There was a time in the not-too-distant past that matches at Bolton regularly proved to be traumatic experiences for Arsenal. Yesterday though, the Gunners turned in an efficient and solid away performance to beat the Trotters 2-0 and hot up the pace at the top of the table.
A goal from the inspirational Cesc Fabregas put Arsene Wenger’s men in front and the lead might have been increased before the break had a couple of decent penalty shouts - both coming from challenges on Arsenal’s captain - been awarded. Bolton had their chances too but the visitors rode their luck and secured all three points with a strike from substitute Fran Merida in the 78th minute.
Fabregas made the difference between the two sides. He was involved in everything. He was ready, willing and able to mix it physically with Bolton as well as showing his indisputable class throughout the match. His goal was the culmination of a dazzling passing move and he might have had a second when side-footing wide from only a few yards out moments later. Throughout the afternoon he pulled all the strings in midfield, endlessly linked up with the attack and played a major role in creating Merida’s clincher too. It was a fantastic display from a player who looks better, stronger and more mature with each passing game.
Arsenal may have weathered a few storms whilst he was out injured but, with him back in action, they look a different team. Not only is his individual contribution usually massively influential, but he also raises the games of those around him. His fitness for the remainder of the season will undoubtedly have a very big bearing on the club’s success this term.
The other big news of the week was the return of Sol Campbell. This signing certainly raised a few eyebrows, not least because of the cloud that the defender left the club under last time round but also because of his age. Arsene Wenger tends not to give ex-players second chances and is almost phobic about offering players over thirty years of age new contracts, so for him to give Campbell another crack of the whip was unexpected.
That said, his contract only runs to the end of the season and, having won trophies in the past, he will bring a depth of experience to the squad as they step up their efforts to clinch some silverware. The confusing thing is though that these were all the things that were said about Mikael Silvestre when he signed. He has hardly rolled back the years since joining the Gunners and there is little recent evidence to suggest that Campbell will be able to do so either.
It is unlikely that Wenger will use Campbell as anything other than a back up for William Gallas and Tomas Vermaelen in the absence of Johan Djourou. With Philippe Senderos completely out of favour and seemingly on his way out of the club, the Gunners are still short at the centre of defence. So, instead of signing Campbell on a short-term contract, why doesn’t Wenger bite the bullet and sign a young centre-back who can grow with the team over the next few seasons? Sol Campbell might still be in reasonable physical shape - and his return does evoke a certain nostalgia for some great days in the past - but he is not a long-term solution and the manager is surely only delaying what is seemingly a desperately-needed addition to the squad.
On Wednesday night Arsenal face Bolton again - this time at Ashburton Grove. A victory by a two-goal margin will see them go top of the table for the first time since August. It would be a massive boost ahead of what could be a season-defining run of matches going into February and ought to be enough incentive for the team to try to repeat yesterday’s result.