LONDON (REUTERS) - If Arsenal finish in the Premier League's top four and return to mix it with Europe's elite for the first time since the 2016-17 season they may look back on Thursday's (Feb 24) dramatic 2-1 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers as a pivotal moment.
With 82 minutes on the clock they still trailed to a 10th-minute goal by Wolves's South Korean forward Hwang Hee-chan.
But just when the situation began to look desperate and with Wolves eyeing fifth place in the table, substitute Nicolas Pepe spun on a sixpence to equalise.
In a frantic finale, Pedro Neto shot agonisingly wide for Wolves and Martin Odegaard went close for Arsenal before skipper Alexandre Lacazette's shot from close range went in off the arms of Wolves keeper Jose Sa to send the home crowd wild.
Arsenal's third successive league win lifted them above West Ham United into fifth place with 45 points, one behind Manchester United but having played two fewer games.
Wolves remained seventh with 40 points.
No wonder there was a mood of euphoria sweeping around the Emirates Stadium at the end of an absorbing tussle.
Arsenal have not played in the Champions League since they lost 10-2 on aggregate to Bayern Munich in 2017.
They now have their destiny in their own hands, although for a long time on Thursday it seemed they had a fluffed the chance to put real pressure on Manchester United as they were repelled by one of the meanest defences in the league.
But their patience finally paid off.
"We don't know today how important this will be but we know the importance of winning our matches and certainly at home we know we have to be extremely good," Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. "In May we want to be fighting for those places.
"The attitude, the spirit, the energy and the quality they put in to win the game was phenomenal."
Wolves have stealthily climbed the table under manager Bruno Lage with four successive away league wins.
They were gifted the lead when Arsenal defender Gabriel's terrible back pass was intercepted by Hwang who coolly slotted the ball into the empty net from an acute angle.
Raul Jimenez spurned another Wolves chance but Arsenal began to dominate.
Lacazette and Bukayo Saka had opportunities but every time Arsenal got a glimpse of a goal a Wolves defender appeared to snuff out the threat.
Arsenal ramped up the pressure but Wolves defended like trojans and even when the hosts did get a sighter, Sa was there to save his side, as he did with a great low stop from Lacazette.
Manager Mikel Arteta sent on Eddie Nketiah and Pepe to beef up Arsenal's attack and it paid off.
Nketiah's pull back from the byline picked out Pepe who span 180 degrees to shoot past Sa.
The crowd roared Arsenal forward and Lacazette's shot, Arsenal's 26th attempt at goal, squirmed its way in.
"We didn't deserve to win to be honest," Lage said. "When you don't have the ball against these kind of teams you will suffer.
"This was an important game for us and for the league but this is the Premier League and everyone will drop points."