Arshavin is finally beginning to find form for Arsenal
Carling Cup fourth round: Arsenal 2 Bolton Wanderers 1
Arsene Wenger promised in the preamble to this match that he always tries to win the Carling Cup and he was true to his word. Arsenal are into the last eight after coming from behind to beat Bolton on an entertaining night at the Emirates.
Trailing to Fabrice Muamba’s goal early in the second half, Andrey Arshavin inspired the Gunners into the quarter-finals by equalising and then setting up a winner, and first Arsenal goal, for the Korean striker Ju-Young Park.
It was a deserved win for Arsenal, who had been the better side in the first half and showed more invention throughout.
A third win in succession inside a week gives them plenty of heart ahead of the visit to Stamford Bridge on Saturday, although that will be light years away from this game against an under-strength Bolton.
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The return of Thomas Vermaelen, who played 85 minutes, was a welcome boost for Wenger, although he admitted afterwards that the Belgian might still be ‘too short’ for the trip to Chelsea.
While there were plenty of Young Guns on the bench for Arsenal, the only newcomer on the pitch was 18-year-old right-back Nico Yennaris, who despite his exotic-sounding name hails from Leytonstone in east London.
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Captain for the night Vermaelen was partnered by Sebastien Squillaci at the back with the Spaniard Ignasi Miquel, usually a centre-half, filling in at left-back.
In midfield Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin patrolled in front of the back four and behind the attacking trio of Yossi Benayoun, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arshavin and lone striker Park.
Park is still something of an unknown quantity to Arsenal fans, two months after joining from Monaco, but he was given his chance to impress here.
He had the first meaningful attempt on goal for the Gunners after half an hour, forcing a decent low save from Adam Bogdan. Lukasz Fabianski had already made a similar stop to deny Darren Pratley at the other end.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was looking increasingly lively on the right flank although it was Vermaelen who came closest to breaking the deadlock with a rasping free-kick that Bogdan did well to beat away in the driving rain.
Park had another effort saved by Bogdan as the half drew to a close, and most supporters inside the stadium probably spent half-time wondering exactly where a goal would come from.
By the time most of them were back in their seats, Arsenal were behind. Frimpong lost the ball in his own half, Muamba raced onto it, exchanged passed with Pratley and smashed a shot into the roof of Arsenal’s net within 100 seconds of the restart.
Arsenal were stunned and it was a terribly poor goal from a defensive point of view. But rather than subdue the young Gunners, going behind seemed to fire them into action.
Within five minutes they were level. Arshavin found some space on the right flank, cut inside and buried a low drive into the far corner of Bolton’s net. Simple but deadly.
The game had changed. Arshavin seemed to be playing a more central role, with Benayoun going to the left flank, and it was working a treat. Three minutes later the little Russian turned creator and Arsenal were ahead.
It was a memorable moment for Park, who ran on to a perfectly weighted through ball from Arshavin, set himself and curled his first Arsenal goal beautifully around the advancing Bogdan and into the far corner of the net.
The turnaround was as remarkable as it was rapid, but Bolton were not about to lie down and accept their fate. And they were so nearly level when Chris Eagles, having just come on as a substitute, let fly from 25 yards out and Fabianski somehow spilled the ball goalwards, only to see it drop just over the crossbar.
His relief was palpable but the Pole redeemed himself with a fine block to deny Ivan Klasnic and then a smart low save to keep out a Gary Cahill effort as Bolton pressed for an equaliser.
They had a couple more chances in four minutes of stoppage time, but the young Gunners held out to reach the quarter-finals of this competition yet again.
Arsenal: Fabianski, Yennaris, Miquel, Vermaelen (Boateng, 86), Squillaci, Coquelin, Frimpong (Ozyakup, 76), Benayoun, Arshavin, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Ryo, 73), Park.
Subs not used: Mannone, Aneke, Meade, Watt.
Bolton Wanderers: Bogdan, Steinsson, Cahill, Knight, Gardner, M Davies, Muamba, Pratley (Ngog, 62), Kakuta (Eagles, 71), Tuncay (Blake, 85), Klasnic.
Subs not used: Reo-Coker, Jaaskelainen, Wheater, Riley.
Referee: A Taylor.