, Muamba, Taylor, Sturridge, Kevin Davies. Subs: Bogdan, Petrov, Mark Davies, Klasnic, Moreno, Cohen, Wheater.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Song, Wilshere, Walcott, Fabregas, Nasri, van Persie. Subs: Lehmann, Ramsey, Squillaci, Arshavin, Eboue, Gibbs, Chamakh.
Referee: Mike Jones.
Jackson Beckham Diego Socrates da Silva Jesus. Is he the first professional footballer named after England's own David Beckham? It certainly shows just how old the LA-based midfield veteran is getting...In no way related to this game question of the day: Fiorentina have a 16-year-old Brazilian striker called
Of course, there was a time when Bolton were something of a bogey team for Arsenal. No more, though: Arsenal have won their last eight games against the Trotters, including three here, and the clubs' Premier League head-to-head reads: Played: 23, Arsenal wins: 14, Draws: 5, Bolton wins: 4.
Gary Naylor responds to our continuing auto-refresh crisis. "The Guardian have had this obvious problem for ages now and still haven't done anything about it," he notes. "Who's in charge of your IT? Arsène Wenger?"
Sky are hosting a debate about whether we need a winter break. Pur-leese, I thought that hoary old chestnut was done with for eight months or so.
Bolton's players are lining up in the tunnel. Lots of people in the crowd are wearing silly outfits. The Arsenal players are there too. It's action time.
Inevitable interesting pre-match @optajoe stat: Bolton have hit the woodwork least often this season (five times), Arsenal the most (20).
1min: Peeeeep! And they're off!
2 mins: The first minute's commentary throws up this double-whammy: "2011 has been a terrible year for Arsenal" ... "they're the only unbeaten team in the Premier League." I do hope that one day my team can be as unsuccessful as Arsenal.
3mins: Jack Wilshere, the subject of much focus on his return to the club where he enjoyed a profitable loan spell last season, scurries down the right before sending in a decent cross which, inevitably, no team-mate fancies getting on the end of.
4mins: Walcott escapes down the inside right channel, sends in a low cross which, while never looking likely to actually go in, is still too hot for Jaaskelainen to hold. The ball rebounds to Nasri, but his effort is blocked.
6mins: Theo Walcott seems set for an enjoyable afternoon, given that he is up against a left-back in Paul Robinson who he can both outrun and outjump. Anyway, he finds space again before passing the ball along the edge of the area to Fábregas, who blasts over.
9mins: Lovely run by Wilshere, keeping possession and bringing the ball out of defence, but he's brought down by Muamba. An absolute, cast-iron certain yellow card from where I was sitting, and the referee Mike Jones agrees, but he's getting a bit of a kicking on Sky's commentary (though I must say I'm loath to disagree with the great Kevin Phillips, todays co-commentator).
12mins: Kevin Davies absolutely ploughs into Song, arriving slightly after the ball had departed. A disgraceful challenge, though not quite a red card. The referee doesn't even book him. Utter madness. Whatever Kevin Phillips said about Mike Jones, I agree.
13mins: Song, who must be pretty relieved to still be on the pitch, is booed by the home fans for overdoing his reaction to Davies' horror challenge.
14mins: It's not all one-way traffic. Sturridge does well to ferry the ball out of defence and Bolton briefly have 4v4, but Lee's cross doesn't cut much mustard.
15mins: Sturridge plays Steinsson into space on the right, and his cross is met, just ahead of the near post, by Kevin Davies. The first-time shot zips wide.
16mins: Can these players just stop doing things I have to write about and give me a moment to type? Now Fabregas's 20-yarder is turned round the post at full stretch by a diving Jaaskelainen. This is good stuff.
18mins: "I think the 'unsuccessful' issue is that their seasons of late tend to mirror their matches – lots of fantastic praise-worthy action and no ultimate result," writes Linda Howard of Arsenal. "Think of that winners' circle as a six yard box they piddle around time and time again. Not a 'successful' feeling." Yeah, maybe. There's more to life (and sport) than the accumulation of trophies. Fun as that might be for a while, titles are only of interest to statisticians. Other humans should surely be more interested in being entertained – and Arsenal do that job pretty well, while still winning most of their matches.
20mins: Now Taylor's been booked, for a late, high-legged sliding mess of a challenge.
21mins: Bolton do what Bolton do – hump the ball up to Davies, he flicks it on, and Sturridge scampers away. Only Djourou's excellent intervention stops him from getting a shot in.
24mins: Sturridge's excellent pass releases Lee, running through the Arsenal defence. Instead of shooting, though, he tries a bizarre backheel square-ball to Davies and Arsenal intercept and clear. Great pass, and the best chance of the game.
25mins: Djourou's air-kick allows Matt Taylor to race into Arsenal's penalty area, but his left-foot blast is from too silly an angle to worry Szczesny.
27mins: Taylor crosses from the left, Szczesny tries his very best to fumble the ball in rather than gathering, but doesn't quite manage it.
28mins: Apparently commentators in Spain think Bolton should have been down to nine by now. "On that last lunge by Taylor the one announcer said 'Roja, roja. Es Roja!'" writes Nathaniel Davies. "Before lapsing into comedy English: 'only - yellow - card.'"
30mins: Wilshere's scamper forward is halted when Davies' leg appears from behind him and prods the ball away. A totally fair, utterly clean challenge – but one he'd surely never have dared attempt if he was already on a booking. Just saying, like.
33mins: "Personally the only reason I care about any kind of silverware is the sword of damocles – Fàbregas to Barcelona," writes Linda Howard. "Also the quality that is fantastic to watch deserves accolades beyond people nodding there heads and saying, 'Yes, yes, Arsenal are entertaining.' They players themselves deserve more, don't you think?" Well, perhaps. Unlike fans, players get a tangible reward from the accumulation of trophies in the shape of medals, and players like to have accumulated lots of medals by the time they retire. I totally understand that motivation, and players like Fàbregas are certainly capable of actually winning stuff. But I really think that, in the long term, trophies are pretty meaningless for fans (and clubs, even).
34mins: Sturridge is given offside, an extremely tight decision, when he would otherwise have been clean through. He's having a pretty good game, the striking tyro.
37mins: Fàbregas sets up Nasri, who has time and space to line-up his shot from just outside the penalty area, but he drags it wide of goal. A good chance.
37mins: Lovely chipped pass by Sturridge finds Lee's run, the Korean pokes the ball goalwards on the volley and Szczesny blocks.
GOAL! Bolton 1 Arsenal 0 (Cahill 38) Arsenal clear for a corner. Lee sends it into the penalty area and Cahill, his run unchecked, rises alone to head goalwards. Nasri clears off the line, but Sturridge follows up to thud a header home from a yard. Sky are giving it to Sturridge, but I think the ball probably crossed the line before Nasri got in the way and Cahill will get the nod in the end.
40mins: It's been a very open game, but Bolton have had the three best chances and the best player in the shape of Sturridge, and thus deserve their lead. Replays are entirely inconclusive – Nasri's entire body is blocking the camera's view of the ball – so maybe Sturridge will keep the credit after all.
44mins: Fàbregas thuds a 20-odd yarder across Jaaskelainen's goal and against the meat of his right-hand post.
45mins: We're set for two minutes of stoppage time, and Arsenal are set for a tasty free-kick situation on the edge of the area.
45+2mins: Which, after a very long delay, Van Persie thunders into the top tier.
45+2mins: Peeeep! The first half comes to an end. Breathless stuff. Arsenal have come from behind to win twice in their last three games here (the third they won without that inconvenience).
Half-time: "Trophies don't really matter that much to clubs? You're obviously not a Liverpool fan then," protests Lee Purchase. "The five European cups are a massive deal to their fans, certainly considering their relative lack of success in recent years. And every Arsenal fan I know is getting fed right up at the minute and would kill for a cup of some sort." Yes, because trophies are an indicator of success. They're shorthand for past happiness. And winning trophies is quite fun. But would Arsenal swap their current position for, say, an FA Cup win but a 13th-place finish in the league? Because the trophy-worshippers would suggest that they would be more successful then than now, and I would disagree.
Anyway, I digress. Pretty good game, this. What might have happened last Sunday if Sturridge hadn't been cup tied?
I should also add that in the early stages I was busy typing when Matt Taylor brought Theo Walcott down in the penalty area without touching the ball. Should have been a penalty. Might have changed things, obviously.
46mins: Peeeeeeeep! They're off! Again!
46mins: PENALTY! Djourou maybe just about touches Sturridge, and the referee points to the spot!
47mins: SAVED! Davies sidefoots the ball pretty much down the middle. If Szczesny had dived full-length to his left, he wouldn't have got it. Anything else and it was an easy save. Very poor penalty, but folk will talk about justice.
GOAL! BOLTON 1 ARSENAL 1 (VAN PERSIE 48) Incredible scenes! Van Persie jinks, cuts back, runs across the penalty area, passes to Fàbregas on the penalty spot, accepts the return and then shoots low and hard into the bottom right corner while Jaaskelainen, expecting the ball to go the other way, is flat-footed. What a zany start to the half!
50mins: Arsenal are scenting blood now. They're streaming forward, though not really doing anything particularly exciting when they get there, as of yet.
51mins: Van Persie has now scored in Arsenal's last seven away league games, a Premier League record.
53mins: Song sees Lee steal the ball from his toe, and pokes out a leg to bring the Korean down. Certainly a foul, and a borderline booking, though I wonder if he'd have been shown the yellow card if Lee wasn't running so fast, and therefore fell less explosively. Anyway, Lee was running that fast, and he is booked.
60mins: Djourou miscontrols, and in a fairly decent recreation of the Lee incident Elmander steals the ball, the Swiss sticks out a leg and the Bolton player goes over. Elmander did hurdle Djourou's legs, so there was no contact, and this time the referee doesn't even give a foul.
63mins: Chamakh is being readied on the Arsenal bench.
64mins: Wiltshire's booked, despite winning the ball, after his knees run into Lee's legs.
65mins: And Chamakh comes on, with Alex Song making way.
67mins: The game's going through a bit of a messy period. Mildly Arsenal-dominated, but we've not had a decent chance for a while. Van Persie attempts a 25-yard shot from the corner of the penalty area, but without either accuracy or great venom.
68mins: Chamakh's first touch, in Bolton's penalty area, is an attempted return pass to Nasri that is utterly hopeless, and instead loops five feet in the air before dropping six yards behind the Frenchman.
70mins: Van Persie's ball over the top of Bolton's defence finds Nasri racing clear. A great chance, but Nasri's effort is all power and no subtlety, blasted down the middle of goal, straight at the keeper. It bounces back to him, but too quick for him to react and he tries a shot from an acute angle that Cahill blocks.
71mins: The ball is sent high into Bolton's penalty area where Chamakh decides not to head at goal, and instead attempt to square the ball for Nasri. Wrong decision.
73mins: As Arshavin replaces Walcott, here's a link to the Van Persie goal.
74mins: Lots of indescriminate pressure being exerted on the Bolton defence. "It's just a matter of time now before Arsenal score," says Kevin Phillips.
75mins: Arshavin's through-ball releases Nasri, who ... well ... I'm not sure what he was doing, possibly shooting badly, or maybe passing badly, but either way the ball bobbles limply into Jaaskelainen's arms.
77mins: "Did we learn nothing from Mark Morrison? The Return of Chamakh is terrible," puns Niall Mullen.
79mins: Arsène Wenger has shocked nobody by whingeing about time-wasting. He thuds the ball into the turf in frustration at the time Bolton take to reclaim it off him (and unlike bottle-booting Mark Hughes yesterday, gets away with it).
80mins: Chamakh brings down Robinson, who looks to be in a fair degree of pain, and gets booked.
82mins: "The difficulty you had in (incorrectly) naming the Bolton goalscorer is exactly why review-based video technology is useless," writes Patrick Rennie. "Don't want to open the debate, nor side with Sepp, but had to chip in as i think i'm the only one in the World against video technology." I don't think it's a convincing argument – as in cricket, if the video evidence is inconclusive you stick with the referee's original decision (but I think some other way of telling when the ball crosses the line would be much better than clumsy, slow old video).
83mins: Van Persie attempts and fails in a return pass to Nasri in a crowded penalty area. For all that their goal came from one, I do wish that Arsenal would stop trying these one-twos all the time.
84mins: Another attempted one-two breaks down on the edge of Bolton's penalty area. "It may only a matter of time, Kevin Phillips, before Arsenal score, but only if the amount of time were infinite, rather than a few minutes," rages Mac Millings. "By that logic, I suppose it's only a matter of time before Kevin Phillips says something sensible."
85mins: Arsenal take off Wilshere – who gets an ovation from the entire ground – with Aaron Ramsey replacing him. Bolton swap Daniel Sturridge for Tamir Cohen.
86mins: Arsenal have had 75% of the possession over the last 10 minutes. Seventy-five per cent!
88mins: Davies finally collects his booking, for a not particularly terrible challenge on Koscielny.
89mins: After all their pressure over the last 20 minutes, finally a chance. And it goes to Bolton. A collective misjudgement from the Arsenal defence lets Elmander run through, but his shot is turned round the post.
GOAL! BOLTON 2 ARSENAL 1! Bolton win it in the last minute! And it's another header from a corner, Tamir Cohen's sprightly run to the near post ending in a free header on goal. Calamity.
90mins: The good news for Arsenal, such as it is – there'll be five minutes of stoppage time.
90+3mins: They're an unhappy-looking bunch, that Arsenal lot. Understandable, mind, in many ways. It's a horrible, if fitting, way for their season to effectively end.
90+5mins: Peeeeep! It's all over! In more ways than one!
90+5mins: Tamir Cohen's T-shirt, which he showed after his goal, was a tribute to his late father, who died earlier this season after a motorcycle accident.
Final thoughts: So Arsenal (barring several mathematical improbabilities) won't win the league this season. But then, we knew that already. There is surely no more frustrating team. For all the stuff about trophies not being the be all and end all in football, this is a disappointing team, not up to standard either at the front or at the back. Great midfield, mind. Wenger's position should be absolutely secure, but he should know that he must do better.
But what a brilliant result for Bolton, particularly coming after last week's humbling at Wembley. Sturridge was excellent in the first half, but they offered little attacking threat in the second. An excellent corner, a fine run and a very good header is all they needed.
And a final word from @OptaJoe: Since losing to Birmingham in the League Cup final, Arsenal have won just 2 of 10 games (v L Orient & Blackpool).