LONDON // A regulation home victory over defensive-minded opposition reduced to 10 men in their despairing attempts to cope. Remember the days when Arsenal did this consistently?
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Encompassing Robin van Persie's 99th and 100th goals for a club he now captains, this 3-0 defeat of a hamstrung Bolton Wanderers was not quite vintage but it at least had the semblance of former glories.
From the moment of their dynamic 46th-minute opener, Arsenal were utterly dominant, confidence drip-feeding back into them as carousel passing forged chance upon chance.
Though a relieved Arsenal support did not yet know it, the victory also came at the end of a week in which Arsene Wenger had been offered an exit from the travails of English football by Inter Milan. Here too, the polite refusal was a North London standard.
"I think you were consistent in wanting to get me out [as manager] and I was consistent in wanting to stay in and to show my commitment to this club," said Wenger when asked about Inter's approach. "We've both been consistent."
Now the demand is for a consistency of results. "It is a deserved win that is very welcome for us," Wenger said. "We cannot drop points any more."
Arsenal kicked off yesterday with one win this season and the division's most porous defence. Yet Bolton set out to stifle, then exploit Arsenal's weaknesses at set pieces, and in the very first minute the strategy almost delivered as the over-eager Laurent Koscielny headed the back of David N'Gog's skull, conceding a free kick.
Martin Petrov's long ball forward was won without contest by David Wheater, whose header across the area traversed more static home defenders.
Darren Pratley took advantage by stretching into a shot that Wojciech Szczesny only just managed to turn away. Though possession was overwhelmingly theirs, Arsenal's use of it was initially unthreatening.
Mikel Arteta's precise pass from home territory allowed Gervinho a free run at Jussi Jaaskelainen only for the forward's heavy touch to waste the opportunity.
From a free kick, Van Persie wrapped a shot around Jaaskelainen's upright, Gervinho and Kieran Gibbs sent balls over the bar, but the goalkeeper had not a save to make.
Arsenal's best moment came when Theo Walcott escaped his marker to tee up Arteta for a close-range effort that Wheater smothered almost as soon as it left the midfielder's boot.
Instructed by Wenger to play higher up the field and with more velocity, Arsenal started the second half perfectly.
When Gretar Steinsson cleaned out Gervinho near the halfway line, Aaron Ramsey sprinted forward as Mark Clattenburg played an astute advantage. Making it all the way to Bolton's penalty area, the Welsh midfielder passed to Van Persie, who tracked away from goal before finding the near corner.
"We felt we had a good platform to achieve a positive result from the game," said Owen Coyle.
"But if you're going to shoot yourself in the foot within 43 seconds then it's obviously going to be difficult."
Arsenal suddenly had a conviction to them. Ramsey and Walcott one-touched Van Persie into another shooting opportunity. When Walcott drifted towards the area behind Wheater he was momentarily held back by the arm - enough to topple the forward and earn the centre-back a straight red card.
Arteta and Van Persie repeatedly tested Jaaskelainen; Bolton took out their frustrations on Arsenal's captain by accusing him of playing on when Paul Robinson lay winded in the area. In truth, the visitors had ignored their own left-back as Chris Eagles sprinted through on goal a few seconds earlier. Riling the Dutchman was a bad idea. An increasingly effective Walcott made ground down the right wing before curling a perfect ball between back four and goalkeeper. Van Persie's jumping touch turned the cross beyond Jaaskelainen.
Alex Song then recovered a little more of the team's ugly goal difference with a cleverly worked finish of his own. Collecting Bacary Sagna's cutback, the Cameroon international drew Pratley off-balance before arcing a strike to the top corner. "One Arsene Wenger", chanted the home support.
They haven't had many opportunities to of late.
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