Merida (left) has been linked with a move away from Arsenal
By Paul Fletcher
Arsenal ensured Owen Coyle's first game as Bolton manager ended in defeat as they closed the gap on Premier League leaders Chelsea to three points.
Cesc Fabregas struck with a low strike across goal in the first half to finish a brilliant passing move.
Matthew Taylor wasted a great chance to equalise with a shot that he smashed over the crossbar.
Arsenal sealed victory through Fran Merida with an eight-yard strike after a cross from Eduardo.
The visiting team showed in glimpses why they are the Premier League's top scorers, slicing apart the Bolton defence with phases of sensational play.
Fabregas was the fulcrum at the hearty of most of their best moves and the only surprise was that he did not add to his tally.
Arsenal dominated a large chunk of the opening half and displayed a resolve after the break as Bolton tried to prise their way back into the contest.
Wenger impressed by 'mature' Arsenal
Arsene Wenger's team have a game in hand on second-placed Manchester United and will move into top spot if they beat Bolton by a two-goal margin when the two teams meet again at the Emirates on Wednesday.
New Bolton boss Coyle received a generous reception from the home supporters before the game started.
But the new manager clearly faces a difficult task at his new club, who are second from bottom in the table.
The Trotters have not kept a clean sheet all season, conceded more goals at home than anyone else and won just once in the league since the end of October.
Coyle named the same team that started Gary Megson's last game in charge, a 2-2 draw with Hull - and Bolton certainly started with the passion and commitment that you would expect from a group of players out to impress a new manager.
I can still get better - Fabregas
Kevin Davies squandered a promising position with a poor first touch and Ivan Klasnic found the net from 20 yards but his effort was ruled out for offside, while Chung-Yong Lee delivered several teasing crosses from the right flank.
However, once Arsenal started to dominate possession there was an ominous look about the contest, particularly as the returning Fabregas was allowed far too much time on the ball.
Arsenal could easily have been awarded a penalty after Jussi Jaaskelainen appeared to bring down the Spaniard - but there was no contention about the magnificence of his goal.
A phase of short, crisp passes unpicked the Bolton defence and the Gunners skipper slotted home with a precise first-time finish.
Terrible marking allowed Craig Eastmond, making his full Premier League debut, a free volley from a corner that a partially unsighted Jaaskelainen did well to save.
Coyle sees potential in Bolton display
And Fabregas really should have added another after he connected with a low cut-back from Andrey Arshavin but he inexplicably missed the target.
It was shaping up to be a disappointing afternoon for Coyle but his team almost snatched an equaliser before the break when Davies managed to win an aerial challenge against Thomas Vermaelen.
Klasnic collected the knock-down and skilfully lifted the ball over William Gallas but he scuffed his six-yard effort and Manuel Almunia gratefully saved.
Coyle prowled the touchline after the break, imploring his players to maintain a high tempo.
And as with the first half, Bolton began strongly. Tamir Cohen made a scuffed contact with a teasing Lee cross, before Taylor wasted his glorious chance.
Klasnic picked him out and Taylor's first touch was superb but he then blazed his shot way over.
His failure was heavily punished when substitute Merida controlled a clever cross from Eduardo before striking the ball beyond Jaaskelainen.
Bolton manager Owen Coyle:
"I thought the level of performance was terrific.
"What we offered for the duration of the match would, on another day, have resulted in one or three points.
"We created chances from the first minute and if you analyse that game I think deserved a better result."
90:00+2:26 Fran Merida fouled by Gretar Rafn Steinsson, the ref awards a free kick. Direct effort from the free kick comes in from Carlos
Alberto Vela, save made by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
90:00+1:14 Francesc Fabregas takes a shot. Zat Knight gets a block in.
89:29 Carlos Alberto Vela challenges Zat Knight unfairly and gives away a free kick. Jussi Jaaskelainen restarts play with the free
88:43 Effort on goal by Matthew Taylor from just inside the penalty area goes harmlessly over the target.
87:27 The ball is crossed by Gretar Rafn Steinsson, save by Manuel Almunia.
85:36 Unfair challenge on William Gallas by Gary Cahill results in a free kick. Manuel Almunia takes the free kick.
83:20 Substitution Carlos Alberto Vela replaces Da Silva Eduardo.
83:03 Effort on goal by Matthew Taylor from just inside the area clears the crossbar.
82:54 The ball is sent over by Chung-Yong Lee, Vassiriki Diaby makes a clearance.
81:25 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Fran Merida by Paul Robinson. William Gallas takes the free kick.
79:15 Substitution Tamir Cohen goes off and Ricardo Gardner comes on.
79:15 Substitution Johan Elmander comes on in place of Ivan Klasnic.
77:48 The assist for the goal came from Da Silva Eduardo.
77:48 GOAL - Fran Merida:Bolton 0 - 2 Arsenal Fran Merida finds the net with a goal from close range to the bottom left corner of the goal. Bolton 0-2 Arsenal.
76:19 Strike comes in from Matthew Taylor from the free kick.
76:19 Booking Thomas Vermaelen booked for unsporting behaviour.
76:13 The referee gives a free kick against Thomas Vermaelen for handball.
74:13 Gavin McCann gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Fran Merida. Thomas Vermaelen has a direct shot on goal from
the free kick.
72:44 Free kick taken by Francesc Fabregas.
72:44 Substitution (Arsenal) makes a substitution, with Gael Clichy coming on for Tomas Rosicky.
72:44 Ivan Klasnic challenges Vassiriki Diaby unfairly and gives away a free kick.
72:17 Gavin McCann produces a cross, Manuel Almunia makes a save.
Correction - 70:14 Matthew Taylor has a shot on goal from outside the area which misses left.
70:14 Ivan Klasnic produces a right-footed shot from outside the box and misses left.
69:24 The official flags Ivan Klasnic offside. Free kick taken by Manuel Almunia.
66:56 Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Francesc Fabregas from the left by-line, Tamir Cohen makes a clearance.
66:28 Corner taken by Francesc Fabregas played to the near post, Matthew Taylor manages to make a clearance.
66:08 Gavin McCann concedes a free kick for a foul on Vassiriki Diaby. Vassiriki Diaby takes the direct free kick.
65:39 Andrey Arshavin produces a cross, clearance made by Zat Knight.
64:56 The ball is swung over by Tomas Rosicky, clearance by Gary Cahill.
62:12 Substitution Fran Merida is brought on as a substitute for Craig Eastmond.
60:54 Substitution Gavin McCann on for Fabrice Muamba.
60:13 Effort on goal by Matthew Taylor from deep inside the area goes harmlessly over the bar.
59:44 Bacary Sagna delivers the ball, save by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
58:59 Shot by Vassiriki Diaby from deep inside the penalty area misses to the left of the goal.
58:20 Vassiriki Diaby produces a cross, blocked by Matthew Taylor.
54:34 Chung-Yong Lee fouled by Andrey Arshavin, the ref awards a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
53:50 Kevin Davies challenges Armand Traore unfairly and gives away a free kick. Armand Traore restarts play with the free kick.
52:59 Tamir Cohen takes a shot. Blocked by William Gallas.
52:26 Gretar Rafn Steinsson delivers the ball, Manuel Almunia makes a save.
49:54 Tamir Cohen challenges Francesc Fabregas unfairly and gives away a free kick. The ball is swung over by Francesc Fabregas,
Header from deep inside the area by William Gallas goes harmlessly over the crossbar.
48:03 Unfair challenge on Manuel Almunia by Matthew Taylor results in a free kick. Manuel Almunia restarts play with the free kick.
47:54 Chung-Yong Lee produces a cross, Manuel Almunia makes a save.
45:01 The referee starts the second half.
45:00+2:12 The ref blows to signal half-time.
45:00+0:48 Ivan Klasnic takes a shot. Save by Manuel Almunia.
45:00+0:18 Shot by Francesc Fabregas. Save made by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
44:02 The official flags Thomas Vermaelen offside. Jussi Jaaskelainen takes the free kick.
43:14 Paul Robinson gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Francesc Fabregas. Francesc Fabregas takes the free kick.
42:40 Francesc Fabregas produces a left-footed shot from close in which goes wide of the left-hand upright.
42:22 Zat Knight fouled by Da Silva Eduardo, the ref awards a free kick. Jussi Jaaskelainen takes the direct free kick.
41:03 The offside flag is raised against Thomas Vermaelen. Jussi Jaaskelainen restarts play with the free kick.
39:23 Chung-Yong Lee takes a shot. Save by Manuel Almunia.
37:35 Matthew Taylor takes a shot. Save by Manuel Almunia.
36:31 Booking Booking for Tomas Rosicky for unsporting behaviour.
34:28 Da Silva Eduardo delivers the ball from the free kick left-footed from right wing, Tamir Cohen makes a clearance.
34:28 Booking Booking for Paul Robinson for unsporting behaviour.
33:59 Unfair challenge on Francesc Fabregas by Paul Robinson results in a free kick.
31:56 Ivan Klasnic has an effort at goal from long range that goes wide left.
Correction - 30:37 Corner taken by Francesc Fabregas from the right by-line, Craig Eastmond takes a shot. Jussi Jaaskelainen makes a save.
30:37 Corner taken by Francesc Fabregas, Craig Eastmond takes a shot. Save by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
30:15 Foul by Zat Knight on Tomas Rosicky, free kick awarded. Francesc Fabregas restarts play with the free kick.
27:46 Da Silva Eduardo provided the assist for the goal.
27:46 GOAL - Francesc Fabregas:Bolton 0 - 1 Arsenal Francesc Fabregas finds the back of the net with a goal from the edge of the penalty box to the bottom left corner of the
goal. Bolton 0-1 Arsenal.
26:04 Craig Eastmond challenges Chung-Yong Lee unfairly and gives away a free kick. The free kick is swung in right-footed by Gretar
Rafn Steinsson, clearance by William Gallas.
25:27 Tomas Rosicky takes the outswinging corner, Zat Knight makes a clearance.
25:10 Andrey Arshavin takes a shot. Gretar Rafn Steinsson gets a block in.
24:28 The ball is delivered by Gretar Rafn Steinsson.
23:59 Corner taken by Chung-Yong Lee.
21:39 Ivan Klasnic takes a shot. Save made by Manuel Almunia. Tamir Cohen concedes a free kick for a foul on Craig Eastmond. Direct
free kick taken by Vassiriki Diaby.
21:02 The assistant referee signals for offside against Kevin Davies. Manuel Almunia takes the indirect free kick.
19:10 Shot from just outside the area by Tamir Cohen goes over the bar.
18:27 Andrey Arshavin takes a shot. Tamir Cohen gets a block in.
16:55 Bacary Sagna gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Ivan Klasnic. Jussi Jaaskelainen takes the direct free kick.
15:11 Corner taken right-footed by Chung-Yong Lee, save made by Manuel Almunia.
14:59 Tamir Cohen sends in a cross, Manuel Almunia makes a save.
8:39 The ball is crossed by Tomas Rosicky.
5:57 Tomas Rosicky takes a shot. Tamir Cohen gets a block in.
4:19 Effort from outside the penalty area by Francesc Fabregas goes wide left of the goal.
1:29 The assistant referee flags for offside against Ivan Klasnic. Free kick taken by Manuel Almunia.
0:00 The referee gets the game started.
Live text and data provided by The Press Association.
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