Two second half goals in the space of two minutes were enough for Arsenal to seal their place in the Carling Cup’s final eight against a wasteful Bolton side. This was Arsenal’s seventh win in eight games – a stat that may surprise many, but shows that Arsenal are on the road to recovery. Although for Wenger, the Carling Cup is all about giving the youth players a chance, Arsenal still needed the experienced Arshavin to send them through to the quarter finals. He produced a fine performance last night, his best for a long time in an Arsenal shirt. It was his two moments of class that made the difference in this game as his club continued to build momentum.
Having Thomas Vermaelen back in the starting line up was a boost for Arsenal and their fans, and Yossi Benayoun, Sebastien Squillaci and Andrey Arshavin were the other regular starters to give a guiding hand to the likes of debutant Nico Yennaris and teenagers Francis Coquelin, Ignasi Miquel, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Emmanuel Frimpong. Arsenal began with purpose, but the side’s in-experience was evident. Oxlade-Chamberlain was eager to build on his previous performance’s for the club, but he was not at his best on Tuesday night, and despite his enthusiasm, was clearly exposed, which may now quieten those who were calling for him to start ahead of Walcott.
It was a slow first half for Arsenal, with their only real chance of note coming when Benayoun teed up skipper Thomas Vermaelen from a free kick and his powerful strike from 25 yards was beaten out by Bogdan. Bolton however, had settled into the game well and began to threaten. Darren Pratley hit a 25 yard pile driver that stung the palms of Fabianski. The Chelsea loanee Gael Kakuta, playing on the right, then twisted an angle when faced with Ignasi Miquel and hit a low shot which Fabianski got down smartly to save. When half time came, most were distinctly underwhelmed by the game, and it was difficult to see where Arsenal’s breakthrough would come from.
Ten minutes into the second half, and Arsenal’s home Carling Cup record was under serious threat. Frimpong was caught in possession on the edge of the area by his academy predecessor Fabrice Muamba. He fed Ivan Klasnic into left of the area, who in turn, cut the ball back for Muamba who poked the ball into the roof of the net. But this was when Arshavin took the game into his own hands, and inspired the comeback. The Russian revelled in the central role and six minutes after Bolton’s goal, he showed his skill when carrying the ball into the opposition’s penalty area. With Knight and Davies declining, he shot low into the net and equalised for Arsenal. His determination continued and three minutes later he helped put Arsenal in front, waiting intelligently before slipping the ball through to Park, who scored his first goal since his summer move from Monaco with a curled finish from 10 yards.
The hosts had to hang on to keep their lead and were extremely fortunate not to concede a penalty after Cahill was felled by Frimpong. Owen Coyle rightly said after the game that ‘you will not see a clearer penalty’. Bolton upped the intensity which the Arsenal players were not used to. Fabianski made a strong save late on to deny Klasnic from close range after the striker had brushed past Squillaci. Klasnic should then have equalised two minutes from time, after he scooped the ball over the bar from seven yards. Wenger admitted after the match: “We were tested and the more experienced players took charge of the game, especially Arshavin, Park and [Yossi] Benayoun. They made the difference.”
Although there is a lot room for improvement in Arsenal’s young players, there were many plus points to take away from their performance. Arshavin headlined the evening and his talent was what won the game for Arsenal. Bolton and Owen Coyle will be disappointed, as they could and should have dispatched one of their many chances to earn a replay. Wenger will be pleased and Arsenal, who are improving in every match, will be wanting to win the Carling Cup after the drama of last season’s final.