BOLTON: Arsenal's title hopes suffered a potentially fatal blow yesterday when they squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at relegation strugglers Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium here.
Arsenal's hopes of retaining their title now rest on Manchester United slipping up in their final games against Tottenham, Charlton Athletic and Everton. Second-placed Arsenal are two points behind United, who play Tottenham today.
For relegation-threatened Bolton, a point put them five points clear of West Ham, who currently occupy the last remaining drop spot.
All the goals came in the second half, France duo Sylvain Wiltord and Robert Pires putting Arsenal in a commanding position early into the half. But Youri Djorkaeff pulled one back and from his free-kick Martin Keown headed into his own net six minutes from time.
Bolton boss Sam Allardyce was delighted with the “magnificent comeback” but said the decision of referee Andy D'Urso to send-off Florent Laville for a second bookable offence in the 90th minute was “an absolute disgrace.”
He added: “It was a magnificent comeback from our lads. We looked the likely winners at the end. David Seaman had to make more saves than Jussi Jaaskelainen.”
After a goalless first half, Arsenal broke Bolton's resistance barely two minutes into the second period.
Thierry Henry beat Bruno N'Gotty down the left touchline, his pace taking him clear of the Bolton defence.
His pull-back from the byline found Wiltord free inside the six yard-box and the striker eased the ball in.
Bolton tried to respond, England keeper Seaman having to be alert to tip over Per Frandsen's looping header.
But minutes later Arsenal had a second. Ashley Cole won the ball out on the left and found Henry, who eluded a couple of Bolton defenders before finding Pires.
The midfielder's low curling shot gave Jaaskelainen no chance.
However, Arsenal were left with a potential problem when central defender Pascal Cygan limped off after an hour with a calf problem.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger had to bring Keown off the bench in a game where he was looking to rest the veteran defender, who has been suffering with a hamstring problem. Arsenal's injury problems worsened when full-back Lauren went off after a hard challenge in the 71st minute, leaving Wenger with eight days to get his defenders fit for the match against Leeds on May 4.
But before he could worry about that, Wenger saw Bolton get back into the game with a goal by Djorkaeff.
After Arsenal cleared a corner, Frandsen's shot from outside the box came back off the left post and Djorkaeff, following up, cleverly chipped the ball over Seaman to give Bolton a 74th minute lifeline.
Six minutes from time, Bolton were level. From Djorkaeff's curling free-kick, Keown failed to make proper contact, the ball skimming off the top of his head and past a helpless Seaman.
With less than a minute remaining, Bolton had midfielder Laville sent-off for a late challenge on Cole.
The hosts kept Arsenal's goal under siege right to the very end of a thrilling finale and might even have snatched a winner after some superb creative work by their Nigerian midfielder Jay Jay Okocha. - Agencies