Welbeck reignites title race as Arsenal overcome Leicester
Striker scores stoppage time winner in first appearance for nine months as Gunners close the gap to two points
Arsenal 2 Leicester 1.
It was the match of the Premier League season and one that produced a fittingly thrilling finale. Danny Welbeck was the unlikely hero for Arsenal, rising in the fourth and final minute of stoppage time to head home Mesut Ozil's free kick and complete a stunning comeback for Arsenal.
It was remarkable because Welbeck, an 83rd minute substitute, was making his first appearance since last April after being sidelined with a serious knee injury. But it's unlikely the 25-year-old will ever score a more vital goal for the Gunners, one that cuts Leicester's lead at the top to just two points.
It had all looked so different 45 minutes earlier when Jamie Vardy put the visitors ahead with a brutally-struck penalty on the stroke of half-time. Should the spot-kick have been awarded by Martin Atkinson? Opinion was divided among the neutrals, some believing Vardy had conned the referee by making a meal of Nacho Monreal's challenge, while others agreed that the Arsenal defender had stuck out a clumsy leg as Vardy surged into the Arsenal area.
If the penalty was a controversial decision then so was the dismissal of Danny Simpson nine minutes into the second half for a second bookable offence. This time it was Arsenal - specifically, Olivier Giroud - who were accused of hamming it up, but off went Simpson and the force was now with the home side.
The introduction of Theo Walcott gave Arsenal even more impetus and it was the England winger who got the equaliser on 70 minutes, deftly latching onto the end of Giroud's assist in what was also Arsenal's first shot on target. The Gunners now laid siege to the Leicester goal and only a brilliant one-handed save from Kasper Schmeichel prevented Giroud's stinging shot putting Arsenal ahead.
But not even Schmeichel could keep out Welbeck's header as he punished Leicester after Marcin Wasilewski had given the Gunners one last-gasp chance to snatch victory.
"It has been a roller-coaster for me, a difficult moment, and my family and friends know what I have been through," said Welbeck, referring to his injury. "We kept pushing, had chance after chance... It is important and the most important thing is to get the win."
Labelling the penalty decision as "harsh", Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said: "It was a pivotal moment today... but here's a long way to go, we play a lot of big teams. But we had a bad spell where we couldn't win for four games and have now won two on the bounce. We have come out of that bad spell and still have a good chance."
For Leicester, the defeat was their first league reverse since losing to Liverpool on Boxing Day but manager Claudio Ranieri was magnanimous towards his hosts. "We know Arsenal are a fantastic team, they move the ball quickly and have skill," he said. "We are still top of the table... we must carry on and smile. We lost to our opponents - we must say well done."