By Richard Clarke
Nicklas Bendtner struck deep, deep, deep into injury time to keep Arsenal's title bid on track at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Manchester United's early defeat at home to Chelsea had given Arsène Wenger's side the chance to make up significant ground at the top.
But Wolves scrapped and smothered the home side all afternoon until the big Danish striker headed home Bacary Sagna's cross with only seconds to go.
The victory leaves Arsenal three points off leaders Chelsea with only five games remaining
The critics' knives would have been sharpened if the visitors had held on this afternoon. Wolves keeper Macrus Hahnemann made a string of saves amid overwhelming pressure. Eduardo and the impressive Theo Walcott were denied in the first half, Tomas Rosicky was repelled in the second.
Karl Henry's dismissal in the 65th minute made the traffic even more one-way in the final stages. When Walcott miscued with a minute to go, the last chance seemed to have gone. But seconds later, the England winger set up Sagna to whip over a cross from the right and Bendtner steered home a strong header.
In the space of four days, Arsenal have once again put their resilience on show. Battered by Barcelona, restrained by Wolves, they came through each time at the death.
Those searching for weakness in Wenger's side will have to look elsewhere for a little longer.
There were always going to be two ghosts haunting this game. The first was going on at Old Trafford a few hours before kick-off, the other was at the Nou Camp on Tuesday.
The affect of the latter on Wenger's team was obvious. He made seven changes and the demotion of Bendtner and Gael Clichy, in particular, smacked of rotation.
In fairness, three of the omissions from Wednesday's wonderful first-leg battle against Barcelona were down to injury - Cesc Fabregas (broken leg), Andrey Arshavin (calf) and William Gallas (calf). Samir Nasri and Abou Diaby were rested.
The incoming septet was Tomas Rosicky, Mikael Silvestre, Sol Campbell, Denilson, Theo Walcott, Eduardo and Emmanuel Eboue. In order to make his formation work, Wenger deployed the last of those on the left of midfield and the Croatian was the pivotal striker up front.
Manchester United's lunchtime defeat was undoubtedly a bonus. Before kick-off the manager said the ideal result was a draw but a Chelsea win was surely the second best option.
Of course, that scoreline piled pressure on this game and you might have feared that the spectre of that Xavi-inspired opening 20 minutes four days earlier would still be present in the minds of the Arsenal players.
In fact the home side slotted back into their familiar groove with little problem. Ironically, given Wednesday's night encounter, the only problem was that they did not get their just desserts after dominating the first half.
Arsenal started attacking from off and there was little let up throughout the opening period.
In the fifth minute, Walcott weaved his way in from the right and clipped over a cross for Eduardo at the near post. The Croatian whipped in a shot first time but Hahnemann thrust out a strong left hand to turn the ball aside.
Eduardo was on the end of another chance four minutes later. Walcott fed the overlapping Rosicky, who reached the right-hand byline and cut the ball back. It reached the Croatian at the far post but he could only pirouette a shot weakly wide.
Walcott was having an eye-catching game and shortly afterwards, the 21-year-old was again the supplier. This time a rampaging Sagna was the unlikely recipient and the right back's shot bounced back off Hahnemann.
Arsenal were having weight of chances but Wolves were not without endeavour. Michael Mancienne had fired narrowly over the bar from range in the early stages and Mick McCarthy's side were prepared to venture forward where they could.
However Walcott was undoubtedly the main inventor this afternoon. In the 19th minute he set up Sagna who fed Eboue in the area. The Ivorian's attempted back-heel went loose and Hahnemann collided with Sagna as they went for the ball. Both needed treatment.
Arsenal were asking all the questions and Wolves could offer no reply. Midway through the half, Ronald Zubar headed away Rosicky's corner and Walcott volleyed goalwards from distance. Hahnemann not only made the save but held on to the ball as the Arsenal attack went sniffing for a spillage. The American keeper had been clearly the visitors' best player in opening half-hour.
Walcott, meanwhile, was clearly Arsenal's start turn. Ten minutes from the break Sagna liberated him on the right once more. The England international cut in and supplied Eduardo. He and Rosicky set up Denilson to fire wide from just outside the area.
In the final stages of the first half, Wolves improved. They sustained pressure further forward, won some corners but failed to really test Almunia.
Overall Arsenal were still the better side and, seven minutes from the whistle, Hahnemann clutched a snap shot from Silvestre.
Immediately after the restart, the French full back fired low across goal but it trickled its way beyond Eduardo in the middle and Walcott at the far post.
Arsenal increasingly had one thought on their mind - attack. They were probing the Wolves defence as much as they could but openings were scarce. Ten minutes in, Sagna crossed into the area from the right, Zubar nodded the ball straight up in the air and the sliding Eduardo volleyed just wide.
Shortly before the hour, Rosicky fired in a skimming drive. Once again, Hanhemann's handling was superb.
A low cross from Jarvis forced Campbell to clear nervously. It would be the final effort of main game this afternoon.
Within a couple of minutes there would be two tide-changing moments. First Wenger brought on Bendtner for Eboue. Shortly afterward Henry went through the back of Rosicky leaving the Czech midfielder writhing in agony. Referee Andre Marriner rightly showed a straight red card.
Fortunately Rosicky recovered and, in the 68th minute, nearly gave Arsenal the lead when the swept a shot goalward from Walcott's mis-hit ball in. Again Hahnemann saved, though this time the keeper did not know too much about it.
But that was the shape of things to come. Facing 10 men and with a title bid to save, Arsenal just had to pour forward.
Nasri joined the party and, 13 minutes from time, set up Rosicky to thump an angled effort towards goal. This one was tipped by Hahnemann and saved at the second attempt.
But with time ticking away there was tension entering Arsenal's play. That only got worse when a corner from Matt Jarvis was nodded towards the far post by Zubar and Rosicky chested the ball off the line before clearing the danger.
Ten minutes from time, Carlos Vela replaced Eduardo. Wenger had done all he could do from the bench. He was now relying on his players.
Arsenal kept thundering forward till the end but all hope seemed lost when Walcott skewed an effort wide at the far post from Nasri's perceptive pass.
But there would be one last chance, one last cross, one last twist.
As a result, Arsenal's title bid is still very much alive.
- Eboue 64
- Song 71
- Eduardo 79
- Nasri 71
- Vela 79
- Bendtner 64 Goal!
- Henry Red Card
- Jones 69
- Jarvis 83 Yellow Card
- Doyle 69
- Ward 83
- Edwards 69
- Keogh 69