Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner came off the bench to fire a late winner as Arsenal finally ended Bolton's stubborn resistance in a 1-0 win at Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners had dominated possession, but failed to unlock the visitors, who put 10 men behind the ball.
However, just when time looked to be running out, Bendtner arrived at the far post to volley in a first goal since November and renew hopes Arsene Wenger's men can force their way back into the race for the Barclays Premier League title.
Following Aston Villa's win over West Brom, the Gunners were again playing catch up on the top four, but moved level on points with Manchester United - who host Chelsea on Sunday and already have two games in hand.
It was a bright start by Arsenal as a light fog descended on the Emirates.
After 12 minutes, Samir Nasri picked out Robin van Persie on the penalty spot - who flicked the ball up and sent a first-time snapshot just over.
A mix-up between Kolo Toure - returning to captain the side following injury and rumours of a training-ground bust-up which led to a transfer request - and keeper Manuel Almunia on the edge of the Arsenal area almost let in Johan Elmander. But Johan Djourou was alert enough to clear the loose ball.
The home side were soon back on the offensive, with Andrew O'Brien heading out a cross from Van Persie as Emmanuel Adebayor - the African Player of the Year - loitered with intent in the six-yard box.
Bolton - who named only three outfield players on the bench - continued to offer little in way of an attacking threat, with only Elmander deployed in the Arsenal half in a very deep 4-5-1 and failed to deal with a left-wing free-kick after Denilson had been fouled by Davies.
The ball dropped for Van Persie at the edge of the box, and his volley flew just over.
On 38 minutes, Bolton were forced into a change when Elmander limped off and, eventually, Mustapha Riga came on and Kevin Davies moved into attack.
Arsenal continued to press, but were unable to unlock the wall of white shirts which surrounded the visitors' penalty area.
At the start of the second half, Van Persie weaved his way to the goalline on the right, and forced an early corner. However, the delivery to the near post was poor and Bolton cleared.
Arsenal had claims for a penalty waved away when Jlloyd Samuel controlled the ball with what looked like a combination of shoulder and chest.
Gunners keeper Almunia was finally called into action on 53 minutes when Matthew Taylor looped a header goalwards after a deep ball into the box from the right.
The home side continued to camp out in the Bolton half, but lacked the flair to open up the back four.
Gael Clichy's run and cross from the left fell to Adebayor, but although the big African turned his marker, the shot lacked power and easily gathered by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
A golden chance then fell to Adebayor as he was picked out in the right side of the penalty area by a superb slide-rule pass from Nasri. However, the Togo forward took too long setting up the shot, and O'Brien made a magnificent block.
It seemed as though it was just not Arsenal's day as, on 70 minutes, Van Persie weaved his way into the area and stabbed the ball past the keeper - only for it to rebound off the post.
Toure's long-range effort was saved at full stretch by Jaaskelainen as Arsenal continued to press before Gavin McCann was booked for persistent fouling and Emmanuel Eboue was replaced by Arsenal striker Bendtner, whose first touch almost produced a goal from a downward header.
Bolton sent on Temitope Obadeyi for substitute Riga - who stormed off down the tunnel - in a bizarre tactical switch by manager Gary Megson.
The visitors' resistance was finally broken with six minutes left when Van Persie floated the ball over from the left and Bendtner arrived at the far post to volley it under Jaaskelainen.
Arsene Wenger admitted it was something of a relief to have secured victory
over a determined Bolton side after Arsenal were frustrated for long spells at
the Emirates Stadium this afternoon.
The visitors - who could only field three outfield players on the substitutes'
bench because of injury and suspensions - were six minutes from securing a
battling goalless draw when substitute Nicklas Bendtner fired in a volley at the
Following Aston Villa's win over West Brom, victory was crucial for the Gunners as they continue to play catch up on the top four. The win moved them level on points with Manchester United - who host Chelsea tomorrow and already have two games in hand.
Wenger said: "We are already swimming enough against the stream not to drop points against Bolton. We were solid defensively and now we have won 1-0 three times, which is a good basis. We must just take it game by game because every match is difficult.''
Wenger admitted breaking down Bolton had proved difficult, with more than an
hour played before the home side created their first decent chance.
"It was a difficult game with them having two deep lines,'' he said. "We could not find a way through and maybe our passing was not incisive enough. They were strong in the challenge and their only focus was to defend well.
"It looked like it could be 0-0 as we never looked like conceding, but we did not create many chances and we finished in a good old-fashioned 4-2-4 to win the game.''
It was a first goal since the end of November for Bendtner, who turns 21 next
week, and Wenger believes the big Dane has a promising future.
"He had injury problems with his ankle and it affected his game, but now in training he looks sharp again,'' said Wenger. "He had some difficult periods, but now slowly he is getting back to where he needs to be.''
Wenger feels his squad - missing key men like captain Cesc Fabregas, England
winger Theo Walcott and Czech international Tomas Rosicky - can soon be back to
their "creative'' best.
However, the Gunners manager remained coy on the likelihood of Russian
playmaker Andrei Arshavin arriving in a big-money move this month.
Wenger said: "When you have situations like today and have injuries on the offensive side, that can be a problem. We are looking and as soon as we find, we will tell everyone.''
Bolton boss Gary Megson, meanwhile, defended his team's approach - claiming
they were down to the bare bones.
"We played against one of the best teams in the world today, who have quality everywhere, but we wanted to press the ball, keep everything in front of us and not leave space behind and we did okay in the main,'' said Megson, who lost forward Johan Elmander to injury in the first half.
"We haven't got any other players, but it is not just the number of players you have, it is the quality of the XI you put out and the gamble we took was on bodies. In the main we have got away with it, but not today. Eight of the 18 pros we have got were unavailable and we lost two more today.
"We will have to keep them in cotton wool next week because we have not got
anyone else and we have know that it will take three or four transfer windows to
strengthen because we do not have the finances to do it in one hit.''