Arsenal knew a win would virtually guarantee a Uefa Cup place and they began the match full of purpose. In the third minute Ian Wright almost broke through on goal after an accurate pass from Ray Parlour, but was adjudged to be just offside.
The north Londoners continued to apply pressure and in the 14th minute Paul Merson dragged the shot past the left post from the edge of the area. Dennis Bergkamp, who seems to have settled well into the Arsenal side in his first season, then came close in the 22nd minute with a first-time shot from outside the box which shaved the left post.
Bolton - who seemed a bit overwhelmed by the speed and quantity of Arsenal's attacks - did, however, fashion a first half chance of their own.
John McGinlay perhaps should have scored when he got on to the end of a Scott Sellars free-kick - David Seaman looked rather relieved to see the ball bounce up softly into his hands.
Just before half-time there was an extraordinary moment when David Platt, by twisting his body, somehow managed to strike a back-heel overhead shot from a cross by Bergkamp. His effort looped up and harmlessly bounced off the top of the crossbar going for a goal kick.
On his return match from injury, Ian Wright - who was sporting a new bleached hairstyle (he looked a bit like one of Madonna's stage dancers) - was substituted by John Hartson in the 57th minute; Wright had never really got into the match.
Things began to get desperate for Arsenal. News of arch rivals Tottenham as well as Blackburn doing well seemed to have circulated around the ground thanks to transistor radios. The crowd - sensing the Uefa place slipping out of Arsenal's grasp - raised the decibel levels.
Playing with more urgency the Gunners pushed forward. Paul Merson headed over from a Bergkamp cross. In the 65th minute the Dutchman again almost scored - a right-footed curling shot going just past the right post.
But disaster seemingly struck for Arsenal in the 75th minute. Bolton's Andy Todd got hold of the ball in a midfield mix up, dribbled past a couple of challengers and calmly flipped his shot past Seaman.
A deathly silence fell over Highbury until with eight minutes to go. David Platt, twisting, shot in from close range after good work from Bergkamp.
Then, three minutes later, the seemingly impossible happened. Bergkamp took the ball in his stride 35 yards out and slammed a powerful shot into the top right-hand corner.
The Uefa Cup place was thus, amazingly, secured.
Goals: Todd (76) 0-1; Platt (82) 1-1; Bergkamp (84) 2-1.
Arsenal (3-5-2): Seaman; Keown, Linighan, Marshall (Shaw, 78); Dixon, Merson, Platt, Parlour, Winterburn; Bergkamp, Wright (Hartson, 57). Substitute not used: Bartram (gk).
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Brannigan; Bergsson, Small, McAnespie, Coleman (Blake, 86), McGinlay, Stubbs, Sellars, Paatelainen; Curcic (Thompson, 70), Todd. Substitute not used: Green.
Referee: G Willard (Worthing). Attendance: 38,104.
Bookings: Arsenal: Parlour, Bergkamp.
Man of the match: Bergkamp.