Craig Gordon appeals in vain for offside after Bendtner puts Arsenal ahead
By Chris Bevan
Arsenal bounced back from their midweek defeat by Porto but made heavy weather of what should have been a comfortable win over struggling Sunderland.
The Gunners wasted a series of chances before Nicklas Bendtner met Emmanuel Eboue's cross to break the deadlock.
Sunderland created little but should have levelled when Kenwyne Jones ran clear, only to scuff his shot wide.
Arsenal sealed their win in injury time when Cesc Fabregas scored from the spot after he was fouled in the area.
The winning margin should have been far greater, but the result means the Gunners' title hopes are still very much alive despite losing to both the teams above them in recent weeks.
Wenger stays realistic on title challenge
Manchester United's surprise defeat by Everton earlier in the day meant the third-placed Gunners are now only two points behind the Old Trafford side, with leaders Chelsea a further four points clear.
With 11 games left, much has been made of how Arsenal's run-in looks less challenging than their Premier League title rivals but, against a Sunderland side that is badly out of form, their shortcomings as title contenders were evident here.
Forget the defensive lapses that cost them so dearly in their Champions League defeat in Portugal, it was a lack of cutting edge that again was cause of most frustration for the home fans at the Emirates.
Arsenal were completely dominant from the start and created their first opening in the fourth minute when Theo Walcott outpaced George McCartney down the right and fired across the face of goal from a tight angle.
The chances kept coming and Nasri saw a shot loop off McCartney and on to the roof of the net before Bendtner fired wide after Walcott escaped the same defender again down his flank.
Walcott may have been in unconvincing form of late but he gave the Northern Ireland international a torrid time all game and Anton Ferdinand, initially employed in midfield, had to drop back to offer extra cover on that flank.
Sunderland were chasing shadows and were lucky to escape again when, at the end of a flowing move, Bendtner's shot was deflected onto the bar by McCartney's desperate challenge.
But despite all the pressure, Sunderland almost found themselves ahead when Fraizer Campbell ran clear but was denied by Manuel Almunia, back in goal after Lukasz Fabianski's midweek horror show in Portugal.
Bruce questions refereeing at Arsenal
The Gunners survived and soon went in front when Eboue burst forward into the box and his cross found its way to Bendtner at the back post.
There was still time for Arsenal to be caught out at the back once more before the break, with Jones running on to Kieran Richardson's through ball but scuffing his shot horribly wide.
After the interval, the home side resumed control but they could find no way past Craig Gordon, with Walcott, Thomas Vermaelen, Nasri and Aaron Ramsey all having efforts saved.
Sunderland, who have not won a league game in 13 attempts since 21 November, almost took full advantage of Arsenal's inability to finish the game off when Bent broke clear and forced a smart stop from Almunia.
But Fabregas belatedly made sure of victory, drawing Campbell into a clumsy challenge before stepping up to slot the resulting penalty into the bottom corner of the net.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on the Premier League title race: "The only thing we can do is win our games and hope the others drop points.
"The top two will drop points because they play against each other.
"Everton have beaten them both and there are plenty of other teams where you can drop points.
"We have two fights, one is to get away as far as possible from the teams in fourth, fifth and sixth and the other is to get as close as possible to the top."
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce: "We had to ride our luck in the first 15 or 20 minutes in particular. But once we got a foothold we had some excellent chances of our own.
"We needed to take one to give us a little bit of confidence but overall I was delighted with the performance.
"It bodes well for the weeks ahead. We have stuck at it and we were right up for the fight."
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