By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
Robin van Persie hit the 100th goal of his Arsenal career as Arsène Wenger’s side hit form with a 3-0 win over Bolton on Saturday.
The Dutchman squeezed home the opener a minute after the break to relieve the tension after an uneasy first half.
His second – touched home after low cross from the excellent Theo Walcott – put paid to Bolton. They were already down to 10 men after David Wheater had fouled the Englishman just before the hour.
When Alex Song curled home a gorgeous third in the final minute, Emirates Stadium could relax for perhaps the first time this season.
Van Persie becomes the 17th Arsenal player to hit three figures. His late substitution drew a massive ovation. Those same fans followed that with a rendition of “There’s only one Arsène Wenger” in the final stages.
Arsenal are not back but they might be ‘on the way’.
Before kick-off, there was palpable pressure on Wenger’s side. The mood had been lifted somewhat by the Carling Cup victory over Shrewsbury in midweek. However, when it came to the Premier League, the memories of the 4-3 defeat at Blackburn were lingering.
The manager made two changes from the side beaten at Ewood Park. Both were straight swaps - Kieran Gibbs for Andre Santos at left back, Walcott for Andrey Arshavin on the flanks.
Bolton were below Arsenal in the table and had lost all their League games since that 4-0 win at QPR on the opening day. So, while the build-up had been all about Wenger’s men, both teams at Emirates Stadium were desperate for three points.
And it was Bolton who nearly got off to the best possible start.
In the second minute, Laurent Koscielny gave away a free-kick in midfield which Martin Petrov floated to the far post. Wheater headed it back into the heart of the area and Darren Pratley beat Gibbs to prod goalwards. Szczesny flew to his left to bat the ball away.
Bolton had begun this game in the relegation zone but they were confident in the opening stages. A couple of minutes later, Petrov’s chip skimmed off the head of Wheater and went wide.
The visitors had clearly come to capitalise on any Arsenal anxiety. Wenger's men needed to wrestle the initiative and, in the following five minutes, they did.
Gervinho broke away but a heavy touch allowed Jussi Jaaskelainen to rush out and smother the ball at the crucial moment. In the 10th minute, Van Persie fired wide from a twice-taken free-kick.
Arsenal were in the ascendancy and starting to dictate. Bolton were forced to make a change midway through the half when David Ngog hobbled off and Kevin Davies came on. The latter had been a surprising omission from the visitors’ starting line-up.
The burly former England striker was a different type of threat to Arsenal and, as ever, he made his presence felt. But, by now, the home side seemed to have a measure of control.
Gervinho sent a rasping effort inches over the bar and, just before the break, Walcott’s shot deflected into the path of Koscielny who ‘shinned’ a spectacular effort well wide.
Wenger’s men fancied a goal before the break and poured on the pressure. In the dying seconds, Walcott darted to the byline and, although his cut-back found Van Persie, the Dutchman’s shot was blocked. With the final meaningful kick, the Englishman fired just over.
In truth, it had been a turgid half. Arsenal were superior but it was clear that both teams were lacking confidence.
However, Van Persie would start the rebuilding process within 40 seconds of the restart.
Gretar Steinsson clipped Gervinho in midfield but, after referee Mark Clattenburg had allowed an intelligent advantage, Ramsey stormed through and fed Van Persie. The Dutchman beat Fabrice Muamba on the outside and squeezed his shot between Jaaskelainen and the post. Stunning, stirring stuff.
Shortly afterwards Walcott’s touch sent Van Persie clear again but this time the keeper blocked the Dutchman’s drive.
In the 55th minute, Ramsey slid a pass for Walcott through the middle. Wheater’s touch brought him down and, as it was a clear scoring chance, the Bolton centre-back saw red. Van Persie whipped the free-kick straight at Jaaskelainen.
The game had taken a major swing toward Arsenal. Around the hour, Mikel Arteta tried to make the change irrevocable but first he slid a shot just past the post then a drive was blocked.
A similar effort from Sagna suggested the home side were going for the kill. Chris Eagles nearly caught them on the break but, with no support, Gibbs pushed him wide and Szczesny held his shot safely.
Midway through the half, Arsenal were starting to lay siege on the Bolton goal. Within a minute, Jaaskelainen made look-a-like saves from Van Persie’s far-post header and Koscielny’s cross-shot.
Arsenal sensed this was the time and their captain would seize the moment. Walcott raced into space on the right and Van Persie touched home his cross from close range.
It was a century for the striker but, just as importantly, it was breathing space for the home side. The relief was evident.
Walcott should have eased any lingering tension when Song sent him sprinting clear. He went one-on-one with Jaaskelainen but the keeper stood up well to pull off a fine save.
Bolton were beaten and looking for the final whistle. Just before it sounded, Arsenal did grab a third.
Sagna’s cutback found Song on the edge of the area. He darted inside Pratley and curled a sumptuous effort into the top corner.
Walcott went off with a knee injury late on but its effects are not expected to be long-lasting. All in all, a morale-boosting day for Arsenal.
After a stumbling start this was a massive step in the right direction.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
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