Alex Song’s immaculate control and deft finish added Arsenal’s third and gave them an insurmountable lead on their way to a 4-1 victory over Bolton Wanderers. The third goal proved significant, not only in terms of securing an important three points to keep pace with Chelsea, but Song’s strike also marked the 1000th Premier League goal under Arsene Wenger’s stewardship, before Carlos Vela’s neatly taken fourth took the Gunners to 1001.
Prior to Song’s landmark strike, Bolton’s Gary Cahill was sent off for a two-footed challenge on Marouane Chamakh, and whilst his dismissal inevitably affected the result, as the manager suggested in his post-match interview, the Gunners were already in control of proceedings. The scoreline is partially reflective of the Londoners’ dominance but the eventual margin of victory was slightly flattering. Johan Elmander’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time was a shock to the system and the Gunners could have easily found themselves under enormous pressure. Memories, or rather flashbacks, of seasons gone by came into focus, as possession and territory had again failed to yield goals. In previous years they may well have crumbled under such pressure, but instead they continued to persist with the passing philosophy that has seen them claim such a substantial haul of goals under the Frenchman’s reign.
Whilst there is never an ideal time to concede, the timing of Bolton’s equaliser will have helped the side, allowing them to re-focus over the half-time interval and allowing the manager to draw attention to the wasteful finishing of the first-half. The nature of the Bolton’s goal will have disappointed Wenger, but with Sebastien Squillaci making his debut and forming a fledgling partnership with Laurent Koscielny, a certain lack of cohesion is to be expected at this stage.
The man injecting cohesion and fluency was Cesc Fabregas as his composure in the middle of the park was a vital component in the victory. Fabregas’ perfectly weighted through ball to Andrey Arshavin in the first half signalled to the Emirates crowd that after the summer transfer wrangling and delayed pre-season schedule, the captain was back on form. The scything pass, dissecting Bolton’s back line, should have seen the Russian extend his scoring run to three consecutive matches, but a heavy touch ensured the streak ended this weekend. Fabregas again displayed his vision and range of passing with a lofted through ball for Vela to add a fourth late on.
Fabregas was the architect of the second goal – his beautifully crafted cross providing an invitation that could not be refused as the onrushing Chamakh met the delivery to give Arsenal a 2-1 lead just before the hour mark. As if fans of the Gunners needed reminding just how important the playmaker is to the side, he provided a master class on Saturday, showing that he still has the ability that endeared him to the Ashburton Grove faithful, and more importantly, the desire to apply himself despite having his head turned by the summer’s Catalan overtures. In van Persie’s absence, how well Fabregas and Chamakh continue to combine will determine whether Arsenal can continue their impressive start to the campaign. Arsenal’s No 4 also had a hand in the opener, as Koscielny netted his first goal for the side. Breaking his duck early on will no doubt endear him to the Arsenal fans, as Thomas Vermaelen experienced last season, but the Belgian’s prolific scoring was not the sole reason for his popularity. An uncompromising, rugged style of defending in the mould of Tony Adams was his key attribute and in Vermaelen’s absence Koscielny would do well to follow his example.
The opening weekend draw with Liverpool was a good result in hindsight, but hardly instilled confidence. After four league games, the Gunners remain unbeaten and find themselves two points from the summit with a healthy goal difference. Wednesday sees the arrival of Portuguese surprise package Braga as the Champions League gets underway. The Minho Warriors shocked many by claiming runners-up spot in the Liga Sagres, finishing five points adrift of eventual champions Benfica. They also saw off perennial Champions League participants Sevilla in the final qualifying round and will represent a stern test for the team on Wednesday night. Yet, with an impressive start to the campaign so far, and their captain back and dictating the play, they will have every confidence of opening their account with a maximum return.