There was a time when Arsenal entered Lancashire with the sort of dread the chief executive of a bank experiences when he or she looks at the books. They were condemned as too soft, too brittle and, in these parts, too southern. Now make thattoo good.
Last week they slaughtered Blackburn Rovers at EwoodPark and last night they were manifestly better than Bolton Wanderers. There were times when they utterly bewildered muscular opponents who have strong-armed them into submission in the past. On this occasion Arsenal's beautiful game was too powerful.
Bolton have defeated Arsène Wenger's men four times at the Reebok and they looked to be heading for another surprise when Kevin Davies gave them a 14th-minute lead. A blistering two-minute spell in which they scored though Emmanuel Eboué and Nicklas Bendtner pushed Arsenal ahead, however, and Denilson completed the victorythat took them to the top of the Premier League with a goal three minutes from time.
It was a masterly performance from Arsenal, whose evening was spoiled only by a shin injuryto Gaël Clichy after a tackle by Davies for which the Bolton striker was booked. It was a challenge that Wenger did not see, but he saw plenty of others. "They tried to intimidate us," he said, "but we kept our nerve and were strong one on one."
Gary Megson, the Bolton manager, defended Davies. "He actually won the ball and it's nonsense to suggest there was anything more," he said. "He's aggressive, but that's what I want my players to be, In my view it was a proper football challenge."
Megson did concede that his side were given a "football lesson" in the first half, but you would not have guessed it from the first 15 minutes. Kevin Nolan almost caught Manuel Almunia too far off his line with a 30-yard chip and the Wanderers captain also won the corner that led to Bolton's goal. Joey O'Brien took the kick and Davies rose above Kolo Touré to head his third goal of the campaign into the corner.
Initially Arsenal looked stunned, but the true effect was akin to lighting a fuse leading to the tail of a tiger. They regrouped, regained their composure and then hit Bolton with such a breathtaking and devastating spell of football they could have scored four times in as many minutes. As it was, they got two goals and hit the frame of the goal twice.
Emmanuel Adebayor provided the first close shave when he was put through by Bendtner after 23 minutes, only for his shot to bounce back off a post, and Alex Song was similarly unlucky when his header bounced clear a minute later. Was this going to be a game of mounting frustration for the visitors? The answer could not have been more resounding.
Cesc Fabregas and Bendtner carved the Bolton defence apart with two quick passes in the 25th minute and Adebayor had turned his marker and was stretching to shoot when a sprinting Eboué appeared on his shoulder, overtook his colleague and squeezed the ball in at the near post.
It had been a goal of splendid precision and simplicity, but it was surpassed by Arsenal's second a minute later. The strike pairing of Bendtner and Adebayor again combined to flummox the home defence and create space for the Brazilian midfielder Denilson overlapping on the left. His cross was hard, low and accurate enough for Bendtner to slide in at the near post.
The only matter for the second half was whether Arsenal would get a third goal to make the points safe and, to give Bolton their due, the home side might have stolen a point, most notablywhen Ricardo Vaz Te failed to make the most of Almunia's flap at a cross and shot straight atthe Arsenal goalkeeper in the 84th minute.
That was the visitors' last scare and any chance of Arsenal surrendering the points disappeared three minutes later when late substitute Theo Walcott's pace made space for Adebayor on the right and his cross was passed into the net at the far post by Denilson.
"We are top of the League,"the Arsenal fans chanted at the end. Not for the only time this season, you suspect.Reuse content