/ 21 October 2007

Never-say-die Arsenal has Wenger purring

Arsene Wenger saluted Arsenal’s spirit after his Premier League table-toppers maintained their dream start to the season with a 2-0 win over Bolton.

Second-half goals from Kolo Toure and Tomas Rosicky were enough to consolidate the London club’s two-point lead and provided a timely lift before encounters with Liverpool and Manchester United.

The Gunners were never allowed to parade their full range of talents against doggedly determined opponents, but their stomach for the fight is not in question and, once they had decided to try and out-play rather than out-scrap Bolton, they proved worthy winners.

This was Arsenal’s 13th victory in 14 matches this season and, with another eminently winnable home game in the Champions League against Slavia Prague awaiting on Tuesday, Wenger had every right to be satisfied.

”We have good momentum and I like that we built the success with patience, a high tempo and handling our nerves,” he said. ”The game was hectic so it was important we kept calm and kept playing. That was a good sign of maturity.

”Bolton have upset us in previous years. They were resilient today, and their players have lots of tricks. They know when to foul, when to pull the shirt so it was important not to lose our nerve.”

Wenger paid fulsome tribute to Theo Walcott following the England striker’s perky performance as a second-half substitute.

The teenager has endured a troubled spell at the Emirates stadium following his high-profile move from Southampton in 2006. He was controversially elevated into England’s World Cup squad later that year but failed to appear in Germany and then suffered a string of niggling injuries.

But there are signs that the 18-year-old is at last beginning to find his feet. He impressed in Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Sunderland a fortnight ago and set up Rosicky’s second goal here after bamboozling Riccardo Gardner.

”He has found the injection of pace he had before and he uses his body better,” Wenger added. ”When you see what he brings when he comes on, you are very excited.

”He benefited mentally from being picked for the World Cup and maturity-wise it helped him. He came down to the real world: When you don’t perform it hits you hard. He saw how little forgiveness there is when you don’t perform. As a young kid, you don’t imagine football is like that.

”Everything was new for him last year but he is growing into a man now. It has all happened very quickly and now he has realised things are not always easy in life and football.”

Arsenal deserved this victory for their polished second-half display but Bolton, too, can take heart from their spirited performance.

The club is mired in turmoil following the disastrous reign of Sammy Lee, who was sacked last week after an atrocious start to the season, but this represented a marked improvement on recent showings.

Phil Gartside, the Wanderers chairperson, is believed to be ready to turn his attention to Paul Jewell after seeing approaches for Steve Bruce, Gary Megson and Chris Coleman rejected, and Archie Knox, the caretaker manager, has urged him to appoint sooner rather than later.

”The club will want to get someone in place as soon as possible,” he said. ”We’re not in a good position — everyone accepts and recognises that.

”But there’s still a good atmosphere in the dressing room, despite all the nonsense that has been spoken about rifts. I have never seen a punch-up in the dressing room — there’s nothing like that.

”Bolton have been a Premiership club for a number of years, we have a lot of experience in the ranks and that will be bolstered when the transfer window reopens. Then hopefully whoever comes in will be able to keep their heads above water.” – Sapa-AFP