By Chris Harris
Exquisite finishes from Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp were enough to keep Arsenal nine points clear at the top of the Premiership after another tense encounter with Bolton.
Anything other than a convincing home victory looked unlikely once the Gunners had strolled into a two-goal lead after 24 minutes, but Bolton are nothing if not resilient.
Ivan Campo hauled the Trotters back into the match and they threatened to emulate last season's fightback against the Gunners.
On that Spring day at the Reebok, Arsenal's title hopes were dented when they surrendered a two-goal lead. Today, they refused to buckle and remain on course for the Premiership crown.
Arsène Wenger is reluctant to discuss records but, for those who enjoy statistics, this result saw Arsenal equal the record of Leeds (1973-74) and Liverpool (1987-88) of 29 unbeaten League games from the start of the season.
A win or draw against Manchester United next weekend will see the Gunners eclipse that mark.
Before the game, Wenger had good news on the injury front with the return to fitness of Bergkamp, Freddie Ljungberg and Jeremie Aliadiere.
Nonetheless, the Arsenal manager opted to make just one change from the team which won 2-0 at Blackburn last week, Bergkamp replacing Jose Antonio Reyes in the starting line-up.
The swirling wind and driving rain which greeted the players as they limbered up on the pitch had subsided by kick-off - which was delayed by 15 minutes - but conditions were far from perfect.
Bolton's gameplan was clear. They lined up in a 4-5-1 formation with Kevin Davies as the lone striker and defended in a line across the penalty area in an attempt to deny space in behind for the likes of Thierry Henry to exploit.
With little room to manoeuvre, the home side were limited to long-range shots early on. Even so, Henry almost gave the Gunners a sixth-minute lead.
Patrick Vieira slid the ball through to his compatriot 30 yards out. Henry turned, found a yard of space and clattered a fierce shot against the crossbar.
That woke the crowd up and tempted Pires to try his luck from range seconds later. This time Jaaskelainen held comfortably.
But the Bolton keeper had no chance with Pires' next effort. Edu, the Arsenal.com Player of the Month, found Bergkamp on the edge of the box. The Dutchman laid the ball off for Pires and he curled an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
The goal ignited Arsenal as much as it rocked Bolton. Within two minutes Henry's low shot curled wickedly towards the corner. Simon Charlton took no chances and headed over his own bar.
Jaaskelainen was threatened from all angles, even from his own defenders it seemed. Emerson Thome was saved by the blustery conditions as his header back eluded the Bolton keeper but bounced wide.
Another minute later, another chance. This time Pires picked out Cole's darting run into the box. The left-back shot from a narrow angle but Jaaskelainen smothered his effort.
Another goal seemed inevitable and it duly arrived after 24 minutes. Pires set Henry clear down the left-hand channel, he squared and Bergkamp crashed home a first-time shot. Wonderful stuff.
Gilberto forced Jaaskelainen into a low save shortly afterwards, but as the rain returned the attacks dried up for Arsenal and Bolton edged their way back into the game.
Forced to come out of their defensive shell, the visitors competed more in midfield while Jay-Jay Okocha and Stelios offered more support to Davies.
Five minutes before the break, Bolton reduced the deficit. Arsenal half-cleared a corner, Bruno N'Gotty volleyed the ball back in, it fell for Campo and he beat Lehmann with a rising shot.
Stelios headed against the bar with stoppage time approaching as Bolton attacked with renewed vigour. What looked like being a rout suddenly looks less cut and dried for the Gunners and so it proved in a tense second half.
Murmurs of discontent among the Highbury crowd almost turned to wails of despair as Bolton threatened to equalise immediately after the break.
They should have done. After buzzing around the home side's penalty area with great purpose, the ball was worked wide to Stelios. He crossed but Davies somehow missed a free header from six yards.
Davies had a chance to make amends seconds later when Henrik Pedersen escaped down the left and cut the ball back to the Bolton striker. This time Toure made a saving tackle.
Then Campbell had to make a timely inteception after Okocha's pass eluded Cole and found Kevin Nolan in acres of space.
It was hard to believe how one-sided the first half-hour had been as Bolton continued to dominate, but the visitors could not find an equaliser despite a procession of dangerous crosses.
There was a respite for Arsenal as Henry forced a diving save from Jaaskelainen on the hour mark and Pires fired wildly over after a turbo-charged surge from Henry on the left.
Bergkamp also shot over as the home side began to carve out chances, but the absence of a third goal guaranteed a nervous finale.
Ljungberg entered the fray with 15 minutes left and so nearly put the game beyond doubt when Bergkamp, clear on goal, unselfishly squared the ball to the Swede.
Unfortunately, Bergkamp's pass was slightly overhit and Charlton got back to bundle the ball away from danger.
Another last-gasp challenge from N'Gotty denied Henry as he sped through five minutes from time. The home crowd bayed for a penalty, but Graham Barber gave nothing. Ultimately, it didn't matter.
|Campo shadows Vieira||Cole holds off Thome|
|Pires curls home our opener||Robert celebrates his strike|
|Bergkamp bangs in number two||Dutch delight!|
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