Arsenal’s title hopes fade with 2-1 loss at Bolton

Arsenal’s slim hopes of winning the Premier League were
virtually extinguished on Sunday, conceding a last-minute goal by
Bolton substitute Tamir Cohen to lose 2-1 at the Reebok
Stadium.

The Israel midfielder, who came on in the 85th minute, glanced
in a near-post header from a corner to leave third-place Arsenal
nine points adrift of league leader Manchester United with four
matches remaining.

”Of course the chances are very minimal now,” Arsenal manager
Arsene Wenger said of his team’s hopes of beating United or
second-place Chelsea in the title race.

Netherlands striker Robin van Persie, who scored in a seventh
straight away game in the Premier League, had brought the Gunners
back into the match in the 47th minute after Bolton’s prolific
forward Daniel Sturridge broke the deadlock from close range seven
minutes before halftime.

Bolton captain Kevin Davies had a penalty saved by Arsenal
goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny barely a minute before Van Persie
equalized.

Arsenal – without a trophy in six years – is now struggling to
finish second with in-form Chelsea three points clear. It was the
Gunners’ first defeat in 17 league games.

”It’s hard to lose a game like that. It’s hard to swallow but
we gave everything,” Wenger said. ”We had the chances to win
it.”

United plays Arsenal away on May 1 and then hosts reigning
champion Chelsea on May 8 in title-defining matches.

Cohen was brought to tears after scoring his winner, with the
player celebrating by lifting his jersey over his head to show a
picture of his late father Avi on a T-shirt. The former Liverpool
player died in hospital in December after being involved in a
motorbike accident.

”I was so happy to score this goal – it was a very emotional
moment for me,” said a sobbing Cohen.

The victory came a week after Bolton was thrashed 5-0 by Stoke
in an FA Cup semifinal at Wembley.

”After last week’s result, we wanted to come out and show we
had passion and prove that was just a one-off,” said Sturridge,
who scored his seventh goal since joining Bolton on loan from
Chelsea on Jan. 31.

The home side’s direct and physical approach unbalanced Arsenal
in the first half, with the opener by Sturridge not entirely
unexpected when it arrived.

Lee Chung-yong had already had a point-blank shot saved by
Szczesny and then squandered a two-on-one chance before providing
the corner that led to the goal.

Gary Cahill met it with a firm header that was cleared off the
line by France playmaker Samir Nasri but the ball rebounded out to
Sturridge, who headed in from two yards (meters).

Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas struck the post with a fierce
25-yard shot in the 43rd but his team was lucky not to fall further
behind a minute into the second half.

Center back Johan Djourou was adjudged to have fouled Sturridge,
although TV replays suggested the Bolton forward fell theatrically.
A slight sense of justice prevailed when Davies, who had scored his
five previous penalties this season, saw his weak attempt saved by
Szczesny.

Barely a minute later, the Gunners were level. Van Persie
created some space with some clever skill, exchanged a one-two with
Fabregas on the edge of the area before drilling a low drive into
the corner for his 17th goal in his last 17 games.

With Van Persie pulling the strings, Arsenal piled forward in
search of the winner but Bolton held firm.

The best chance fell to Nasri, who beat the offside trap and ran
onto a floated pass from Van Persie. The attacking midfielder’s
first shot was blocked by goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen before his
rebound was cleared off line by Cahill.

Johan Elmander then had a shot parried away by Szczesny before
Cohen’s winner.

Arsenal has won just one league game since being knocked out of
the Champions League and FA Cup in the space of five days at the
start of March.