Arsenal 1 (Bendtner 90) Wolves 0(Premiership)
Four minutes into injury time, our Premiership title tilt was over. Chelsea had won earlier in the day, meaning they would have to drop at least four points to give us a sniff. With Wolves holding out manfully, the number looked to rise to six, and frankly, they aren’t going to let us back in with a gap like that.
And then, for the second time in recent weeks, Bendtner scored a priceless last ditch goal that just about keeps us in the running.
I said on the blog yesterday that a Chelsea win would be a disaster, and there was a considerable amount of disagreement in the comments, with some claiming they had a tough run-in. While I don’t doubt that two of their fixtures (Spurs and Liverpool away) are real banana skins, the other three (Wigan, Bolton and Stoke, all at home) are a breeze. Now we cannot afford them to win either of their tricky games.
United, on the other hand, could easily drop points at a Blackburn side that don’t lose at home, particularly when you take into account their fixture with Bayern Munich just three days prior, and following that they travel to a City side chasing fourth, who stuck six past Burnley yesterday. Their final away game at Sunderland falls three days after the second leg of the Champions League semi final.
When you take into consideration the Champions League, and Rooney’s injury, United look vulnerable to dropping points. Even if a great performance gets them past one of their tough fixtures, they might slip elsewhere. Chelsea, on the other hand, must fail their two big tests.
Still, that is for another time. For any of that to be relevant we have to keep winning, and for long periods yesterday it looked as if our challenge would come to a premature end. We were seeing plenty of the ball (Walcott in particular), but the final pass and finish were letting us down, and when we were hitting the target, Hahnemann was keeping us out. He saved brilliantly from Eduardo early on, and followed it up with saves from Sagna, Walcott and Rosicky.
Wolves were defending exceptionally well to be fair to them, but just as we were starting to worry, we got what appeared to be a critical advantage – there were still 25 minutes left when Karl Henry was given a straight red card for a tackle from behind on Rosicky.
The Match of the Day team agreed that it wasn’t a red card. But I find the trouble with those pundits, and others of their generation, is that they judge the action based on the rules of their time. In Hansen’s day, a tackle from behind wasn’t a red card, so he looks baffled that one is given now. The fact is – the rules have changed. They are deemed dangerous, and are dealt with by dismissal. The decision was correct.
If we thought the man advantage would allow us to cruise to victory, we were mistaken. Wolves regrouped, and their organised defence proved too much for us at times, perhaps understandably given our absent creative players (not only the injured, but the rested).
As time ticked away, we clung to the crumb of hope that we always seem to score in injury time. As Walcott was played in and stabbed wide, that hope began to fade. But there was still time, and when Sagna whipped in his best cross of the game, Bendtner got ahead of his man to power the header into the corner. Cue jubilant celebrations.
Seconds earlier, we were about to write our title chances off. But we’re still in it, and at the very least have a fabulous chance to finish second ahead of United, who will surely drop more points for the reasons I outlined earlier. Of course, they will argue that our injury situation ensures we will too, but you can never write this team off. Many have tried.
The league now takes a ten day break – with Spurs playing in the cup next weekend we will have plenty of recovery time from the Barcelona game before we play them the following Wednesday. So we can focus entirely on the glamorous task ahead in the Nou Camp. In many ways, a result there is a bonus, not a necessity.
The reason is simple – thanks to our spirit, our resilience, and our refusal to give in until the final whistle, it is not the only remaining match that matters.