Bendtner saves best for last to fuel Arsenal's title drive

Hull City 1 Arsenal 2
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The Independent Online

For the second time in 24 hours, Phil Brown felt the urge to use the words Women's Institute and apology in the same sentence, but on this occasion he didn't need to be quite as sheepish.

The fighting spirit that spilled over in Nicky Barmby's spat with Jimmy Bullard in a local park in front of the shocked ladies of the Jam and Jerusalem brigade was again in evidence, but this time it was channeled rather more constructively in a valiant rearguard action.

Sadly for the hosts, it narrowly failed to prevent Arsenal from further enhancing their title credentials as an injury-time goal from Nicklas Bendtner pushed them level at the top of the Premier League with Chelsea, although they made desperately hard work of finding a way past a side reduced to 10 men for more than half the contest.

George Boateng earned two bookings before the break, one for a petulant spat with Bendtner, the other for an ugly lunge at Bacary Sagna that itself deserved a red.

It should have led to a second-half glut of goals for the visitors, who had to wait until stoppage time when goalkeeper Boaz Myhill could only parry a shot from Denilson, allowing Bendtner to pounce from close range to seal a fifth consecutive Premier League victory for Arsène Wenger's side.

"I apologised to the Women's Institute during the week for the fighting spirit we unfortunately showed in public," Brown reflected after his side stretched their unwanted run to a single victory in 15 games. "But I've no need to apologise for the fighting spirit we showed out there tonight."

The Hull manager had no qualms with his skipper's sending-off, but with some justification he felt aggrieved that Sol Campbell had not beaten the Dutchman to the early use of the showers, when the veteran defender conceded a first-half penalty for a foul on Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink.

Brown added: "The pivotal moment was undoubtedly in favour of Arsenal. I admire Sol Campbell, he's a colossus of a lad, but he should have been red-carded, it's as simple as that. He's denied a goal-scoring opportunity."

Bullard, making his first home start in more than three months on his return from injury, confidently dispatched the penalty shortly before the half-hour to cancel out an early opener from Andrey Arshavin.

The Russian, far from the Premier League's most physical player, muscled his way past ineffectual challenges from Boateng and Bernard Mendy to break the deadlock courtesy of an exquisite finish with the outside of his right foot from 15 yards inside the opening quarter of an hour.

The only surprise was that the goal wasn't the prelude to several more, as looked the case once Boateng's involvement was curtailed with indecent haste. Arshavin, Bendtner and Theo Walcott, the substitute, all wasted clear openings as the contest wore on, and it looked increasingly likely that the visitors would be left to rue two valuable points frittered away until their in-form Dane took centre-stage.

"We missed so many chances and I wondered if we might get punished," said Wenger. The victory mirrored the recent injury-time win at Stoke. "We're leaving it late at the moment, which maybe isn't good for my heart, but for the Championship it's not bad.

"We're in the fight and we have eight games to go," he added. "We're in there, why shouldn't we believe? I believe we'll give absolutely everything to do that and we've seen that. The team spirit is there, it's special and you can see that."

Attendance: 25,023

Referee: Andre Marriner

Man of the match: Nasri

Match rating: 7/10

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