Arsenal made hard work of a 2-0 win over struggling Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium as the Gunners closed the gap on second-place in the Premier League.
Nicklas Bendtner gave Arsenal the lead on 27 minutes but despite their domination of the game, the hosts had to wait until injury time to seal all three points, Cesc Fabregas netting from the penalty spot after he was upended by Fraizer Campbell.
Victory saw the Gunners move to within two points of second-placed Manchester United, who lost at Everton earlier in the day.
Sunderland, in the middle of a terrible run of form, slipped to 14th and remain just three points above the relegation zone.
Arsenal dominated proceedings from the first whistle as Sunderland gave an indication as to why they went into the game without a win in their last 13 Premier League games.
At times some of the visitors’ defending was shocking, with some players seemingly not even sure where they were supposed to be playing.
Anton Ferdinand started in midfield for the Black Cats but before too long was ordered to switch with left-back George McCartney, who endured a torrid afternoon and was jeered by the visiting fans when substituted towards the end.
Indeed, Sunderland’s top scorer this season Darren Bent spent most of the first 30 minutes helping out McCartney at left-back – hardly a position where the striker can be at his most devastating.
Along with the excellent Emmanuel Eboue, Theo Walcott was McCartney’s tormentor-in-chief and having got past his hapless marker on 16 minutes the England winger was foiled by Craig Gordon from a tight angle. Bendtner’s follow-up was pulled wide of the far post.
Bendtner was clearly enjoying the disarray of Sunderland’s back line and soon after he saw a shot deflected up and onto the top of the cross bar. Fortunately for Gordon, it bounced back into his arms and not to an Arsenal shirt.
Sunderland’s resistance was broken on 27 minutes when Bendtner, in the side due to injuries to Robin van Persie and Eduardo, tapped in from close range after Eboue had capped a fine run with the decisive ball across the face of goal.
Yet despite Arsenal’s dominance, amazingly, Sunderland could have gone in at the break on level terms after a golden opportunity was spurned by Kenwyne Jones. The Trinidadian was put clean through on goal by a neat Kieran Richardson pass but when all that was needed was some composure, he failed to deliver and dragged his shot wide.
Arsenal’s onslaught continued after the break and Gordon was called into further action soon after the restart to deny first Walcott and then Thomas Vermaelen with a stinging free-kick.
But still Arsene Wenger’s side could not find a way through for a second time on the day and the longer the score remained at just 1-0, the more tense the home crowd became.
And as they did in the first half, so Sunderland proved they were capable of nicking an equaliser on the break when Jones flicked on for Bent to run through on goal on 64 minutes. This time Almunia was quick off his line to narrow the angle and save at the England striker’s feet.
Sunderland were left to rue that, and Jones’s earlier miss, as Arsenal’s pressure at the other end – Walcott was denied by Gordon and Samir Nasri fired wide in two of their best moments – was finally rewarded in injury time.
As Fabregas surged into the box he clashed with Campbell and took a tumble which the assistant referee spotted. The Gunners captain dusted himself off and slotted past Gordon to finally make sure of victory and put Arsenal right back into the title race.