Although the Carling Cup is meant to be about youth for Arsenal, last night they needed the wise old head of Andrei Arshavin to send them through to the quarter-finals. Bolton Wanderers had taken the lead early in the second half, but within a three-minute spell Arshavin had scored the equaliser and created the winner.
It was surely Arshavin's most meaningful contribution for Arsenal since he scored the winning goal here against Barcelona eight months ago. Although he has not become the player for Arsenal that many hoped when he signed in 2009, he is still able to do things that others are not.
When he intervened last night, Arsenal were struggling. The hosts had conceded early in the second half, and Ivan Klasnic had missed a good chance for a 2-0 lead.
Six minutes after Fabrice Muamba's goal, Arshavin received the ball in the inside-right channel. He carried the ball into the area, and, with Zat Knight and Mark Davies generously declining to tackle him, he was free to shoot into the bottom corner and bring Arsenal level. Owen Coyle was unimpressed: "If you allow a player like that to come roaming into your box, you're going to have a problem. He had to be closed down."
Two minutes later, Arshavin carved out a lead. A swift counter-attack sent him through the middle, as he ran at the retreating Gary Cahill. The Russian was smart and patient enough to hold on to the ball until Park Chu-young was in an unimprovable position on his left. He rolled Park the ball, and the South Korean clipped it into the far corner for his first Arsenal goal.
"He had a good performance tonight," manager Arsène Wenger said of Arshavin. His assist for Park owed to his redeployment in his favoured No 10 role. "He is normally a wide player but he wants now to go in the role behind the striker, and of course he can do that. He likes to play in there."
Wenger was even more complimentary about Park. "He had a very, very good performance," he said. "He has shown intelligence in his link play with others, the quality of his movement was exceptional, and his finishing is absolutely fantastic."
Although Wenger said that the contributions of Arshavin, Park and Yossi Benayoun "made the difference", it was not meant to be this way. The Carling Cup has a vital role in Arsenal's regenerative process; it is the laboratory to examine which of their youngsters will be able to do the necessary in the first team.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started on the right but he missed Arsenal's best chance of the first half: he had a clear run on goal but was forced wide by Knight, and his shot, when it came, looked more like a hopeful cross.
Francis Coquelin was responsible for Bolton's goal immediately after the break. His pass to Emmanuel Frimpong was unreachable, allowing Muamba to steal in. Muamba exchanged passes with Darren Pratley, surged into the box and fired into the net.
After Arshavin had conjured Arsenal into the lead, the hosts had to defend to ensure the victory. Cahill was an attacking threat, and Coyle said that "you will not see a clearer penalty" than one that was not awarded after Cahill was felled by Frimpong.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Yennaris, Squillaci, Vermaelen (Boateng, 84), Miquel; Frimpong (Ozyakup, 76), Coquelin; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Miyaichi, 73), Arshavin, Benayoun; Park. Substitutes not used Mannone (gk), Aneke, Meade, Watt.
Bolton (4-2-3-1): Bogdan; Steinsson, Cahill, Knight, Gardner; Muamba, M Davies; Kakuta (Eagles, 71), Pratley (Ngog, 61), Tuncay (Blake, 85); Klasnic. Substitutes not used Jaaskelainen (gk), Reo-Coker, Wheater, Riley.
Referee A Taylor (Cheshire).Reuse content