Arsenal dream alive in the Nick of time
Arsenal 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0: Bendtner's last-gasp strike breaks 10-man Wolves' resistance as jaded Gunners end frustrating afternoon on high
Sunday 04 April 2010
It was all a bit after the Lord Mayor's Show, but Nicklas Bendtner's injury-time header certainly brought the house down here to keep Arsenal's title dream flickering. Barcelona's scouts will not have been impressed by the quality, but Arsenal's resilience may be a concern for them.
Outplayed and out-thought for much of their Champions' League quarter-final first leg against the mesmerising Catalans in midweek, Arsène Wenger's team were up against a very different animal yesterday yet still found it difficult to assert their authority as Wolves defended resolutely, even after being reduced to 10 men following the second-half dismissal of their captain, Karl Henry.
Marcus Hahnemann's excellent form in goal was the Gunners' main obstacle, but they clearly missed the creativity of Cesc Fabregas and Andrey Arshavin and it was not until the introduction of Bendtner and Samir Nasri, who were being rested for Tuesday's Nou Camp return, that Arsenal resembled title hopefuls.
Wenger cursed a late Theo Walcott miss and must have thought the chance of gaining three points on Manchester United had gone until Bendtner rose above Ronald Zubar to head home Bacary Sagna's cross. It was the third occasion in six Premier League games the Gunners had struck decisive goals in injury time. Not a bad knack to have.
"It keeps us well in the title race and it was important to forget Barcelona for 24 hours," said Wenger. "We were a bit jaded but in the end it was a deserved win against a resilient Wolves team. We kept it late but that shows mental tenacity and focus."
Just as well, given that Wenger added the title chase would have been "finished" had they not prevailed. "Five points behind Chelsea with five games to go... forget it. But now it is feasible."
Early on, Arsenal used the outlet that had served them so well in their recovery from two goals down against the Catalans, setting Walcott off on a succession of raids down the right flank. A mishit after six minutes was followed by a teasing run that took Walcott past two defenders before he cut the ball across to Eduardo, and his shot was saved by Hahnemann.
Soon Walcott and Tomas Rosicky provided Eduardo with a presentable chance and he miscued horribly. Walcott, full of fizz and purpose, linked with Sagna and the right-back should have done better than shoot straight at Hahnemann's legs. Wolves still have plenty to do to stay up but they have made a better fist of it this time. Unbeaten in four they arrived in good heart but rarely troubled Arsenal's weakened defence, Michael Mancienne's well-struck shot the best they could muster in the first half.
After the interval, Eduardo volleyed wide from close range and Hahnemann relied on his quick reflexes to keep out Rosicky's shot. Yet Arsenal's over-reliance on the fitful Walcott was making them look one dimensional. Wolves began to press forward themselves, with David Jones forcing Manuel Almunia into a save. Their cause wasn't helped by Henry's clumsy tackle from behind that felled Rosicky after 66 minutes, earning him a straight red card. It was a poor challenge, yet the Czech's exaggerated reaction compounded the offence in the referee's eyes possibly as much as the fact Arsenal were the opponents. Sensitivities are high in these parts.
"I think it was a bad decision," said Wolves manager Mick McCarthy. "They had a lot of players around the referee and we are not a team that go round kicking players." Wenger conceded that Henry "did not try to hurt the player. Perhaps he was unlucky".
Wenger went for the kill, however, bringing Bendtner, Nasri and Carlos Vela on. Hahnemann saved Bendtner's header and did well again to keep out Rosicky, who collected a neat flick from Nasri. At the other end, Rosicky's rehabilitation was complete when he cleared Zubar's header off the line.
Walcott miscued a glorious opening from Nasri's clever pass in injury time but Bendtner came up trumps by finishing off a move involving Nasri, Rosicky, Walcott and Sagna. They will need more of the same in Spain.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the match: Hahnemann
Match rating: 6/10
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