The flip side of the criticism that Arsène Wenger has shown excessive faith in youngsters in recent seasons is that his few experienced players have let down the manager. Too often established internationals such as Tomas Rosicky and Andrey Arshavin have failed to come to the aid of greener team-mates. Here, Arshavin produced a performance that enabled Arsenal to overturn a one-goal deficit and progress to the Carling Cup quarter-finals.
Those were the plus points on a night when some of Arsenal's vaunted young players showed they still have ample room for improvement and Thomas Vermaelen, returning to action for the first time since August, limped off late on with a minor calf injury that will rule him out of Saturday's match against Chelsea.
Arsenal began with purpose but little precision. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was eager to build on his promising outings against Shrewsbury Town and Olympiakos, and amplify calls for him to start regularly ahead of Theo Walcott. Despite his enthusiasm, those calls will abate following a display that exposed his inexperience.
His speed enabled him to find freedom down the right wing but he betrayed the shortcomings of which Walcott is often accused, and misdirected crosses. Worse, midway through the first half he was left chastened by Darren Pratley, who shunted him off the ball in midfield and dispatched the first notable shot of the game, which Lukasz Fabianski beat away. Four minutes later Tuncay Sanli dispossessed him in similar fashion, and it became apparent why Wenger wants to integrate Chamberlain into the team slowly rather than swiftly as some fans demand.
"What the boys who are learning the game are finding is that you need to have 100% concentration and fight at every minute at this level," said Wenger, with reference, you suspect, to Oxlade-Chamberlain and Emmanuel Frimpong, who was also caught dawdling at crucial times.
Given Arsenal's injury problems at right-back, the 18-year-old debutant Nico Yennaris was under particular scrutiny, though not from Bolton Wanderers, who largely neglected to test the novice. Vermaelen enjoyed a relatively comfortable first period as Wanderers, who like Arsenal omitted many regular starters, began with the conservatism ofa team who simply wanted to avoid an eighth defeat from nine games. Vermaelen came to the fore in the 36th minute when he received a short free-kick from Arshavin. Adam Bogdan had to display strong hands to repel the Belgian's ferocious 25-yard drive.
Bogdan had been equally defiant five minutes previously when beating away a long-distance drive from Park Chu-young. The South Korean went close again just before the interval after nimble interplay with Arshavin, Bogdan tipping his 20-yard drive wide. Yossi Benayoun had succeeded in beating the keeper moments before but his fine effort after a tricky run down the left flew inches wide.
The start of the second half brought a stern lesson for Frimpong, who was robbed by Fabrice Muamba deep in his own half. This time Bolton applied maximum punishment, as Muamba swapped a smart pass with Pratley before ramming the ball into the net from eight yards.
Bolton went close to adding a second two minutes later but Ivan Klasnic, having beaten Sébastien Squillaci to a Gaël Kakuta cross, lifted the ball over from close range.
In such demanding times Wenger needs his experienced players to seize back the initiative. Frequently they have failed. Here, Arshavin inspired a comeback. In the absence of Mikel Arteta he revelled in the central role in which he excels for Russia. In the 53rd minute he showed single-mindedness and skill when claiming the equaliser, shooting low into the net from the corner of the box when, in less determined mood, he might have passed.
Three minutes later he helped put Arsenal in front, waiting intelligently for the right moment to slip the ball through to Park, who scored his first goal since his summer move from Monaco with a curled finish from 10 yards.
Bolton responded well and familiar Arsenal worries resurfaced as Fabianski fumbled a Kakuta free-kick. The rebound fell kindly for him. He also flapped at a Chris Eagles shot and was lucky to see it go over the bar. Frimpong was lucky not to concede a penalty after an impetuous challenge on Gary Cahill.
Fabianski showed his good side in the 77th minute to deny Klasnic from close range after the striker had brushed past Squillaci. Klasnic perpetrated his worst miss of the night two minutes from time, scooping the ball high over the bar when free seven yards out.
"We had to hang on in the last 20 minutes because we had a lot of players who have not played at this intensity," Wenger said. "We were tested and the more experienced players took charge of the game, especially Arshavin, Park and [Yossi] Benayoun. They made the difference."