LONDON, April 3, 2010 (AFP) - Nicklas Bendtner struck in the fourth minute of added time as Arsenal maintained their Premier League title challenge with a 1-0 win over 10-man Wolves on Saturday.
Arsene Wenger's side seemed set for a disappointing draw that would have all but ended their hopes of catching leaders Chelsea after failing to find a way through a Wolves side depleted by the 66th minute dismissal of Karl Henry.
|Wenger gestures during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Wolverhampton Wanderers on April 3, 2010. AFP PHOTO|
But Bendtner's header from Bacary Sagna's corner ensured they moved to within three points of Carlo Ancelotti's side with five games remaining.
And after a largely frustrating performance, the Gunners will now head to face Barcelona for the return leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday with renewed confidence.
The drama of Wednesday's thrilling 2-2 first leg draw with Barca meant this game risked carrying a sense of anti-climax.
The looming trip to the Nou Camp clearly influenced Wenger's team selection as the Arsenal manager made seven changes in an attempt to protect key players despite his squad being stretched by the loss of Cesc Fabregas, William Gallas and Andrey Arshavin.
With Gallas out, Wenger opted to select veteran Sol Campbell alongside Thomas Vermaelen in central defence rather than ask Alex Song to drop back from midfield.
The game was played almost exclusively in the visitors' half and as impressive as Arsenal's build-up play was, their inability to finish off inferior opponents raised serious questions about their prospects of landing silverware this season.
Theo Walcott was given a rare start on the right flank following his impressive 20 minute substitute appearance that helped trigger Arsenal's recovery after falling two down to Barcelona.
And once again the England winger showed outstanding skill and trickery to carve open a succession of openings against an over-stretched Wolves back-line.
The problem for Arsenal was that Walcott's final ball too often left something to be desired - and when he did deliver a quality cross, his team-mates were incapable of converting.
The first opening came in the sixth minute when the wideman pulled back for Eduardo whose first time shot was well saved by Wolves keeper Marcus Hahnemann.
The chance offered early promise that the Brazil-born Croat could end his three-month goal-drought.
A second opportunity six minutes later, however, suggested otherwise with Eduardo completely miscueing from just 12 yards out.
That set the pattern for a one-sided first half that remained all-square largely because of Arsenal's tendency to over-elaborate in the final third.
And when they did work a way through to goal, they found Hahnemann in outstanding form.
This was the kind of game that might have been turned by Fabregas's determined forward running from midfield and the captain's absence was felt even more keenly in the second period.
Although Arsenal enjoyed an even greater share of the possession, they began to run out of ideas while Wolves grew in confidence.
However, the dismissal of Henry in the 66th minute gave them new impetus, although Wolves were convinced their captain was treated harshly by referee Andre Marriner following his late challenge on Tomas Rosicky.
Wenger introduced Samir Nasri and Bendtner and, just as a draw looked certain, the Dane struck to steal a vital three points.