Wenger in raptures as Arsenal add resilience to brilliance
Bolton Wanderers 1 Arsenal 3
Managers do not do negatives but Arsène Wenger must have scanned the fixture list 10 days ago and found it hard to locate the silver linings. Blackburn Rovers, Dynamo Kiev and Bolton Wanderers, all away, looked a barren and forbidding landscape.
Tiredness alone was a potential danger and football mythology has it that Arsenal are so allergic to all things Lancashire that mere mention of hotpot could cause mass food poisoning at the Emirates Stadium. Not any more. Not after two wins in the Premier League and an important point in Europe.
"What this team has done in the last week is exceptional," Wenger said. "We are more robust than people think we are. We showed that today, we looked quite solid." That, and absolutely thrilling when going forward.
In this game Arsenal did it the hard way, going behind to Kevin Davies' third goal of the season that must have reawakened memories of four trips to the Reebok that have ended in defeats. Their response was breathtaking and concentrated in four minutes of incandescent football in which they scored twice through Emmanuel Eboué and Nicklas Bendtner and also hit the post twice. If Bolton had come back to get a point it would have been an injustice, but the match was sealed by Denilson in the closing minutes.
That made it seven goals scored at Ewood Park and the Reebok in eight days, a tally to please any manager and Wenger was almost purring. He pinned the ages of Denilson (20), Bendtner (20), Theo Walcott (19), Cesc Fabregas (21) and Alex Song (21) like medals to the chest, saying: "I enjoy watching the team. The pleasure for me is exactly the same as for you. Collective sport is fantastic, if people don't transform it into an individual sport then it becomes magic."
He was so happy that the myopia he has employed like a weapon in the past even extended to a tackle by Davies that led to Arsenal's Gaël Clichy needing precautionary X-rays on a shin injury. Kolo Touré described the tackle as "a disgrace" and Fabregas and Bendtner both claimed the Bolton striker had jumped into the challenge, but their manager said he did not see it and his usual tirade against Wanderers' muscular tactics merely extended to "they tried to intimidate us".
Yet it was difficult not to concur when the Bolton manager, Gary Megson, said: "There wasn't a malicious challenge in the whole 90 minutes. I don't really know what they're trying to suggest. We have to compete – I want the players to compete for every ball." Are Bolton an easy target? "Yes, it's a historical thing. We've got a lot of lads who are committed and wear their hearts on their sleeves."
Would he be having words with Davies to change his game? "After three goals in five games, I certainly won't," Megson replied and you can bet that even Wenger would not want to blunt Bolton's battering ram either when Davies' next Premier League match is at Old Trafford.
Instead, Wenger can look forward knowing that the two landmines that are Blackburn and Bolton have been skilfully negotiated. "We are hungry, we have quality and we have a good spirit," he said. "This team has the right attitude and I am very proud of that. They want to improve together and that is fantastic to have when you are a coach."
As Wenger pointed out, young players improve with age. And Arsenal finished just four points behind the champions Manchester United last season.
Goals: Davies (14) 1-0; Eboué (26) 1-1; Bendtner (27) 1-2; Denilson (87) 1-3.
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-1-1): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Shittu, A O'Brien, Samuel; Gardner, Muamba (Vaz Te, 82), Nolan, J O'Brien (McCann, 60); Smolarek (Riga, 56); Davies. Substitutes not used: Al Habsi (gk), Cohen, Hunt, Helguson.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Sagna, Touré, Gallas, Clichy (Djourou, h-t); Denilson, Fabregas, Song, Eboué (Ramsey, 84); Bendtner (Walcott, 76), Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Fabianski (gk), Vela, Gibbs, Van Persie.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Booked: Bolton Davies, Muamba; Arsenal Song.
Man of the match: Bendtner.