Spanish heoics from Cesc Fabregas and Fran Merida in either half earned Arsenal a 2-0 victory over Bolton to continue their hot pursuit of leaders Chelsea.
Wenger’s men did not enjoy as much comfort as the final score told at the Reebok stadium. On new boss Owen Coyle’s debut as manager, the trotters were keen to give Arsenal a real run for their money.
And indeed, it was only some mixture of class and fortune from the Gunners – through two well-worked goals and some woeful misess by Bolton – which saw them prevail today.
Those were all signs of progress by Wenger’s men who showed enough grit to come out with maximum points and a cleansheet in a tension away fixture despite not being at full gear on the day.
All serious title contenders do that.
Fabregas made a timely return into the Arsenal side but there were untimely absences of Nasri and Ramsey. That meant last week’s savior Rosicky was slotted in while reserves’ youngster Craig Eastmond was given his first Premier League start in the defensive midfield role.
The home side came racing out of the blocks with Ivan Klasnic having an early goal ruled out for offside. Arsenal looked rattled by Bolton’s energetic start but soon found their feet as they had a penalty shout turned down by referee Phil Dowd when Fabregas nipped past Jussi Jaaskelainen after been teed up free by Eduardo.
The in-form Spaniard then had a better chance to break the deadlock and he took it well. Eduardo somehow managed to hand Arsenal’s skipper a cheeky backheel pass in a very crowded penalty area and Fabregas stroke home with aplomb to put the Gunners ahead after 28 minutes.
Bolton continued to display their physical presence to thwart Arsenal as the visitors looked to take full control. And the match looked in danger of spilling over with Paul Robinson and Tomas Rosicky booked in quick succession for late challenges.
Coyle’s side had their best chance of the first half when Kevin Davies nodded on to Klasnic who delightfully flicked over William Gallas but could not get the ball out of his feet to beat Manuel Almunia.
Bolton came out from the break with a spring in their step and were soon in the ascendancy but Taylor could only shoot over after being played in on his preferred left foot by Klasnic. That same man Taylor went on to miss a couple more sitters as Arsenal continued to slack in defence.
The Gunners then responded and made the hosts pay dearly as Fabregas and Eduardo combined well to help Merida strike home with just 12 minutes to go.
Bolton did press for an unlikely dramatic finale but Arsenal withstood the pressure to keep their title ambitions on course with an advantageous game in hand against this same opposition coming up on Wednesday.