By Richard Clarke
Arsenal maintained their unbeaten start to the season with a hard-fought 4-1 victory over 10-man Bolton at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
The home side created a string of chances in the first half but registered only once. That came in the 23rd minute when Laurent Koscielny nudged home his first Arsenal goal from close-range.
That profligacy would come back to haunt them just before half-time when Johan Elmander plundered an equaliser at the far post.
After the restart, Bolton put Arsenal under severe pressure but, just before the hour, Marouane Chamakh steered home a header at the far post. A few minutes later the Moroccan was on the end of a challenge that saw Gary Cahill sent off.
Alex Song and substitute Carlos Vela ran in late goals to give the scoreline a gloss incongruent with the tension of the afternoon.
But like the trips to Liverpool and Blackburn, Arsenal had been under a stern examination before emerging with a highly creditable result.
Ten points out of 12 is very handy return from the first month of the season. The mental and physical toughness of Wenger's young side has been questioned each year ever since they last won the title in 2004.
This lot are certainly made of stern stuff.
Emirates was both buoyant and expectant before kick-off. Somehow the international break had seemed much longer than a fortnight and, after Manchester United's late capitulation in the early kick-off, opportunity was banging loudly on the stadium doors this afternoon.
Despite that Wenger made six changes from the 2-1 win at Blackburn a fortnight ago. The Frenchman clearly had Wednesday's Champions League opener in mind.
He started with only a quarter of the defence from Ewood Park. Thomas Vermaelen had fallen prey to an Achilles injury but Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy were benched. Sebastien Squillaci debuted at centre half while Emmanuel Eboue and Kieran Gibbs were the full backs.
Like the Belgian, Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie had both collected ankle injuries on international duty so Chamakh and Tomas Rosicky came in.
Jack Wilshere returned against his former side at the expense of Abou Diaby. Samir Nasri was back from knee surgery but only made the bench.
In their opening home game of the season, Arsenal had made a sluggish start before running in a hatful of goals. This afternoon, the first half would be something approaching the opposite.
In the opening minutes, Fabregas weaved inside Paul Robinson with ease before seeing his shot ricochet clear off keeper Adam Bogdan. Then a couple of minutes later, Rosicky's curled pass into the path of the sprinting Arshavin but the Russian's drive was blocked by the Hungarian stopper. From the corner, Squillaci nodded over.
Kevin Davies did forced a decent save from Almunia shortly afterwards but, otherwise, the pressure was coming entirely from Arsenal.
They had plausible shout for a penalty in the 20th minute when Gretar Steinsson felled Andrey Arshavin near the byline.
Arsenal looked likely to take the lead but then they often do. The real issue is putting the ball in the net when they are on top.
This afternoon they achieved it.
In the 24th minute, Wilshere spotted Fabregas sneaking to the far post and floated over an angled cross. The captain nudged the ball back into the penalty for Koscielny to prod home at the second attempt.
Having made the breakthrough, Arsenal set about pulling down the ramparts of the Bolton defence.
Fabregas scurried through but his shot was easily smothered by Bogdan. On the half-hour, Wilshere left Chamakh's low cross for the onrushing Rosicky but Bogdan pulled off another fine block.
Seconds later, Zat Knight distracted the scampering Arshavin enough for the Russian to fire in to the net.
Almunia's save from Elmander shortly afterwards demonstrated the slender nature of Arsenal's lead. However with the home side in such penetrating form you did not dwell on that for long.
Fabregas pulled off a fabulous pirouette in the centre circle before sending Arshavin clear once more. Again the Russian found the sidenetting. Chamakh then had a half-shout for another penalty.
Arsenal seemed to be cruising into half-time with their only problem their failure to turn their dominance into goal.
Just before the whistle, they were caught. Bogdan pumped a long ball forward and Koscielny's wayward back header sent Chung-Young Lee skipping clear on the left. With the Arsenal defence scrambling back, the Korean did well to steady himself and clip a gentle cross to the far post where Elmander steered home a header.
After a superb display of first-half football, Arsenal had fallen prey to a classic sucker punch.
And the effects had not disappeared when they re-emerged for the restart. Bolton were on top and pressing Arsenal towards their own goal.
The home side survived a few scares and Almunia made a superb close-range save from Stuart Holden. The keeper did not know the flag had been raised for offside.
Fabregas broke the shackles by sending Chamakh clear but Bogdan made a stunning one-handed save. Bolton failed to clear the resulting corner and, from the byline, Fabregas chipped a cross to far post for Chamakh to steer home a header. It was a carbon copy of the Bolton equaliser.
While Arsenal had taken the lead, suddenly referee Stuart Attwell would become the focus.
Davies had a nasty clash of heads with Koscielny in the area but, despite the crowd's request, the Bolton man was not shown his second yellow card.
Then in the 64th minute, Cahill went through Chamakh on the byline and received a straight red card. A decision that incensed the Bolton players.
Robinson might have followed him down the tunnel for a foul on Abou Diaby that would force the substitute to be replaced himself.
In the meantime, Song and Fabregas both went close from range, as did Elmander at the other end. With 14 minutes left, Rosicky drove wide when he should have hit the target.
By now the game had calmed down again. And Song's goal soon settled the result too.
The Cameroon international collected a low cross from Arshavin at the near post and cleverly clipped the ball around his marker before poking the ball home from an acute angle.
It was a fine way to score Arsenal's 1,000th Premier League goal under Wenger.
Vela made it 1001 shortly afterwards. The substitute raced onto a chip from Fabregas and coolly converted.
Eboue looked to have been brought down by Knight at the end but the referee waved away Arsenal's appeals.
It did not affect the result. The home side had their three points.
But this was one of those days when the result did relay the stresses and strains of the afternoon.
- Eboue Yellow Card
- Gibbs Yellow Card
- Koscielny Goal!
- Song Goal!
- Wilshere 61
- Chamakh 79 Goal!
- Diaby 72 61
- Denilson 72
- Vela 79 Goal!
- Steinsson Yellow Card
- Cahill Red Card
- Lee 81
- Petrov 66
- Elmander 81 Goal!
- Davies Yellow Card
- O'Brien 66
- Taylor 81
- Blake 81