By Richard Clarke at the Reebok Stadium
Arsenal grabbed a point at Bolton Wanderers on Wednesday night.
Arsène Wenger’s side had the better of the 90 minutes and saw Robin van Persie rattle the woodwork on two occasions. However, they were thankful to Wojciech Szczesny in the dying seconds when the keeper swept the ball away from the feet of Mark Davies after the Bolton midfielder bulldozed through the Arsenal defence.
This was not the victory Arsenal needed but it was a decent performance and, given Bolton’s form, a decent point. However, the race for fourth place is now hotting up.
Newcastle and Liverpool have squeezed between Arsenal and Chelsea. Wenger’s men are still five points off the Stamford Bridge side, who currently occupy the last Champions League space.
They have lost nothing in this round of Premier League matches but they have not gained ground either.
The major news before kick-off was the return of Bacary Sagna. Although the French full-back had played the final few minutes in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Aston Villa, this evening he was starting for the first time since the defeat at White Hart Lane on October 2. Francis Coquelin dropped to the bench.
There were two other changes. Mikel Arteta replaced Tomas Rosicky in central midfield while Szczesny took the gloves from Lukasz Fabianski.
England was in the middle of a cold snap and few at the Reebok Stadium this evening were without hats and scarves.
In truth, Arsenal’s Premier League form had been of similar temperature since the turn of the year but they began brightly this evening.
The first 15 minutes belonged to the visitors. Thomas Vermaelen’s swerving left-wing cross flew over Adam Bogdan and Van Persie’s header had to be booted off the line.
Then the Dutchman sent Ramsey clear but his stretching shot went straight to the keeper. Almost immediately, Van Persie’s shot was blocked and then a sliding Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain screwed an effort wide.
It was a rat-a-tat-tat of chances as Arsenal banged away at the Bolton defence. Walcott was the loudest contributor.
However, as the half went on, the game gradually evened up.
Midway through the half, David Ngog held off Laurent Koscielny down the right-hand channel but his shot was beaten away by Szczesny.
The Bolton striker was their cutting edge and, shortly afterwards, David Wheater’s back-flick caught out the Arsenal defence and left the Frenchman momentarily clear. Fortunately for the visitors he slid his shot wide of the far post.
It was Bolton’s most obvious opportunity. But, just before the half hour, Arsenal would spurn a clearer one. Oxlade-Chamberlain sent Walcott through with only Bogdan to beat. He had time to pick his spot, however, the winger's side-foot shot bounced off the inside of the keeper’s foot and flew away for a corner.
Arsenal re-discovered their vigour at the start of the second half and pressed Bolton back. However, they could not bother Bogdan unduly until the hour mark.
Ramsey stormed forward and fed Walcott, whose drive was blocked. Then Sagna whipped in a cross and Van Persie diverted the ball against the outside of the post. Oxlade-Chamberlain fired over and Koscielny headed the resulting corner wide of the far post.
The Bolton defence was creaking under the pressure but the home side still had opportunities from set-pieces via Petrov and the overlapping runs of Gretar Steinsson.
With 20 minutes left, the Bulgarian whipped in a wonderful cross that Ngog could not convert. Icelandic defender picked up the rebound but his effort was blocked.
Both managers brought on veteran strikers – Henry and Kevin Davies respectively – as the game built to a crescendo.
Eleven minutes from time, Van Persie was within inches of the opener. He pirouetted on the corner of the area and sent a superb chip over a static Bogdan. It bounced off the top of the bar.
The ball eventually found its way to Walcott at the far post but he hacked his volley wide. A major moment.
But Bolton would have their own with two minutes left. Mark Davies wriggled between two defenders on the edge of the area to go clear. Szczesny came out and swept the ball away with Bolton claiming a penalty.
The same midfielder fired wide inches wide in the final minute of normal time.
Bolton finished on top but Arsenal had bossed the game.
- Vermaelen Yellow Card
- Ramsey 81
- van Persie (C)
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 69
- Rosicky 81
- Henry 69
- Steinsson Yellow Card
- Petrov 81
- Reo-Coker (C) 89
- Ngog 75
- Pratley 89
- Sanli 81
- Davies 75