Premier League - Arsenal title hopes in tatters after defeat

Sun, 24 Apr 17:58:00 2011

Arsenal's title challenge was effectively extinguished as Bolton clinched a 90th-minute winner to prevail 2-1 in their Premier League clash at the Reebok Stadium.

Match Highlights: Bolton 2

Bolton deservedly held a 1-0 lead at half-time courtesy of Daniel Sturridge's close-range diving header in the 38th minute after two glorious chances had earlier been squandered by Lee Chung-Yong.

Early second-half drama saw Wojciech Szczesny save a Kevin Davies penalty before Robin van Persie scored his 19th goal of the season to equalise but, despite relentless pressure from the visitors, it was substitute Tamir Cohen who headed a stoppage-time winner.

The Gunners not only saw their 16-match unbeaten run ended abruptly at the hands of Owen Coyle's men, but they slipped further behind United and surely out of the title race.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger made only one enforced change from Wednesday's draw with Tottenham with starlet Jack Wilshere returning at the expense of the injured Abou Diaby with the PFA Young Player of the Year returning to the club he was on loan at last season.

Bolton were desperate to bury the memories of last weekend's FA Cup semi-final thrashing by Stoke and boss Owen Coyle recalled Sturridge, cup-tied at Wembley, while Matt Taylor was preferred to Martin Petrov in midfield.

Jussi Jaaskelainen was one of the players left to apologise for his efforts at Wembley, but he pulled off a fine sprawling save to deny Theo Walcott in just the fourth minute with the onrushing Samir Nasri unable to convert the follow-up.

Two minutes later, surprisingly subdued appeals for an Arsenal penalty were turned down by referee Mike Jones after Paul Robinson cut through the back of Walcott, with replays showing the defender making contact with just the man.

Jaaskelainen made another fine save to deny Cesc Fabregas in the 24th minute, before Lee inexplicably attempted a pass to Taylor instead of shooting when clean through on goal with just Szczesny to beat as a disbelieving Alex Song was able to intervene.

Szczesny was tested in the 37th minute, however, as Sturridge again beat Laurent Koscielny before finding Lee, whose close-range shot was brilliantly blocked away by the Arsenal keeper, although the midfielder should have given the Pole no chance at all.

But seconds later, Bolton were in front: Sturridge dived in opportunistic fashion to head into an empty net after Gary Cahill's initial header was cleared off the line by Nasri. It was the very least that the on-loan striker's efforts warranted as he gave Koscielny et al. a torrid time.

It was the forward's seventh goal in nine games, and it ensured that the hosts held the ascendancy at the break, despite Fabregas driving a speculative low shot against Jaaskelainen's far post on the stroke of half-time with the keeper comprehensively beaten.

The second half began in pulsating fashion, with Sturridge going down in the Arsenal box under a challenge from Johan Djourou and winning a penalty within seconds of the restart.

Davies, who had scored all five of his attempts from the spot so far this season, planted a very tame shot straight at Szczesny, who made a fine save with his legs to ensure that perceived justice was done with the award of the penalty seemingly harsh with minimal contact made.

Arsenal then went straight up the other end and scored as Van Persie played a slick one-two with Fabregas, before lashing a clinical finish beyond Jaaskelainen into the far corner of the net. It was the Dutch marksman's 17th goal in his last 17 games, and it saw him become the first man in Premier League history to score in seven successive away games.

Bolton were handed chances as Arsenal threw bodies forward in search of an elusive second goal, and Lee again fluffed a golden goalscoring opportunity as he crucially dallied following a foot race with Djourou and the defender was afforded the chance to intervene.

Nasri then had two glorious chances to give Arsenal the lead at the other end as first Jaaskelainen saved at the feet of the Frenchman in the one-on-one, before Knight valiantly threw himself at the ball to block the rebound with his chest.

Wenger desperately threw on Andrei Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh and Aaron Ramsey as the Gunners piled forward to create incessant pressure on the Bolton back four, who defended stoutly in response.

Then came the Bolton set-piece in stoppage time: substitute Cohen rose majestically above Djourou and headed beyond a distraught Szczesny to clinch all three points for his side.

Cohen took off his shirt to reveal a tee-shirt (pictured) featuring his father Avi, the former Liverpool defender who died in a motorcycle accident last December. Referee Mike Jones booked him for the celebration apologetically.

Wenger's side effectively slipped out of the title race with the result, standing nine points adrift of leaders United with four games to go.

Dan Quarrell / Eurosport

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