Wenger given a prayer: Football

Arsenal 2 Bergkamp 50, 79 pen Nottingham Forest 0 Attendance: 38,206
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The Independent Online
Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger, may not quite believe that his team can still win the Premiership but the players and their fans plainly still think that they have a shout. This win delivered by two second-half goals from Dennis Bergkamp, - the second "another talking-point penalty'' involving the referee Mike Reed - and Manchester United's defeat lifted Arsenal into second place and within three points of the champions having played just one more game.

The gap is probably still too much for Arsenal to bridge over their remaining eight games but with Liverpool the next visitors to Highbury, second place and a qualification for the Champions' League remain a distinct possibility.

Wenger's pre-match assessment had been that "we need to regain our consistency before we can think of anything else''. And with Scott Marshall and Stephen Hughes given prominent roles while the promising reserve striker Isiah Rankin was promoted to the bench, it looked as though Wenger was already planning for next season.

For most of a low-key first half it looked as though his team shared that view. Arsenal were weakened by suspensions, in particular that of Ian Wright. Paul Merson had been invited to fill Wright's forward role but under Forest's covering he was soon dropping deep to find space.

Bergkamp and David Platt had efforts on goal which Mark Crossley smothered but, as the game struggled for breath, attention inevitably fell upon the controversial referee who began to wave the yellow cards despite the intimidating presence of Arsenal's replay screens. His final total was eight, none of which involved anything particularly unpleasant. But the fact that three of Forest's five bookings were for fouls on Bergkamp did testify to the Dutchman's nuisance value which became something more concrete four minutes into the second half.

Patrick Vieira, who had just been clobbered by Colin Cooper, returned from the touchline to play an incisive pass into the box for Bergkamp, who got half a yard in front of Nikola Jerkan before sending his left- foot shot past Crossley into the far corner.

Forest tried to steady their nerves in the hope of sneaking an equaliser but even the arrivals of attacking substitutes created very little forward momentum.

It may be too late for Forest. The bizarre fashion in which they conceded a penalty for the second goal - Alf Inge Haland blatantly scooping the ball away with his hand from Bergkamp after the Dutchman had twisted past him - suggested a team running out of luck.

For Arsenal, the prospects remain more cheerful. By the end of this game, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn were to be seen inside the Forest box in search of further goals, while Merson and the impressive Hughes could also have added to the total. Those fans who remember Arsenal's traditional pre-match entertainment of a few years ago will suggest that it isn't over until the fat policeman sings.

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