Arsenal will wonder how what amounted to a second-half siege failed to yield the victory that would have lifted them into the Premier League's top four. Mick McCarthy, the Wolverhampton Wanderers manager, might have similar thoughts in private. But when the dust had settled on a pulsating game, which was marked by thrills, spills and controversy, he and his visitors could savour a point that came coated in endeavour.
McCarthy punched the air at full-time as though relegation had been avoided. It was a release of so much emotion. He had raged at Stuart Attwell's decision to dismiss Nenad Milijas in the 75th minute; the midfielder had merely stretched into a tackle on Mikel Arteta with one foot and McCarthy might have been justified in asking why Attwell, who endured another of those days, had permitted Alex Song to remain on the field.
The Arsenal midfielder lost his cool in the 70th minute and lunged into Steven Fletcher and then Stephen Hunt, leaving both Wolves players on the floor. Attwell, though, brandished only one yellow card. Arsène Wenger, perhaps sensing that Song had become a liability, substituted him moments later. To his credit, McCarthy did not moan about that. As he pointed out, anybody who had seen him play would know that he would not want rumbustiousness to be outlawed.
It is hard enough for visiting teams with 11 men at the Emirates Stadium. But, happily for McCarthy, he had his goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey performing the job of several. To describe his efforts as heroic would be to grossly undersell them. The Welshman made a string of breath-taking saves, the pick of them the ones that repelled Per Mertesacker's header and Thomas Vermaelen's stab from point‑blank range at the death.
Wenger rued the dropped points, particularly as this had been an opportunity to make up ground on rivals in the Champions League places. "Play this game 20 times," he said, "and you win 19 and draw one." Nobody was arguing. But nothing could detract from the bodies-on-the-line splendour of the Wolves defensive effort. There is something exhilarating about the chiselling of an unexpected point, in the face of an onslaught and McCarthy revelled in it.
"I'm extremely delighted and proud," McCarthy said. "It's a difficult old place to come and play. I think Wayne is one of the best keepers in the league and he gets a bit to do at times playing behind us. But we know we can rely on him and trust him."
Arsenal might have won this game several times over and Robin van Persie could have done so by himself and, in the process, moved past Alan Shearer's record of 36 Premier League goals in a calendar year. Thanks to Hennessey, the Dutchman remained on 34, with only Queens Park Rangers on New Year's Eve to come. Wenger did not disagree that Van Persie might have felt the burden of expectation. "Maybe we wanted it too much," he said of his players' finishing in general. "We were a bit too much in the wanting zone and not enough in just the technical zone."
Things had started well for Arsenal, with Gervinho scoring his fourth goal for the club and Wolves enduring shaky moments at the back. Gervinho has sometimes struggled to furnish his quicksilver all-round game with an end product and when he darted clean through onto Yossi Benayoun's pass, with Ronald Zubar playing him onside, it felt as if he had too much time. But he jinked sharply to his left, taking Hennessey out of the picture and he kept his cool to cut his shot back into the corner.
Wolves, however, refused to lie down. The winger Matt Jarvis epitomised their first-half positivity and with Arsenal allowing their focus to dip, McCarthy's men entered the interval on terms. Johan Djourou headed Milijas' corner as far as the edge of the area, where Hunt got around Tomas Rosicky too easily and shot. Fletcher read the subsequent deflection and headed his seventh of the season inside the far corner.
Wolves lost Zubar to a knee injury early in the second-half but their battle lines were drawn. With Hunt dropping back to bulk up the midfield, Arsenal, missing Theo Walcott because of illness, faced a test of their creativity. It was increasingly dramatic and fractious. Arsenal thought that they should have had a penalty when Laurent Koscielny's cross struck Christophe Berra's arm while Hennessey distinguished himself with save after save.
Arsenal cranked up the pressure in the furious closing stages and, after the sending-off, McCarthy's mind went back to April 2010 when Karl Henry's red card here was the precursor to a last-minute winner from Nicklas Bendtner. This time, though, as the substitute Andrey Arshavin shaved the far post and Van Persie did everything but score, the frustration belonged to Arsenal.