By Chris Harris at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal showed character and class to come from behind and beat Bolton in the Carling Cup.
The young Gunners were heading for a Fourth-Round exit when a former young Gunner, Fabrice Muamba, fired the visitors ahead two minutes into the second half.
But Andrey Arshavin – one of Arsène Wenger’s elder statesman – slammed in an equaliser and Ju Young Park completed a 10-minute turnaround with a fabulous finish from Arshavin’s pass.
It was enough to preserve Arsenal’s unbeaten League Cup record at Emirates Stadium and take them into the Quarter-Finals for a ninth consecutive year.
There are some big names left in this competition. But Wenger’s class of 2011 are in the mood to make amends for their Wembley heartbreak last February.
What's more, this was Arsenal's seventh win in eight games. Confidence should not be in short supply when they arrive at Stamford Bridge for their next big test in the Premier League.
Much of the pre-match talk had centred on the return of Thomas Vermaelen, back from injury and back in the starting line-up for the first time in two months. The other stand-out name on the teamsheet was Nico Yennaris – the versatile 18-year-old was handed his first-team debut at right-back.
Their inclusion was typical of Wenger’s Carling Cup policy as youth rubbed shoulders with experience. Bolton also rested a number of established stars but, in contrast to Wenger, visiting manager Owen Coyle parked his big names on the bench.
Arsenal’s creative pricing policy for Carling Cup matches tempted 56,628 fans – a record for this season’s competition – into Emirates Stadium and they saw the home side dominate the opening exchanges.
Arshavin, stationed behind the main striker as he is for Russia, almost capitalised on a hesitation by Gary Cahill in the third minute. Then an expansive pass from Francis Coquelin freed Park, only for the Korean to lose his footing.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, hero of the Third-Round win over Shrewsbury last month, was next to squander a presentable opening. Ignasi Miquel’s floated cross sat up nicely for the 18-year-old but his miscued volley took two ricochets and bounced behind for a corner.
The same man had a much better chance three minutes later. This time Emmanuel Frimpong’s raking diagonal pass found Oxlade-Chamberlain racing through the right channel. He neglected an early shot and tried beat Zat Knight but a heavy touch took him wide of goal and he could only manage a cross that floated meekly out of play.
Bolton had offered very little at this point – indeed, they looked every bit the confidence-drained Premier League strugglers – but Darren Pratley awoke them from their slumber with a driving run through midfield and a fierce shot that required a strong arm from Lukasz Fabianski.
That prompted a spell of Bolton pressure and a chance for Tuncay, Ivan Klasnic and the lively Gael Kakuta to link up. The latter tested Fabianski again with a low left-footed effort.
This was now a much more even encounter but, as driving rain began to fall, Arsenal gradually drove Bolton back.
Yossi Benayoun twisted and turned past Gretar Steinsson before whipping a shot just past the angle and Vermaelen almost secured a dream return with a venomous free-kick that had Bogdan at full stretch. Then Park, growing into the game in his second start for the Club, showed his eye for goal with a clever placed effort towards the bottom corner. Once again Bogdan got across to make the save.
Arsenal welcomed the half-time whistle on Sunday – it gave them a chance to regroup against Stoke – but tonight’s interval broke their momentum and Bolton caught the hosts cold two minutes after the restart.
Coquelin found Frimpong deep inside Arsenal territory but Muamba was on the Ghanaian in a split-second and nicked the ball away. He found Klasnic, the Croatia striker returned the favour and Muamba crashed a shot into the roof of the net.
The Bolton midfielder is, of course, a graduate of Arsenal’s academy. The irony would not have been lost on Wenger.
Fortunately the Frenchman’s latest crop of youngsters turned the tie on its head within 10 minutes – although it was a veritable veteran who did most of the damage.
Arshavin, revelling in his roving role behind the striker, drifted to the right to collect a pass from Benayoun and, as Knight backed off, he drilled an unerring shot beyond Bogdan and into the bottom corner.
Five minutes later the Russian turned provider. This time he picked up the ball in a central position and drove forward, eschewing a pass to Park because the Korean had strayed offside. Arshavin waited and then found his team-mate inside the box and very much onside. Park did the rest with a flourish, curling the ball past Bogdan.
Wenger insisted before the game that his lesser-known late-summer signing would soon endear himself to the home fans. He has been proved right.
Bolton weren’t finished. Vermaelen made a brave block to deny Klasnic a clear sight of goal and Fabianski had to get down quickly to keep out a well-placed free-kick from Kakuta.
With 20 minutes left Coyle brought on Chris Eagles to give the hosts another problem and he almost embarrassed Fabianski with a vicious, swerving shot.
Wenger also used his bench, throwing Ryo and Oguzhan Ozyakup into the fray. But by now Arsenal were playing on the break as Bolton pushed for an equaliser.
Cahill got above Squillaci to force another save from Fabianski with a downward header but that was as close as the visitors came in the closing stages.
So Wenger will take his team into the Quarter-Finals for a ninth consecutive season. Not bad for a man once accused of not taking the Carling Cup seriously.
- Vermaelen 84
- Squillaci Yellow Card
- Frimpong 76
- Arshavin Goal!
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 73
- Park Goal!
- Boateng 84
- Ozyakup 76
- Miyaichi 73
- Kakuta 71
- Pratley 61
- Muamba Goal!
- Sanli 85
- Eagles 71
- Blake 85
- Ngog 61