A match that could have ended up with Arsenal on the bottom of the Premier League became a celebration of Robin van Persie's 100th goal for the club, although at half-time there were few signs that they would go on to record a much-needed second victory of the season.
Even the best teams cannot overcome a loss of confidence, and Arsenal's was almost entirely absentin the first half. But after Van Persie put them ahead with goal number 99 in the opening minute of the second half, the self-belief returned. The Arsenal captain brought up his century after Bolton had been reduced to 10 men by the sending-off of David Wheater for a foul on Theo Walcott and Alex Song completed the scoring.
After an early scare, there was also a clean sheet – not that the oft-criticised defence were severely tested. Instead it was the Arsenal attack that stuttered until their breakthrough.
"It was a question of nerves at the start and patience," Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said. "And intelligence. I think we controlled the whole game even if [Wojciech] Szczesny made a good save at the start. But in the second half I could not see Bolton scoring a goal. And when they were down to 10 it made it even more difficult for them."
Bolton might have been expectedto offer a stiffer test, especially with their delivery of set plays, but ended up well beaten. It was Arsenal's 10th victory in their past 11 League and cup matches against Bolton, who now prop up the rest.
Fabio Capello, the England coach, looked on, but Gary Cahill was absent from the Bolton party through illness and Walcott's performance for Arsenal would not have told Capello anything he did not already know about one of the most infuriating members of his squad. He set up Van Persie's second, but too often picked a poor option, and limped off after injuring a knee with no opponent near him. "He felt a sharp pain in his knee," Wenger said, but Walcott is likely to be available for the Champions' League in midweek.
It was another injury blow for Wenger who learned on Friday that Jack Wilshere, the England midfield player, will require surgery on his ankle injury and is likely to be out until Christmas. Aaron Ramsey, though, showed in flashes in the second half that he could be a capable stand-in, creating Van Persie's first and supplying the perfect pass that led to Wheater's dismissal.
Wheater had set up Bolton's best chance, nodding a free-kick across goal in the first minute to Darren Pratley, whose volley was saved at full stretch by Szczesny. Arsenal must have feared there was more to come, but in fact they enjoyed most of the possession after that, even if they struggled to do much with it in a turgid first half.
Everything changed immediatelyafter the restart, and Arsenal were indebted to referee Mark Clattenburg, whose intelligent advantage when Gervinho was fouled by Gretar Steinsson allowed Ramsey to collect the loose ball, advance and find Van Persie. He took the ball, rounded Fabrice Muamba and drilled the ball between Jussi Jaaskelainen and his near post.
Arsenal's prospects improved after 56 minutes when Wheater was sent off for the slightest of touches on Walcott 22 yards out as he ran on to Ramsey's exquisite pass. "It did look as if there was contact and those are the rules," Owen Coyle, the Bolton manager, said.
Bolton had a rare chance when Martin Petrov sent Chris Eagles through, but Szczesny was equal to his shot, and with 20 minutes to go, Walcott crossed low from the right for Van Persie to flick the ball past Jaaskelainen. Walcott should have made it 3-0 when Song's pass sent him clear, but his hurried shot was too close to Jaaskelainen. Song did rather better as he took Bacary Sagna's cut-back, rounded Pratley and curled the ball in.
Wenger would not comment afterwards on a suggestion thathe had been approached by Internazionale before they appointed Claudio Ranieri as manager last week. "I wouldn't say that to you," he said. "You were consistent in wanting to get me out and I was consistent in wanting to stay in and show my commitment to this club."
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Song, Ramsey; Walcott, Arteta (Rosicky 81), Gervinho (Arshavin 78); Van Persie (Chamakh 85).
Bolton (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Wheater, Knight, Robinson; Muamba (Boyatta 56); Eagles (M Davies 70), Pratley, Reo-Coker, Petrov; Ngog (K Davies 20).
Referee Mark Clattenburg.
Man of the match Van Persie (Arsenal)Reuse content