Chamakh may wear 29, but he’s a number 9 at heart

Arsenal 4 Bolton 1

Koscielny 24, Chamakh 58, Song 78, Vela 83; Elmander 44

One of the most common criticisms levelled against recent Arsenal sides has been an inability to offer a consistent aerial presence in the box. Robin van Persie prefers the ball played into his feet, Nicklas Bendtner‘s threat in the air is too frequently an erratic one, and Arsenal’s other forward players make the Smurfs look like giants. No more. For the second time in two home games, Marouane Chamakh powered in a fine header to set Arsenal on their way to victory over Bolton, after a first half which they had utterly dominated and yet contrived to finish 1-1.

Increasingly, the Moroccan international is looking like the old-fashioned number nine Arsenal have not had since the heyday of Alan Smith in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Emile Heskey – but with added goals.

Sébastien Squillaci had a solid first team debut

Arsène Wenger made six changes to the side who won at Blackburn two weeks ago, with van Persie, Theo Walcott and Thomas Vermaelen all missing through injury, and Abou Diaby, Bacary Sagna and Gaël Clichy rested on the bench. Sébastien Squillaci was given his full debut in place of Vermaelen.

Despite shuffling the pack, Arsenal started well, with Tomáš Rosický playing in Andrey Arshavin, only for the Russian to strike a weak shot straight at Bolton’s debutant goalkeeper Adam Bogdan. It was not until just over halfway through the first period that Jack Wilshere floated a clever ball into the box which Cesc Fabregas scuffed across the face of the six-yard box. Laurent Koscielny was Johnny-on-the-spot and bundled the ball in for his first Arsenal goal.

Based on his three appearances so far, Koscielny appears incapable of having an uneventful game. Sent off on an otherwise impressive debut at Anfield, he had been outmuscled by El-Hadju Diouf in the build up to Blackburn’s goal a fortnight ago. Here he negated his goal shortly before half-time with a poor back header that he should never have attempted. Lee Chung-Yong intercepted, rounded the helpless Manuel Almunia (who was not to blame) and crossed for Johan Elmander to head in. Koscielny clearly has talent but, by his own admission, he needs to be physically stronger, and he must work to eliminate a worrying tendency to commit one catastrophic error every game, a fate which often befell one of his predecessors, Philippe Senderos.

Having had the chances to be three or even four up and out of sight, it was now 1-1, and the interval came at a good time for the home side. Arsenal had played well but without applying the finishing touch, and yet again had undone themselves with one moment of comically poor defending. Whatever Wenger said to them in the dressing room – presumably more of the same going forward but without handing out gifts at the back – clearly worked, as it was an undaunted and purposeful team which emerged for the second half.

Marouane Chamakh scored for the second successive home game

Arsenal had already carved out a couple of good chances when Chamakh’s goal, leaping high to nod home from Fabregas’s precise centre, settled the nerves. And once Gary Cahill had received a straight red in the 64th minute for a sliding tackle from behind on Chamakh – possibly a little harsh and far from the worst tackle perpetrated by a Bolton player during the game – the result never looked in doubt. Alex Song, sporting a new hairdo that resembled a hedgehog dipped in peroxide, strode forward to score the third (Arsenal’s 1,000th Premier League goal under Wenger) with a cute chip from a narrow angle. And five minutes later substitute Carlos Vela finished off a 24-pass move with a well-timed run and incisive finish from Fabregas’s perfectly weighted ball over the top.

After a lacklustre first start of the season at Blackburn, Fabregas looked more like the player who had been so dominant for three-quarters of last season before breaking his leg, covering huge expanses of the Emirates pitch, spraying some delightful passes around and ending with three assists. Rosický, too, continued to show the invention and intelligence which led Wenger to buy him four years ago, but which has been so frustratingly masked by injuries since.

Defensively, aside from the goal Koscielny and Squillaci coped well with the power and strength of Elmander and Kevin Davies, despite the makeshift nature of a back four missing three of its regular starters. Indeed, as a whole the team stood up well under both the aerial barrage and some occasionally overly robust tackling, sticking to their passing game and refusing to be knocked out of stride.

But, as much as Fabregas, it was Chamakh who made the big difference, giving Arsenal’s creative players a mobile target to aim for, linking play intelligently and taking his goal with aplomb at a critical point in the match. He is not the type of striker who will jink past two defenders or fire in rockets from 25 yards, but he will slot into the club’s system and score the type of goals that Arsenal have usually found so difficult to come by. The number on the back of his shirt may say otherwise, but Arsenal have a genuine old-fashioned number nine for the first time since Alan Smith’s departure 15 years ago.

Wenger was delighted at having secured a win against Bolton on the back of three points at Blackburn, which he felt signified how his side has matured:

Overall it was a competitive game where we dominated and created many chances but it is the kind of game, when you play Bolton, that for as long as you don’t kill the game off they can score. You can dominate 80 per cent of the game and still lose against Bolton because one or two balls, throw-ins, set pieces, can be dangerous and they are a good side in midfield as well. They marked us very tight and I think that provoked a very physical game but they played well as well.

From the two games against Blackburn and Bolton, two years ago we would not have taken six points.

Talking about Cahill’s straight red, he added:

It looked to me a tackle from behind. It was a dark orange, maybe a light red.

Next up is Braga at the Emirates on Wednesday night, opening up this season’s Champions League campaign. Arsenal fans will be hoping not to see a repeat of last year’s equivalent fixture, which saw them two down at Standard Liège inside the first five minutes, before coming back to win 3-2. Despite the injuries to key players like van Persie and Walcott – to which add Diaby, taken off within 13 minutes of coming on as a sub after a poor sliding tackle by Paul Robinson – with Chamakh leading the line and slightly more watchful defending, there should be little to fear.

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