Pedersen scratches the Arsenal record

Arsenal 2 Bolton Wanderers 2
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The Independent Online

At last, a formula for stopping Arsenal. Hustle them constantly, exploit a weakness at set-pieces and - more difficult to arrange, this - play them immediately after a testing European game. By doing all those things to perfection, a Bolton Wanderers side who nobody can ever accuse of not being 100 per centers denied Arsène Wenger's team a continuation of their immaculate beginning to the season and a chance of equalling two records: the club's and the Premiership's best start of six successive wins.

At last, a formula for stopping Arsenal. Hustle them constantly, exploit a weakness at set-pieces and - more difficult to arrange, this - play them immediately after a testing European game. By doing all those things to perfection, a Bolton Wanderers side who nobody can ever accuse of not being 100 per centers denied Arsène Wenger's team a continuation of their immaculate beginning to the season and a chance of equalling two records: the club's and the Premiership's best start of six successive wins.

Twice the visitors, who had started the day in the dizzy heights of third position, came from behind to peg the champions back with goals from a corner and a free-kick, earning a deserved draw in the manner of their recent performances against the Londoners at the Reebok Stadium. Those had been physical encounters with their share of controversy, and there was much talk before this game of managerial mind games aimed at influencing the referee.

Bolton's Sam Allardyce had insisted that officials unconsciously favour bigger clubs, and Wenger responded: "It's an old trick". In the event, Phil Dowd enjoyed a comfortable game until booking Ricardo Gardner for a challenge just in front of the dug-outs, which sent the Bolton manager into a temper tantrum. Upset that the linesman had not intervened, he virtually man-handled Dermot Gallagher, the fourth official, and will be fortunate if he is not reported. All that on Fifa's Fair Play Day.

Having calmed down, Allardyce tried to make amends by praising the referee as much as his team, who he felt had found Arsenal looking a little weary after the rush of early-season fixtures. "We caught them at the right time," he said. "They gave us a bit more space than usual. And with the size of my team, it's very difficult to defend against us at set-pieces if the quality of ball is right."

Jay-Jay Okocha and Bruno N'Gotty made sure it was, though the first goal from Okocha's corner also showed up some poor marking and indecisive goalkeeping. Wenger admitted: "We showed some weakness in the air, looking a little bit naïve and passive. There was a free header in the middle of the goal. We had many problems today. We didn't find our technical level from the start and it never looked easy for us. But give them some credit. You can't say it was an undeserved result."

Only the most biased of Gooners would do so. With a well-thought-out 4-1-4-1 formation featuring two wide attackers and experienced central midfielders, Bolton have now taken five points from Liverpool, Manchester United (whom they should have beaten) and Arsenal, losing only to Fulham on the one day their commitment dipped. It is encouraging for the less fashionable crop of clubs hoping to challenge for a European place, and therefore for football in general, as is the appearance these days of four or five British players on the teamsheet.

Maintaining concentration at all times is still essential against Arsenal, and the otherwise impressive defensive pair Radhi Jaidi and N'Gotty lapsed early on, leaving Thierry Henry clear. Jussi Jaaskelainen blocked well and Jaidi recovered to pull off a saving tackle as Robert Pires homed in on the rebound. The experienced Tunisian, whom Bolton spotted through assiduous scouting at the African Nations' Cup, barely put another foot wrong all match. It was N'Gotty and Nicky Hunt who allowed Henry through to score in the 31st minute after Patrick Vieira forced the ball forward at the second attempt. In between Bolton had used the strong wind well, Kevin Nolan sending a 30-yard drive only just wide of a post and Jens Lehmann dropping one of Okocha's many long throws.

Just before half-time Henry almost scored his second header of the season, to add to one at Norwich, but placed it too close to the goalkeeper. Aware that Arsenal were not flowing as freely as usual, however, the visitors prospered after Allardyce's bold substitution in sending on Les Ferdinand and Henrik Pedersen for Kevin Davies and El-Hadji Diouf. Ferdinand's second touch set up Nolan for a 20-yard shot that grazed the bar, and in the 63rd minute the new men's physical presence helped unsettle the home defence at a corner, Lehmann allowing Jaidi in front of him to head in Okocha's precise flag-kick. The German has never come to terms with the physical aspect of British goalkeeping, and set-pieces aimed in his vicinity remained Bolton's most promising means of reward.

Within three minutes, Arsenal seemed to be back on track. Quick thinking and an equally quick free-kick by Jose Antonio Reyes sent Fredrik Ljungberg down the right for a low cross that Pires nudged in a little fortuitously off his left shin.

The frustration of conceding so quickly may have added to Allardyce's frustration. For a man who knows all about stress and measuring heart-rate, he will not enjoy watching the television pictures of his touchline rantings. But five minutes from the end, he was soon smiling again. In a training-ground move borrowed from the Arsenal manual, three players stood offside at a free-kick, then moved back at the last moment as N'Gotty floated the ball forward. Ferdinand, just about level with the last defender, headed on in classical centre-forward fashion and Pedersen's gently hit shot dribbled out of Lehmann's reach and slowly inside a post.

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