Gutsy Arsenal grant latest great escape but problems mount for Mikel Arteta in title hunt
Mikel Arteta has tried not to get carried away during this title race, but even he could not help himself after Arsenal’s late winner sealed a dramatic comeback against Bournemouth.
The Spaniard sprinted down the touchline, hugging his players, before turning to the crowd and punching the air. When the full-time whistle blew seconds later, Arteta ran onto the pitch and leapt into the arms of captain Martin Odegaard.
“It was a beautiful moment,” he said. “I am going to remember this goal for a long, long, long time.”
And who can blame him? Time will tell, but Saturday’s 3-2 win, secured by Reiss Nelson’s 97th-minute winner, felt like a defining moment in the title race. Arsenal responded to Manchester City beating Newcastle 2-0 in the lunchtime kick-off, as they maintained their five-point lead at the top of the Premier League.
The Gunners were behind after just nine seconds against Bournemouth. It was not until 96 minutes and 50 seconds later that they secured an astonishing comeback. There were plenty of positives for Arteta to take from a performance full of guts. One of Arteta’s biggest demands is that his teams play with energy and passion, which was certainly the case on Saturday.
Arsenal were 2-0 down going into the final 30 minutes but fought back and again found a way to win. It was the third time since the World Cup break they have scored an injury-time winner and grinding out results like this is the hallmark of champions.
No Premier League team has won more points from losing positions this season. The impact of Arsenal’s substitutes on Saturday will have pleased Arteta too, as all three players brought off the bench had a hand in all three goals.
Emile Smith Rowe came on to set up Thomas Partey to start the fightback. Nelson then crossed for fellow substitute Ben White to make it 2-2, before scoring himself with a goal that will go down in Arsenal folklore.
“We always tell the players that we need the impacters to come on the pitch and change the game, and they all did it,” said Arteta. “And we are going to need them.”
Arteta is certainly right — and one of the negatives from this win was the that it might have come at a cost, with Leandro Trossard forced off with a groin injury in the first half.
If Arsenal’s attack is giving Arteta a headache after this win, then his defence will be too
With Eddie Nketiah out with an ankle problem and Gabriel Jesus still not fully fit after knee surgery in December, it leaves Arteta short in attack. Arsenal are assessing Trossard on Monday, with the Gunners back in action in the Europa League against Sporting in Lisbon on Thursday.
Smith Rowe has returned but he is still not match fit, as shown by the fact he was taken off in the second half on Saturday having come on as a substitute for Trossard. That could open the door for Nelson to get more game-time, at least off the bench.
The winger showed the impact he can make against Bournemouth. Given Arsenal now face two games a week until the end of the season if they go deep in the Europa League, Nelson’s cameos could become a useful weapon.
If Arsenal’s attack is giving Arteta a headache after this win, then his defence will be too. Philip Billing’s opener came straight from kick-off, via a routine Arsenal had suspected Bournemouth could use, but it still was not stopped. Marcos Senesi’s second-half header was the result of poor marking from a corner.
Defensive sloppiness can be put down to tiredness after three games in a week. Sporting on Thursday is an ideal moment for rotation. Arsenal have made a habit of scoring in ‘Arteta Time’, but if they are to continue to do so then the squad has to stay fresh.