The Final Nail On Arsenal's Title Coffin

Arsenal's Premier League title bid was surely ended at the Reebok Stadium as Tamir Cohen netted a late winner for Bolton Wanderers. On-loan Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge had opened the scoring in the 38th minute while Kevin Davies also missed a penalty for Bolton at the start of the second half before Robin van Persie netted a 48th-minute equaliser. In truth, there was probably one wrong turn too many before their latest trauma but there is surely no way back for Arsene Wenger's side now, nine points adrift and fast disappearing into Manchester United's wing mirrors with only four games remaining.

They were undone here by a 90th‑minute goal from the substitute Cohen, flashing a header beyond Wojciech Szczesny to expose Arsenal's seemingly ceaseless vulnerability when defending corners. At that moment Wenger turned away in anguish and hurled his water bottle to the floor. Earlier we had seen him release his pent-up frustration by doing the same with the ball, throwing out his arms in anger. His team had contributed to a game of rich entertainment but once again there was a telling demonstration of the flaws that have brought them to the brink of a sixth successive year without a trophy.

Attacking-wise, they were beguiling at times; defensively, they were bewildering. Their football was slick, penetrative and frequently thrilling, culminating in a frenetic onslaught of the Bolton goal before Cohen's goal. Yet there were other times, particularly in the first half, when their opponents sliced them open with ridiculous ease.

This defeat ends a 16-match unbeaten run in the league stretching back to December but even that was deceptive. Eight of those games had finished as draws, including five of the past six. In all competitions Arsenal have registered one win in their past nine matches.

Wenger may need to re-invent this team if they are to emerge as more credible challengers next season and he will have to start with the side's defence. The frequency with which they switch off when facing set pieces has become as much a part of Arsenal as their red and white strip and, as well as Cohen's winner, it also manifested itself for the opening goal: another badly defended corner, ending with Sturridge nodding in the rebound after Samir Nasri had blocked Johan Elmander's header on the goalline.

In fairness to Arsenal they were thwarted by some terrific goalkeeping from Jussi Jaaskelainen and some last‑ditch defending – epitomised at 1-1 by Gary Cahill's block to keep out Nasri's goalbound effort – and they also had legitimate reason to believe they should have been awarded a penalty for Paul Robinson's early challenge on Theo Walcott. Davies was fortunate, too, to last the distance, yellow-carded for one challenge on Laurent Koscielny but let off for a worse offence committed on Alex Song.

Yet it is probably time Arsenal started to focus on their deficiencies and it was not a one-off to see them guilty of wastefulness and, at times, an over-elaborate build-up. The sense of deja vu was overwhelming – and the same applied to their defensive shortcomings. In many ways it was a performance that symbolised Arsenal's season.

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