Arsenal reclaim top spot with vital late win

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Arsenal have show the grit, determination and spirit required of a Premier League title challenger to reclaim top spot this afternoon, emerging from a frustrating afternoon with all three points thanks to super-sub Nicklas Bendtner's late impact in a 2-0 win over Cardiff City where the scoreline scarcely tells the story.

Arsene Wenger made just three changes despite lamenting fitness concerns across a depleted squad prior to kickoff, with the most notable inclusion the return of Lukas Podolski in a lone front role to replace the injured Olivier Giroud.

Podolski was largely anonymous in a frustrating first half for the Gunners, with Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere patient and assured in possession without providing a potent final pass.

Wilshere had a huge penalty shout turned down on his 22nd birthday, with a trip in the box by Gary Medel not deemed worthy of a spot kick by referee Jon Moss.

A first half full of frustration made clear-cut chances a rare commodity, with Theo Walcott flashing a volley wide of the near post with perhaps the brightest Arsenal opening.

Cardiff sat deep and were happy to soak up the pressure and look to catch the hosts cold on the counter, a tactic that very nearly worked when Jordan Mutch raced clear following a mistake by Per Mertesacker.

Mutch forced a strong stop from Wojciech Szczesny as Arsenal probed without conviction at the other end, with the diagonal to Walcot consistently failing to find the intended target.

The visitors still looked largely comfortable until the hour mark, when a moment of inspiration from Wilshere saw the England midfielder fire against the woodwork from an acute angle.

Still the goal wouldn't come as Wenger decided to swap Podolski and Mathieu Flamini for Nicklas Bendtner and Tomas Rosicky in search of fresh creative impetus.

Arsenal uncharacteristicly looked most dangerous from set pieces towards the closing stages, as Per Mertesacker quite inexplicably managed to miss a pair of free headers from close range in quick succession.

The Bluebirds had their own penalty appeal waved away when Nacho Monreal's arm struck a cross from just feet away, with the game still goalless to set up a frantic late finish as a Cardiff side watched by potential new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer dug deep.

Just as hope of a vital winner looked to be fading substitute Bendtner came up with the goods in the 88th minute, smashing home from close range after Marshall had kept out a firm header.

Bendtner was forced to limp off immediately after scoring his second of the season with a kick to the ankle but had done the damage with predatory instincts in the six-yard box, putting off mounting calls for Wenger to sign quality strike cover for a few hours at least.

The Gunners made sure of all three points in the the first of five added minutes as Walcott deftly chipped in his fifth of the campaign, meeting a clever flick from Wilshere before keeping a cool head inside the box.

Arsenal's last four results now show a total of 10 points from a possible 12 including hard-fought wins over Newcastle, West Ham and Cardiff, managing to wrestle results out of tight matches and keep their critics silent for the time being.

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