Football: Arsenal close the gap on United

Bolton Wanderers 0 Arsenal 1

Phil Shaw
Tuesday 31 March 1998 23:02

ARSENAL'S fourth consecutive victory by their favourite scoreline, secured by a thunderous goal from Christopher Wreh, cut Manchester United's lead at the Premiership summit to three points last night as well as halting Bolton's mini-revival.

The win was not without cost. Martin Keown was sent off for a second bookable offence after 65 minutes, taking the Reebok Stadium's tally of dismissals into double figures for the season, and will be suspended for Arsenal's home match against Wimbledon.

More worryingly for the Gunners' hopes of repeating the Double success of 1971, Marc Overmars suffered an ankle injury in a crude challenge by Neil Cox before the game was two minutes old.

The Dutch winger failed to appear after the interval, and Arsene Wenger rated his chances of making Sunday's FA Cup semi-final against Wolves as "less than 50-50".

To go into such an important fixture missing Overmars, as well as being without the injured Ian Wright and the suspended Dennis Bergkamp, should theoretically stretch Arsenal's resources to breaking point.

But there were signs in this fierce encounter that two of Wenger's younger strikers, Wreh and Nicolas Anelka, are maturing rapidly. Wreh, the 21- year-old former Monaco player deputising for Bergkamp, caused Bolton problems with his eager running from deep positions. Anelka ran himself into the ground for the cause.

Yet if Arsenal do win one or both of the game's major prizes, the part played by the defence George Graham built looks likely to be the decisive factor. This eighth successive clean sheet was a Premiership record, and means Arsenal have not conceded a goal in more than 13 hours of League action.

David Seaman, who some felt was fortunate to regain his place from Alex Manninger, produced a breathtaking one-handed save to keep out a shot by the outstanding Alan Thompson with 20 minutes remaining. The old guard who were protecting the England keeper, Tony Adams, Keown, and Steve Bould - who came on after Keown's exit - won their duels with Nathan Blake and Dean Holdsworth.

Blake's return initially lifted Bolton, who had won their previous two matches. Seaman seemed taken aback by the strength of a Thompson free- kick after seven minutes, while two headed chances went begging before Anelka signalled Arsenal's increasing control by forcing a fine save from Keith Branagan.

The introduction of Stephen Hughes for Overmars did not obviously enhance their attacking options. Within two minutes, however, the substitute combined with Emmanuel Petit on the Arsenal left before the Frenchman spotted Wreh 25 yards out. Cutting inside on to his right foot, the Liberian unleashed a vicious rising drive that ripped past Branagan for only his second goal in English football.

Bolton's response was spirited. Blake wriggled into a position goal-side of Keown, who hauled him down on the edge of the area. Mr Burge, who had previously erred on the side of leniency, banished the offender but awarded a free-kick rather than the penalty which Colin Todd claimed it merited. The Bolton manager added: "You've got to remember Arsenal are one of the top sides and will probably win the championship."

Bolton Wanderers (3-5-2): Branagan; Todd (Salako, 52), Fish, Bergsson; Cox, Frandsen, Thompson, Sheridan, Phillips (Johansen, 86); Blake, Holdsworth. Substitutes not used: Fairclough, Taylor, Ward (gk).

Arsenal (4-3-2-1): Seaman; Grimandi, Keown, Adams, Winterburn; Parlour, Vieira, Petit; Wreh (Bould, 64), Overmars (Hughes, h-t); Anelka (Platt, 86). Substitutes not used: Garde; Manninger (gk).

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).

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