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Danny Welbeck celebrates scoring the second goal for Arsenal. Reuters photo
Danny Welbeck celebrates scoring the second goal for Arsenal. Reuters photo

LONDON: Substitute Danny Welbeck scored a dramatic stoppage-time winner as Arsenal resurrected their Premier League title challenge with a heart-stopping 2-1 Valentine’s Day victory over leaders Leicester City on Sunday.

Down to 10 men following Danny Simpson’s 54th-minute dismissal, Leicester were clinging on at a tension-bound Emirates Stadium when Welbeck headed in a 95th-minute winner from Mesut Ozil’s free-kick on his return after 10 months out with a serious knee injury.

The England striker’s goal lifted Arsenal to within two points of Leicester and also gave hope to Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, five and six points off the pace respectively, ahead of their meeting at the Etihad Stadium later in the day.

“It was a pivotal moment today because the mathematics meant it could be eight points or it could be two points. That is a great change,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

“Everyone is extremely happy for him (Welbeck) because he’s been out for 10 months. That’s an eternity for a player.”

Welbeck told Sky Sports: “It has been a rollercoaster for me, a difficult moment, and my family and friends know what I have been through.”

Welbeck’s goal, after fellow substitute Theo Walcott had cancelled out Jamie Vardy’s first-half penalty, saw Wenger’s men complete a league double over Leicester following their 5-2 away win in September.

While Arsenal must now prepare for contests with Hull City and Barcelona, Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester have two weeks to regain their strength before resuming their improbable title bid at home to Norwich City.

“I think the referee was too severe to us for the sending-off. 11 v 11, I’m sure we win the match,” Ranieri said.

“But we are still top of the table. We must carry on and smile.”

Manchester City never recovered from falling behind to Leicester in their 3-1 defeat last weekend and Arsenal seemed determined to avoid the same fate on a chilly north London afternoon, quickly pushing the visitors back.

With less than two minutes gone, Alexis Sanchez threw himself at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s corner and headed wide, with N’Golo Kante surviving a penalty-box handball appeal shortly after.

Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel then raced out boldly to prevent Aaron Ramsey reaching Ozil’s pass and within seconds Vardy had forced Petr Cech to save with a downward header at the other end.

It proved the pattern of the first half. Arsenal attacked – Wes Morgan blocking from Olivier Giroud and Sanchez, Giroud twice heading off-target at corners – and Leicester countered, Kante obliging Cech to claw the ball away from his top-left corner with a curling shot.

As half-time drew near Leicester went ahead, Vardy luring Nacho Monreal into a challenge and then tumbling to the ground before picking himself up and drilling his 19th goal of the campaign past Cech.

The Leicester end erupted. Arsenal’s fans, convinced that referee Martin Atkinson had been hoodwinked by Vardy, booed the officials off at the interval.

There was a further blow for the hosts at half-time as Laurent Koscielny was forced off with a dead leg, which brought Calum Chambers into the fray.

But after Ramsey had drilled wide and Giroud had headed another chance over, their luck changed when Simpson was shown a second yellow card for tugging Giroud back, five minutes after his first for tripping Sanchez.

The two managers rearranged their teams for the final half hour, Ranieri sending on Marcin Wasilewski and Demarai Gray in place of Riyad Mahrez and Shinji Okazaki, Wenger throwing on Walcott for Francis Coquelin.

It was the Arsenal change that was to prove telling, Walcott equalising in the 70th minute by side-footing home after Giroud masterfully nodded Hector Bellerin’s cross into his path.

Per Mertesacker glanced a header just wide and Schmeichel pulled off a pair of brilliant one-handed saves to thwart Giroud and Sanchez.

But with full-time beckoning, Welbeck rushed in to meet Ozil’s free-kick with an unerring downward header, eclipsing Leicester’s fairytale with one of his own. --AFP

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