It is not unknown for Sir Alex Ferguson to deride Arsène Wenger on the occasions he defends Arsenal as a team in transition, the argument being there is no such understanding for Manchester United and the inference being his French adversary has escaped lightly having not presented a credible Premiership challenge for the past two years.
By that logic, Ferguson should be pleased with developments at the Reebok Stadium on Wednesday, where amid a tumultuous FA Cup replay came evidence the development excuse may now have ran its course at Arsenal. Perhaps that is pushing it.
Victory at Bolton was more than just another north-west pitfall overcome for Wenger and his team, one that resembled a mix and match of their Premiership and Carling Cup outfits yet still delivered another exhilarating exhibition of attacking play. Maintaining style and conviction despite a catalogue of missed opportunities and a stoppage-time equaliser from the Bolton centre-half Abdoulaye Méïté confirmed Arsenal are maturing.
The question remains, however, as to when this relatively young squad can transfer consistent cup form back into the Premiership? "I think we will be ready for everything next season," promised Emmanuel Adebayor, scorer of the first and third Arsenal goals.
"People say this is a young side who can't stand up to a physical game but we have proved differently. What we have got is a young, emerging squad that is getting better and better as this season goes on.
"We moved house into a new stadium and that took a bit of getting used to. Now we are winning there and I think next season we will get maximum points from every match we play there. Our aim is to be up there with Manchester United and Chelsea in the league and I certainly believe we can be."
Blackburn await in tomorrow's fifth round at the Emirates and with a Carling Cup final already secured against Chelsea, Adebayor believes Arsenal can claim a tangible reward for their progress this season.
Adebayor said: "This season we have great opportunities of success in the FA Cup, Carling Cup and Champions League. Getting through at Bolton has given us enormous confidence. You could see from our reaction at the end how much this win meant to us even if it took extra time."
Those demanding additional 30 minutes will have an influence on Wenger's team selection this weekend as he prepares for the resumption of the Champions League and a trip to PSV Eindhoven next week. "The fatigue factor is important," said the Arsenal manager. "We didn't wish to play extra time but as long as you win you hope you can recover. I will change some players on Saturday, that is for sure."
At least Wenger's options are improving, with Freddie Ljungberg confirming his return from a two-month absence with a hamstring problem on Wednesday with the critical second goal executed superbly beyond the Bolton keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen. "It's been very boring and frustrating being out injured but when you come back and score a goal like that it is all worth it," said the Swedish international.
"It's good that we have such a lot of really good, young players but I have been here for nine years and I'm feeling quite good in how I play alongside them."
The Bolton manager, Sam Allardyce, has challenged his squad not to become demoralised and to ensure European qualification is achieved in what remains of a season now devoid of cup interest. "We have to pick ourselves up and try to secure a Uefa Cup place," insisted Allardyce. "At least we are in a good position to do it."Reuse content