It is bad enough for any manager to have to face Cesc Fabregas in their first game in charge of a new club; that Owen Coyle will have to face him twice in the space of four days seems like an unnaturally cruel introduction to life at Bolton Wanderers.
Fabregas came back for his first game in an Arsenal shirt since he limped out of a match-winning performance against Aston Villa on 27 December and simply picked up where he left off. He dominated the game and scored the first goal as Coyle will surely fear that the Arsenal man will do again when these two teams meet once more in the league on Wednesday.
The vagaries of the fixture list and the recent snow mean that Coyle's first two games as Bolton manager have pitted him against arguably the Premier League's most in-form midfielder, and that is a title Fabregas had earned in the midst of an injury. The goal was Fabregas's 13th of the season and his 10th in the league, which is more than Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard have scored so far.
Delighted though Wenger was with the 22-year-old, it was Coyle who was the most rapturous about the Arsenal captain, listing his qualities in awe. "He [Fabregas] has everything in his locker. He has got pace; he has got that level of composure; his finishing is of the highest standard. He has got movement, anticipation and imagination. Do I think he's the best in the league in that position? The answer is 'yes'."
While Coyle did not hide his admiration for Fabregas, it was hard to imagine that all his players were quite so enthusiastic about Arsenal's boy wonder. Paul Robinson was booked for clattering into him. Matt Taylor tried to shin Fabregas in the head and, when that did not seem to work, he grabbed the Arsenal man by his hair.
However much he impresses as a footballer, Fabregas still seems to get right up the noses of certain opponents. It cannot be his ability alone, because most footballers will acknowledge a great talent. There is evidently something that goes on down there at pitch-level, unseen and unheard by the rest of us, which causes Fabregas's opponents to lose their rag.
Wenger said that Fabregas was the "guy who touches the ball the most" and so, logically, was going to be the most fouled player. As for his captain, back after a hamstring injury, Wenger said that with age Fabregas "gets stronger and stronger". "We see more of his personality on the pitch as he grows," Wenger said.
For all his brilliance, that Fabregas personality can also involve a lot of whining and despairing gestures. He did have a case yesterday when two very decent penalty claims were turned down in the first half by the referee Phil Dowd. The first when Fabregas nicked Eduardo's cross from the left away from Jussi Jaaskelainen and was then brought down by the goalkeeper's trailing legs.
If anything spoilt Fabregas's case it was that he went down a bit too eagerly. "Definitely [a penalty]," said Fabregas. "He didn't even touch the ball so I don't know what he [the referee] has seen." In Dowd's defence it needed a television replay to establish that. There was no doubt that Fabregas was tripped in the box by Zat Knight on 33 minutes.
In the immediate aftermath of the Knight trip, the mood turned unpleasant for a while and Dowd did well to keep a lid on the game. Robinson was booked for jumping into Fabregas; then Tomas Rosicky got the same for a slap-cum-shove as retaliation on Ivan Klasnic, who had just fouled Abou Diaby.
This was once the stadium where, under Sam Allardyce, Arsenal could be relied upon to lose games, and often their cool. Not yesterday when, despite a rally from Bolton early in the second half, Wenger's team were just too good. Fran Merida, on as a substitute, scored the second in the 78th minute.
But that was not to say that Bolton did not have their moments: Taylor had two great chances and Klasnic another at the end of the first half when he turned William Gallas in the area. They are still a physical side but in Tamir Cohen, Bolton have a deft midfielder who was not able to maintain his early impact but, at his best, would not look out of place at Arsenal.
There was a great reception from the Bolton fans for Coyle in his first game, although the Bolton manager rightly pointed out that, nice though that it was, he was not there for rounds of applause he was "there to win matches". "The level of performance was terrific," Coyle said. "What we offered for the duration would normally have resulted in a point or better."
Coyle's approach is high-energy: lots of encouragement, all delivered in that high-speed Glaswegian brogue that goes to 10 to the dozen. His team were equally physical and pumped up at times but they needed that little bit of composure in front of goal. To judge by the highlights reel of Coyle goals scored when he played in the promotion-winning Bolton team of 1995 shown on the screens pre-match this side could do with a similar poacher.
Klasnic should have scored at the end of the first half but Taylor's misses after the break were worse. With the score 1-0 he pulled one shot wide when Klasnic played him in. Then a long pass from Gavin McCann sprang the offside trap and, instead of taking the ball on, Taylor hit early and wide.
It was the likes of Fabregas and Andrei Arshavin whose ability proved the difference. Fabregas's goal on 27 minutes came when, having got the ball from Diaby, he exchanged passes with Eduardo and beat Jaaskelainen with a shot that went through the legs of Knight. He should have scored a second when Arshavin's cross from the right on 43 minutes eluded Eduardo and came on quicker than he expected.
Fabregas made the second, playing in Eduardo who crossed to the back post where Merida finished off. After that it was the case of see-you-Wednesday-for-the-same-again. Although not too similar, Coyle will hope.
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Cahill, Knight, Robinson; Chung-Yong, Muamba (McCann, 61), Cohen (Gardner, 78), Taylor; Klasnic (Elmander, 78), K Davies. Substitutes not used: Al-Habsi (gk), M Davies, Ricketts, O'Brien.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Traoré; Fabregas, Eastmond (Merida, 63), Diaby; Rosicky (Clichy, 73), Eduardo (Vela, 84), Arshavin. Substitutes not used: Silvestre, Fabianski (gk), Coquelin, Thomas.
Booked: Bolton Robinson; Arsenal Rosicky, Fabregas, Vermaelen.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).
Man of the match: Fabregas.
Attendance: 23,893.Reuse content