Arsenal finally produced the dominant performance that they have been unable to conjure all season today as they saw off Bolton Wanderers 3-0 at the Emirates in relatively simple fashion. The final tally from Orbinho on twitter had possession at 63-37% in favor of Arsenal, who produced 27 shots to Bolton's 3 and completed 86% of passes to Bolton's 74. The first half was a bit more dire than the final numbers suggest, but in the second half, an early goal from van Persie seemed to put Arsenal at ease, and after David Wheater was sent off for holding back Theo Walcott as last man, Arsenal's job was fairly simple.
The game opened in true Arsenal fashion as Laurent Koscielny bashed his face into the back of David N'Gog's head. The latter wouldn't fully recover and would come off for Kevin Davies later in the half, but Bolton had come out firing. Wojciech Szczesny produced a great save as Darren Pratley got his foot on the end of a cross, beating Koscielny across. It was to be Bolton's biggest threat of the game, and it was in the 2nd minute.
Arsenal's first good chance came seven minutes in as a brilliant Mikel Arteta through ball released Gervinho, but the Ivorian's first touch was stone, and Jussi Jaaskelaienen gobbled up the ball. Arteta continued to pull the strings in midfield as the half wore on, Aaron Ramsey mostly staying back while Alex Song was getting forward. Ramsey's depth and reluctance to drive forward quickly in possession rendered him ineffective and made Arsenal's counters limp. Despite their possession dominance growing as the half ticked along, Arsenal's passing and tempo were poor, and they made little of their time on the ball. By far the highlight of the first half came in the 38th minute, when Laurent Koscielny found himself all alone behind the defense and attempted an agile volley rather than controlling the loose ball. He managed to just about hit the ball with his shin.
The second half saw Arsenal take possession immediately. Ramsey drove forward with a vengeance, displaying the attacking desire that was lacking from him in the first half, and it paid off. He carried the ball twenty yards towards the Bolton area and laid it off to van Persie. The Dutchman took one touch out left, around the right back Steinsson, took another touch, and crushed a shot past Jaaskelainen at the near post. Perhaps the Finn expected a shot across the goal, but the shot was very hard and from a tight angle. 1-0 to the Arsenal, and suddenly the Emirates found its voice.
Arsenal were countering incisively now, Song remaining deeper for the most part while Ramsey was looking to increase the tempo on the counter. Bolton were on the back foot, and then it got worse for them. Theo Walcott escaped behind Wheater on a diagonal run, Ramsey found him, and Wheater appeared to haul down Walcott from behind. Replays show there was contact, but Walcott may have made a lot of it. It was enough to make him lose control of the ball, though, and Mark Clattenburg felt he had no choice, giving a red card to Wheater for a last-man infraction.
Jaaskelaienen produced a wonderful double save before Bolton had their best chance of the match, Chris Eagles released on the counter as Kieran Gibbs got caught high and out of position. Luckily Gibbs is really fast, and he sprinted back just in time to force Eagles into a shot that Szczesny could position himself well to save. During the counter, Paul Robinson had been on the floor in his own six-yard area, but Bolton had countered all the same. Still, they took exception to Arsenal countering right back, which is silly, but they did. There was a little bit of a kerfuffle about it, but Clattenburg told everyone to shut up and get on with it as Robinson got treatment and came right back on the pitch.
Koscielny had a good long-range effort saved in the 67th minute, and a few minutes later, Ramsey released Walcott down the right. Theo reached the byline and crossed low and hard for van Persie to tap home past a stranded Jaaskelainen. It was Robin van Persie's 100th Arsenal goal, and the crowd acknowledged that with a healthy ovation and rendition of "Robin van Persie".
The goal took the fight out of Bolton, and Arsenal passed the match away as the crowd sang "we're staying up". Alex Song put the cherry on top with a late goal, Bolton standing off and allowing him to lash home a right-footed curler from 18 yards. 3-0 was the final, a dominant performance straight out of the 2009-10 Arsenal playbook. The only blot was that Walcott limped off in the dying moments with what appeared to be a hamstring pull. Fingers crossed for good news.
May this form continue.