Ambitious Allardyce makes point as Arsenal slip up again

Bolton Wanderers 1 Arsenal 1
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The Independent Football

At the venue where Manchester United and Rio Ferdinand had suffered such a heavy blow the previous day, Arsenal took some punishment too, from a revitalised Bolton Wanderers, who fully deserved to extend their run to only one defeat in 10 games. Having won at Chelsea last weekend, Bolton were tactically bold enough to take the game to the leaders and spirited enough to recover and earn a draw, just as they had done from 2-0 down last April. Eight months ago, that point kept Arsenal off the top of the table and played a decisive role in winning United the championship; this one allowed Chelsea to pull level on everything except alphabetical order.

Henrik Pedersen's thumping drive of an equaliser soon after coming on as a substitute rounded off a marvellous eight days for one of the Premier League's less fashionable outfits, also including as it did victory over Southampton to reach the Carling Cup semi-finals.

Now they have settled in the top half for the first time in two years. The Danish striker has enjoyed it all as much as anyone in yesterday's record Reebok crowd, which was braving ghastly Lancashire weather; after forcing John Terry's decisive own goal at Stamford Bridge, he scored the winner against Southampton and was on the spot again yesterday.

If the soaking, gusty conditions were a leveller, there was further evidence that the top three can still be pushed over 90 minutes, albeit not a full season. Bolton have never lacked spirit, and in Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff they also have quality. There are even four Englishmen in the side - which is four more than in last season's fixture - in place of some of the more obscure foreign loanees.

Every reason then for Sam Allardyce to be proud of his boys, and his garçons. "We were looking at a daunting task of Chelsea and Arsenal but have gone on an unbeaten run and it's been a very, very satisfying week," he said. "Today we've matched a top, top side that's unbeaten in the Premiership."

Like the equally eventful game in April, there was refereeing controversy too, the home contingent convinced that Dennis Bergkamp had fouled Ricardo Gardner in the build-up to Arsenal's goal. Allardyce "knew it was a foul, he came from behind our player and made full contact". Arsène Wenger, remarkably, saw the incident and, unremarkably, thought it a fair tackle.

Bolton boldly kept Kevin Nolan out wide on the right throughout, trusting in the young Nicky Hunt to cope behind him, which he accomplished as well as could be expected with Thierry Henry flying at him. Nolan, pushing up on the French teenager Gaël Clichy, was therefore able to contribute a string of dangerous crosses, as well as delivering his team's best effort of a thrilling first half. In the 32nd minute he wriggled past Pascal Cygan and struck a low shot from 15 yards that was destined for the bottom corner of the net before Jens Lehmann got down to turn it away for a corner.

The goalkeeper might have reflected that there was a worrying degree of uncertainty in front of him, one which persisted until the end, as Bolton sent long balls forward for Kevin Davies. "We were off the pace in the first half," Wenger admitted.

Arsenal still did enough further forward to cause problems of their own. Henry whistled a shot past the post the first time his new blue boots were the centre of attention, and soon side-footed a whisker wide after a poor defensive header from Emerson Thome. His next effort was a typical sprint down the left, bemusing Hunt before forcing Jussi Jaaskelainen to punch away the cross. So although the force was with Allardyce's team, they might, undeservedly, have gone to tea in arrears.

It was hard on them to fall behind after more end-to-end football 12 minutes into the second half. Graham Poll turned down appeals about Bergkamp's tackle before the Dutchman sent Henry away to set up Fredrik Ljungberg; the Swede was denied from 10 yards by Jaaskelainen, the rebound falling perfectly for Robert Pires to shoot high into the net.

There might soon have been an equaliser. Sol Campbell conceded a free-kick in a dangerous area by clattering into Davies from behind and was almost punished when Okocha brought the dead ball to life by curling it against the outside of a post. Per Frandsen was equally unfortunate, watching Pires nod away his header with Lehmann beaten.

Like any team trailing Arsenal, the home team now had to risk being caught on the break. With two yellow cards apiece, the other danger for both sides was of losing a man. Wenger decided to change one, replacing Bergkamp with the more industrious Ray Parlour in a move that showed the way the game was going. But Bolton's first substitution proved more significant. Pedersen, sent on for Nolan, meted out more Reebok justice with a fierce half-volley as Davies challenged Cygan for the umpteenth time.

Bolton Wanderers 1
Pedersen 83

Arsenal 1
Pires 57

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 28,003