Arsenal’s flailing title hopes in the Premier League received a setback when it was held 1-1 at home by struggling Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday, wasting a chance to move above London rival Chelsea into fourth place.
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With Robin van Persie – the league’s leading scorer with 16 goals – having a rare off-day, it was left to his strike partner Gervinho to break the deadlock in the eighth minute for Arsenal at Emirates Stadium.
However, the hosts couldn’t capitalize on their utter dominance and after Steven Fletcher equalized against the run of play in the 38th with his seventh of the season, Wolves held out for the final 17 minutes with 10 men following the straight sending-off of Nenad Milijas for a studs-first tackle.
Draws on Monday by leader Manchester City, Chelsea and sixth-place Liverpool had left the door ajar for Arsenal to make up some ground but Arsene Wenger’s side dropped points at home for only the third time this campaign to stay fifth.
Arsenal is a point behind Chelsea and 12 behind the top two, Manchester clubs City and United, after 18 games.
”There’s going to be a lot of twists and turns but unfortunately we couldn’t take advantage today. That’s the frustrating thing,” Wenger said. ”You have to take these chances.”
Wolves will thank Wayne Hennessey for preserving a point after the goalkeeper denied Van Persie several times. The Netherlands striker needs two goals to equal the Premier League record of 36 in a calendar year, set by Alan Shearer in 1995, but has just one match left – at home to Queens Park Rangers on Saturday – to achieve that.
”It was the kind of game that if you played 20 times, you win 19 of them. Unfortunately this was the one time we didn’t win,” Wenger said. ”Their keeper played the game of his life.”
Van Persie has struck up a good partnership with Theo Walcott but the England winger missed the game with a stomach bug and Arsenal missed his pace out wide.
The midfield wasn’t short of creativity, though, and playmakers Tomas Rosicky and Yossi Benayoun combined superbly on a counterattack for the first goal.
Benayoun, making his first league start for Arsenal since his loan move from Chelsea in August, was found by Rosicky in space and the Israel captain threaded in a through-ball for Ivory Coast forward Gervinho, who rounded Hennessey to slot in his fourth goal of the campaign.
Matt Jarvis was Wolves’ best outlet on the left wing but the visitors were being pinned back, meaning their goal came out of nowhere. Stephen Hunt’s shot from the edge of the area deflected into the path of the Fletcher and the Scottish forward stooped to direct a header into the bottom corner from eight yards (meters).
With Wolves flooding the midfield with hard workers, Arsenal was being stifled and frustrated, even more so when Hennessey tipped over a curling free kick from Van Persie in the 65th, the first chance of many Arsenal in the closing stages.
Milijas’ red card, for a lunge on Mikel Arteta, increased the pressure on Wolves although the 73rd-minute decision seemed harsh, with the Serbia midfielder’s foot remaining on the ground during the challenge.
”If (the referee) sees it again, it can’t be a sending-off,” Wolves manager Mick McCarthy said.
Van Persie, the league’s in-form striker this season, squandered a one-on-one chance when played through by Rosicky moments later.
The Dutchman was then twice denied by Hennessey and Per Mertesacker had a header saved as the visitors just held on for only their fifth away point of the season.
”It was the kind of day where we were not relaxed enough in front of goal. We wanted the win too much,” Wenger said.