Theo Walcott's Arsenal appearances are still mostly restricted to cameo roles but it will surely not be long before the 18-year-old striker takes centre stage at the Emirates Stadium. Walcott's performance when he came on as a second-half substitute helped to turn around his team's fortunes yesterday after a typically obdurate Bolton threatened to end their 100 per cent home record.
Arsène Wenger turned to the pace of Walcott and the trickery of Tomas Rosicky after his team had spent more than an hour failing to find a way through Bolton's resilient rearguard. Walcott in particular brought a new dimension to the game and once Kolo Touré's 68th minute free-kick had broken down the Bolton door Arsenal took command. The Premier League leaders have dropped only two points this season and have now won 11 games in a row in all competitions. Bolton, meanwhile, have won just once in the top flight and are now bottom of the table.
With their uncompromising approach, Bolton consistently got under Arsenal's skins during Sam Allardyce's eight-year reign as manager. Allardyce – not to mention his successor, Sammy Lee, who was dismissed last week after only five months in charge – have gone, but the team's abrasive and scuffling style remains.
It was another ill-tempered meeting between the two teams, though the pushing and shoving generally carried more malice than the tackles themselves. There were, however, loud claims for a penalty after Gavin McCann's tackle on Emmanuel Adebayor, but the midfielder had timed his lunge perfectly and won the ball. Mike Riley, the referee, was booed at half-time, but it was hard to find fault with most of his decisions.
Distracted by the regular interruptions, Arsenal struggled to find their usual rhythm. Adebayor, who connected poorly with a far-post header, and William Gallas, who miscued from close range, had the only chances of note in the first half and when Emmanuel Eboué blazed over the bar from 10 yards out just after the break it seemed that Arsenal's frustrations might get the better of them.
However, within six minutes of the arrival of Walcott and Rosicky, they were in front. From a free-kick 25 yards out Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini set the ball up for Touré, who powered the ball into the bottom corner. Fabregas had had limited success until that point, but thereafter the Spanish midfielder took control. The contest was effectively over 12 minutes later. Walcott created just enough space to cross from the right-hand byline and Rosicky crept into the six-yard box to sidefoot home.
Bolton had been content to play on the back foot and defended well for the first hour, but they rarely threatened at the other end. Kevin Davies was left to plough a lone furrow front, with only occasional support from El-Hadji Diouf and Kevin Nolan. Their most effective attacking ploy was Ivan Campo's long throw to Davies but his flicks went unconverted.
"We gave a good account of ourselves," Archie Knox, Bolton's caretaker manager, said afterwards. "We were aggressive enough, but when you concede a goal against a team of Arsenal's quality it's always going to be an uphill struggle."
Wenger, who agreed that the introduction of Walcott and Rosicky had helped to turn the match around, said: "We have a good momentum now. We built our success today through patience, keeping a high tempo and mastering our nerves. The game was getting a bit hectic at times and it was important that we didn't lose our heads, continued to stay calm and played football. That was a good sign of our increasing maturity."
The Arsenal manager was pleased to hear that the journalists, anxious to get home to watch the Rugby World Cup final, would be happy with a brief post-match press conference. "That will give me time to go home, change and put my England rugby shirt on," he smiled.Reuse content