Bendtner rues another missed opportunity for Arsenal
Arsenal missed the chance to close the gap on Premier League leaders Manchester United to one point after being held to a goalless draw by resilient Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners knew that with United away to Liverpool on Sunday they could take a potentially significant stride towards a first top-flight title since 2004.
Instead, they will be frustrated that they stand three points behind their rivals after being denied victory by a mixture of questionable refereeing decisions and poor finishing.
Andrey Arshavin was involved in the two key incidents in the game.
The Russian had a goal incorrectly disallowed for offside and was denied a penalty when Titus Bramble appeared to push the forward as he was about to shoot.
Arsenal also missed chances as Samir Nasri had his free-kick parried by Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, Marouane Chamakh was thwarted by the crossbar and Arshavin shot tamely from 12 yards.
It might even have been worse for Arsenal as Sunderland, who had lost each of their previous four matches, came close to snatching a late winner through Danny Welbeck.
Arsene Wenger's men must now shake off their disappointment and turn their attention to Tuesday's critical Champions League last-16 second leg against Barcelona - where they will aim to defend a 2-1 lead.
Cesc Fabregas is likely to recover from a hamstring injury in time to start at the Nou Camp but in his programme notes the Gunners captain urged Arsenal to focus solely on Sunderland with the title race "in our hands now".
Focus was indeed a key requirement for them in the early stages as Sunderland enjoyed plenty of possession, passing and moving with confidence and intent.
Johan Djourou needed to be alert to clear a low Jordan Henderson cross with Asamoah Gyan ready to pounce, while Phil Bardsley drilled narrowly wide from 20 yards.
Both sides were set up in 4-2-3-1 formations yet it was the visitors, winless in the league at Arsenal since 1983, who carried the greater threat going forward.
Lacking the calming influences of Fabregas and Robin van Persie, the hosts were forced to play largely on the counter-attack in the first half and the home supporters were soon murmuring in frustration.
A sliding Nicklas Bendtner almost connected with Gael Clichy's cross from the left but they had still yet to test Mignolet when Stephane Sessegnon saw a powerful effort repelled by Wojciech Szczesny at the other end.
Eventually Nasri began to drift infield from his position on the right of midfield and it seemed to help Arsenal settle into something resembling their usual rhythm.
On 35 minutes the Frenchman slalomed his way past several Sunderland defenders before his cut-back was deflected behind, and from the resultant corner Bendtner hit a close-range overhead kick straight at Mignolet.
Sunderland were now carrying less of a threat and manager Steve Bruce's concern showed when he lambasted Gyan for losing the ball on the near touchline and then failing to chase back.
The Black Cats were almost made to pay as Jack Wilshere released Bendtner, only for Mignolet to claw the Dane's goal-bound shot over the bar.
Arsenal started the second half much as they finished the first - seeing plenty of the ball but struggling to put Sunderland under sustained pressure or create meaningful openings.
But when Chamakh was brought on for Denilson - Wenger replacing a holding midfielder with a striker - the substitute almost had an immediate impact, only for Mignolet to deny Arshavin after the Moroccan's run and pass from right.
It was not long before Arsenal were applying pressure and Nasri's free-kick was clawed away before Chamakh rattled the woodwork with a close-range header.
The Gunners were laying siege to Sunderland's goal and they had a glorious chance to break the deadlock when Wilshere put Arshavin away but the Russian sliced wide under pressure from Bramble, who was lucky not to concede a spot-kick for a shove in the back of his opponent.
Sunderland managed to weather the storm and even pushed for a winner themselves, substitute Welbeck - returning from six weeks out - turning and delivering a shot that a diving Szczesny did brilliantly to turn behind.
Bramble fired over from the corner.
But the game's most controversial moment came when Arshavin rounded Mignolet and put the ball into the Sunderland net only to be pulled back for offside despite being clearly level when played through by Bendtner.
Right at the last, Bendtner sent a glanced header goalwards and Djourou was inches away from diverting the ball past Mignolet as Arsenal's last hopes of a winner disappeared.