21 January ~ Arsenal's climb to the summit of the Premier League was completed last night, even if it is only a temporary high point. Their achievement has been undoubtedly marred by the fashion in which they turned the tide against Bolton, but nevertheless Arsène Wenger's men have managed to overhaul both Manchester United and Chelsea in relatively dramatic fashion. Their success may not be on the same scale as Newcastle surrendering their 12 point cushion to Manchester United in the 1995-96 season, but back in November a title challenge seemed unlikely, especially after they were cast 11 points adrift of leaders Chelsea by an emphatic 3-0 defeat at the hands of their London rivals.
Last night's match hinged on William Gallas's stamp on Bolton midfielder Mark Davies in the build up to the Gunners' equaliser. From that moment on the home side swept aside Owen Coyle's outfit and unsurprisingly the Bolton manager's reaction to the tackle, "it was akin to assault", dominated the newspaper coverage today.
Mirror columnist Darren Lewis was scathing in his analysis, with calls of "shame on you" directed at referee Alan Wiley and the Arsenal supporters who had jeered Davies as he was carried off the pitch. In a welcome and honest response Wenger, having on this rare occasion witnessed the incident, apologised for the stamp saying: "I'm sorry if the tackle was not good, I really am."
It could be seen as something of an epiphany for the Arsenal manager but true to form he defended his players' right to go on and score. Rewind back less than a fortnight and this was the exact opposite reaction he had when Everton attempted a shot in a recent match at Goodison Park while his player Denilson was down injured. On that occasion Everton didn't find the net, but for Wenger, "that was a much more obvious situation. Last night, "that was OK".
The 21-year-old Davies was left with severely damaged ligaments at the very least and left the Emirates on crutches, while Gallas could face retrospective punishment as the referee missed the incident totally. However, despite the unfortunate circumstances, it is hard to deny Arsenal their position. They are the top scorers in the division and play arguably the best football, with their flowing, easy-on-the-eye style and even without Robin Van Persie they have managed seven wins in nine games.
The Sun went as far as dubbing the current side "the immortals" as they refuse to lie down and die. It's unlikely the name will catch on, but with just 16 games left, they have every chance of being back at the top come the end of the season. Chris Hasker