By Richard Clarke
Bang goes the Bolton bogey.
Arsenal have endured some torrid afternoons at the Reebok Stadium but, on Wednesday evening, they produced a performance of guts and determination to win a simply incredible FA Cup Fourth replay.
The crucial goal was struck by Freddie Ljungberg 13 minutes from the end of extra time. The Swede, returning from two months out with a hamstring injury, raced clear after excellent work by Jeremie Aliadiere and steered a wonderful shot into the far corner of the net.
Emmanuel Adebayor's deflected shot had put Arsenal ahead in the 13th minute and, right until the final seconds of normal time, the visitors looked like they were going through.
Even when Gilberto missed a penalty midway through the second half and Adebayor sidefooted a simple chance against the post five minutes from time, they seemed set to cling on.
However in the dying seconds Abdoulaye Meite scrambled the ball in from close range to send the tie into extra time.
Ljungberg's goal seemed to finally extinguish the life from Sam Allardyce's side. But much of the drama was still to come. In the dying minutes, Tal Ben Haim was sent off for his second booking and Julio Baptista managed to miss another spot kick and then Adebayor added a third goal.
It was a mad. mad night of football. But the end result sees Arsenal march into the Fifth Round. They now play Blackburn on Saturday at Emirates Stadium.
With games coming thick and fast, Wenger had already said he would rotate his side. As a result, Jens Lehmann, Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas were left at home. The fit-again Ljungberg only made the bench but Alex Hleb was restored to the right-hand side of midfield. Gilberto filled in centre back and Johan Djourou was moved to right back. Abou Diaby and Denilson were paired together in central midfield.
Bolton started with all the bravado their record against Arsenal merited but, for once, Wenger's men quickly wrestled the initiative.
In the eighth minute, Rosicky tricked himself enough space to fire a snap shot just wide. The Czech midfielder would go on to have a fine half but his part in Arsenal's 13th-minute opener was cursory.
Hleb, Denilson and Adebayor combined on the right then Rosicky's miscued flick deflected off Ivan Campo for the Togolese striker just outside the area. If that sounds like fortune had already favoured Arsenal then even more was to come. Adebayor's shot deflected off Stelios then bounced up and over the stranded Jussi Jaasklainen before nestling in the net.
It was proving to be an open game with Arsenal breaking at lightning speed. One such foray in the 25th minute saw Rosicky curl a low cross to the far post. It found Baptista rushing in but the Brazilian made a horrible hash of his effort.
Bolton were struggling to get going. For once it was they who were trailing to Arsenal at the Reebok and, in the first half-hour, they did little to bring Almunia into the action. At the same time they were terribly troubled by the visitors' counterattacks.
Baptista's low shot and Gilberto far post header suggested more goals were coming from Arsenal. However there was always the lingering fear that Bolton were bound to stir at some point.
The moment arrived two minutes before half time. Andranik Taymourian's goalbound shot hit Stelios on the edge of the six-yard box. The Greek midfielder recovered, collected, swivelled and thumped a rasping shot against the post. The ball rebounded high into the area and sat up nicely for Meite to volley goalwards. His connection was solid and goalbound but Gilberto threw his body in the way to block.
Arsenal broke immediately and, for a fleeting moment, Baptista had a sight of goal in the area. But the striker hesitated and the chance was lost.
Every one of the 3,000-strong visiting support knew there would be a reaction from Bolton in the second half. It arrived after only a minute.
Ben Haim's free-kick flicked off the head of Diaby and Almunia had to make a fine low save to his right. Two minutes later, the Spanish keeper pulled off a better stop when Stelios sprang the Arsenal offside trap.
Despite having a team-mate in space on the far side of the area, the midfielder surprisingly decided to try and around Almunia. The former Celta Vigo stopper stretched to make a super save.
Seconds later Baptista bustled through on the left of the area however, opposite to Stelios, he decided to square when shooting would have been the better option.
The chances continued to come; it was turning into a classic FA Cup tie. In the 55th minute Diaby broke clear on to Clichy's pass but could only prod lamely at Jaaskelainen. Then, after Campo hit the sidenettting, Arsenal had the perfect opportunity to double Arsenal's advantage when Ben Haim clipped Baptista as he charged into the area.
Gilberto stepped up but sidefooted his penalty high over the bar.
The miss buoyed Bolton temporarily but, as time ticked on, they began to get more desperate. In the 78th minute they piled forward for a corner and nearly paid for their gamble when Arsenal broke clear and Baptista smashed an effort wide.
With five minutes left, Arsenal looked assured of a second when Adebayor pounced on Campo's error, sprinted clear and rounded the keeper. The goal was gaping but the gangly striker managed to hit the inside of the post and the ball bounced out to safety.
Deep into injury time it did not seem to matter - then Bolton scrambled home an equaliser.
Keeper Jaaskelainen had rushed up for one last corner. Diouf floated it to the far post, Campo nodded it down and Meite steered it home from three yards out.
It seemed 180 minutes would not be enough to separate these two sides. Another 30 would be required.
Bolton bossed the opening stages of extra-time. In the 97th minute, Gilberto flicked Diouf's cross against his own post then just before the break then Gary Speed's header was saved by Almunia on the line.
However it would be Bolton's last opportunity of the night. Soon afterwards Ljungberg's goal finally tipped the balance of the tie decisively in Arsenal's favour.
After that the game went a bit crazy. Ben Haim got a second yellow card, Baptista missed a penalty after Anelka fouled Adebayor and, finally, the Togolese striker scored a breakaway third.
A surreal finish to a smashing game.
- Djourou 92
- Rosicky 90
- Julio Baptista
- Hleb 77
- Adebayor Goal! Goal!
- Hoyte 92
- Ljungberg 77 Goal! Yellow Card
- Aliadiere 90
- Meite Goal!
- Ben Haim Yellow Card Red Card
- Giannakopoulos 74
- Teymourian 84
- Campo Yellow Card
- Gardner 84
- Anelka Yellow Card
- Tal 84
- Pedersen 84
- Vaz Te 74