By Richard Clarke
Craig Hignett scored with almost the last kick of the game to deny Arsenal victory at Leicester on Saturday.
Gilberto had nodded home Dennis Bergkamp's cross on the hour to put the visitors ahead and, despite Ashley Cole's dismissal 12 minutes later, they looked like holding on.
However with 90 minutes played and the Arsenal fans willing for the final whistle, Leicester threw a long ball into the box. James Scowcroft nodded it down and substitute Hignett popped up to tap past Jens Lehmann.
With Chelsea only drawing at Leeds, had Arsenal held on they would have gone top. It must be said that for long parts of this game Wenger's men were distinctly average but, when a lead is lost so late, the all-embracing emotion at the end is always disappointment.
Despite that superb 5-1 win against Wolves in the Carling Cup fourth round, Wenger reverted to the more familiar faces in his squad for this tough-looking trip.
However a muscle injury to Thierry Henry meant Jeremie Alaidiere, who scored twice in midweek, retained his place up front. Patrick Vieira was not risked despite playing 90 minutes against on Tuesday. His thigh injury stood up to that test but Wenger believed two games in such a short space would be too much.
It was the first time since February 2001 that both Vieira and Henry had not started for Arsenal in a Premiership match.
So, with Ray Parlour suffering a hamstring injury, Gilberto and Edu formed an all-Brazilian partnership in central midfield. Lauren sat out the last game of his suspension but Sylvain Wiltord and Martin Keown had recovered sufficiently from their respective groin and calf injuries to take their places on the bench.
Leicester began the day in a healthy 13th place and it was a position based mainly on sweat. Their work-ethic was apparent straight away. In their first 10 minutes, Ricardo Scimeca's free-kick was nodded just wide by an offside Scowcroft then Les Ferdinand hacked over from an acute angle after ghosting past Lehmann on the edge of the area.
Arsenal had struggled to settle and their first sight of goal came on the quarter-hour when Freddie Ljungberg fed Aliadiere, who flicked harmlessly at Leicester keeper Ian Walker.
At the other end, another Tottenham old-boy, Ferdinand, was causing some problems with his muscular presence up front. Arsenal conceded a number of free-kick just outside their area for fouls on the ex-England forward.
Leicester might have had more of them had suspension not deprived them of their dead-ball specialist Muzzy Izzet.
Arsenal were not retaining the ball in attack. They were failing to find their usual fluidity between defence and attack because Leicester were snapping at their heels in midfield.
However, despite their possession, the home were not breaking through. They failed to warm Lehmann's hands, though perhaps he might have welcomed it on a bitterly cold December afternoon.
Callum Davidson drifted a long-range shot past his right-hand post in the dying minutes but it remained goalless at the interval.
Arsenal emerged with the bit between the teeth after the break. Gilberto, who had been quiet in the first half, fully extended Walker from long range. The Brazilian cracked the ball from 25 yards and it seemed to curl away from the keeper's outstretched hand but he just managed to divert the ball behind.
The effort ignited the game and Leicester fans were soon calling for a penalty when Marcus Bent tumbled in the area after tangling with Campbell.
The opening goal came on the hour. Bergkamp found space on the left flank and clipped over a cross to the far post where Gilberto had sneaked up from defence. The Brazilian hung on the air and planted a firm header high into the net.
Five minutes later, the same pair might have put Arsenal ahead but for a fine reaction save from Walker. Bergkamp sent over a free-kick from the right-hand byline and Gilberto's spectacular volley was destined for the far corner before keeper thrust out a hand to divert the ball on to the post.
Arsenal looked to have finally wrestled control of the game but then, in the 72nd minute, Ashley Cole was dismissed for a challenge on Ben Thatcher. Wenger immediately threw on Gael Clichy as a replacement left back. Bergkamp was the unlucky player to make way.
Ljungberg, Wiltord and Kolo Toure combined for the Ivory Coast defender to thump a shot wide when well-positioned. But with a man advantage and a point in the offing, Leicester were not going to allow that to be a trend.
They threw everything at Arsenal and just when you thought Wenger's side had secure a won to go back to the top, Hignett popped up to preserve a point for Leicester.
|Edu holds off James Scowcroft||Pascal Cygan gets above Marcus Bent|
|Gilberto connects with a solid header||Gilberto celebrates his goal|
|Kolo Toure jinks past Ben Thatcher||Sylvain Wiltord races Riccardo Scimeca|
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