By Richard Clarke
It's official. Arsenal are this season's 'comeback kings'.
Last Sunday, Arsène Wenger's side scored twice late on to beat Manchester United and, on Wednesday, a second-half brace brought their youngsters a wonderful draw at Tottenham. This afternoon they completed the hat-trick in this FA Cup Fourth Round tie.
It seemed the Bolton bogey was going to strike when Kevin Nolan put the visitors in front five minutes into the second half. However 13 minutes from time, Kolo Toure nodded home a free-kick from Cesc Fabregas.
It was the 12th time this season that Arsenal had trailed before coming back to get a result. And, of course, the Ivorian's goal also protected the team's unbeaten record at Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal will have their work cut-out at the Reebok in the replay. They have registered only one win up there in the last seven visits.
But that came in 2005, the last year Arsenal lifted the trophy. Omens have been made of much less.
In the build-up to this game, Wenger had stated his FA Cup side would be the same as his Premiership side. It suggested the Frenchman another run in this famous old competition. Remember Bolton had ended Arsenal's stunning sequence in recent years with a 1-0 win at the Reebok Stadium in this round last season.
Emmanuel Eboue (ankle) and Alex Hleb (hamstring) picked up injuries in the midweek fightback at Tottenham while Gilberto sat out the last of his three-game suspension. It meant Justin Hoyte and Theo Walcott retained their starting places from White Hart Lane while Mathieu Flamini stepped in having been a substitute at Spurs.
This was Emirates Stadium's first FA Cup tie and, as ever, the competition injected an edge into the afternoon's proceedings. Bolton's billing as Arsenal's nemesis did the rest.
The visitors did little to undermine that reputation in the opening half hour.
In the third minute, Stelios floated a corner to the edge of the six-yard box and Kevin Davies, worrying unmarked, guided a header down. Manuel Almunia clutched the ball on the line and the subsequent seconds of hush around Emirates Stadium suggested the crowd knew it was a wonderful opportunity.
On the quarter hour, Stelios again found Davies from a corner and his flick on fell to Ivan Campo at the far post. He hacked over from five yards when he should have at least hit the target.
Inbetween those chances, Henry and Flamini had prodded half-chances at Bolton keeper Jussi Jaaskenlainen. However the first real opening for the home side came in the 20th minute when Walcott roared down the right and fired low at the Finn, who gathered at the second attempt. Arsenal had been distinctly second best for the first quarter of the game.
Hoyte's tempting cross towards Henry at the far post and Flamini's hoisted shot soon afterwards suggested they were starting to stir. However it did not really materialise.
Four minutes before the break, Arsenal did nearly grab an opportunistic goal. Henry nipped in to collect Ricardo Gardner's return header to his keeper. The Arsenal captain's back-heel beat Jasskenlainen at the near post but Abdoulaye Meite slid in to stop the ball trickling over the line.
Adebayor had claims for a penalty almost immediately but referee Mike Dean rightly waved play on. Arsenal continued to press until half time but the best they could muster was a couple of inquisitive corners.
However if Arsenal ended the first half in some sort of ascendancy they would have their wings clipped after the interval.
Within five minutes, they were behind. Nolan flicked to ball to Anelka on the edge of the area and he spread it wide to Davies. The striker fired a cross-cum-shot to the far post. The unmarked Nolan collected, turned and fired a shot between the backtracking Toure and the upright.
Suddenly, we had a game. Almunia made a superb one-handed side to prevent Nolan skipping through then at the other end an unmarked Walcott volleyed wide when he might have scored.
Arsenal were still struggling with Bolton's traditional weapon - the high, hanging ball into the area. The perfect illustration came in the 54th minute when Davies flicked on for Nolan to hook the ball over the bar.
However, in general, the home side responded well. Henry's free-kick deflected over the bar then he just failed to lift the ball over Jaaskelainen after good work from Adebayor down the right.
In the 63rd minute, the Bolton keeper failed to hold a long-range drive from Fabregas and the Togolese striker flailed the rebound wide.
With games stacking up, Wenger knew he could ill- afford a replay. That is why he had packed his bench with attacking options. Julio Baptista came on for Hoyte, a defender, after 70 minutes. Jeremie Aliadiere would follow him off the bench in the latter stages.
By that time, Arsenal were chasing a winner. They got on level terms in the 77th minute when Fabregas put a free-kick into the heart of the Bolton area. The ball skimmed off the head of Gary Speed and Toure ghosted in at the far post to plant home a diving header.
Baptista's late far-post header was as close as they came to a winner.
- Senderos Yellow Card
- Toure Goal!
- Hoyte 70
- Flamini Yellow Card
- Walcott 86
- Julio Baptista 70
- Aliadiere 86 Yellow Card
- Hunt Yellow Card
- Meite Yellow Card
- Faye Yellow Card
- Gardner 78
- Nolan Goal!
- Giannakopoulos 83
- Vaz Te 83
- Pedersen 78