Sunday, March 5, 2023

Mikel Arteta sends title race demand to Arsenal stars after breathless Bournemouth win

From Fergie Time to Mikel Arteta’s time. Reiss Nelson’s 97th-minute winner sparked mad celebrations reminiscent of Manchester United ’s late victory over Sheffield Wednesday in the first Premier League season as Arsenal showed they are now ready to go the distance to end their long title drought.

The outpouring of relief and emotion spilled over from the pitch – where the Gunners squad and staff cavorted – into the stands at Emirates Stadium. Fans who had started to leave rushed back down the gangways and embraced and screamed amid the bedlam. It felt like a real moment in Arsenal’s bid to win a first league title in 19 years.

 

Back in April 1993, Manchester United had trailed at home to Wednesday with four minutes remaining before Steve Bruce headed two goals – the second in the 96th minute – to spark similar scenes. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team went on to win a first title in 26 years by 10 points to herald the start of an era of domination of English football.

Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal were their biggest rivals until foreign money changed the Premier League, but the Gunners over the last decade have a soft-earned reputation for lacking the fight to grind out results when it mattered. Yet in the last six weeks, Arteta’s new generation have scored injury-time winners against Manchester United, Aston Villa and Bournemouth to remain five points clear of Manchester City with 12 games to go.

Thomas Partey, who scored the Gunners’ first goal, said: “I think the spirit of never giving up, the belief that we have in the team, the belief that the fans have in us, is pushing us game after game. I think we deserved every win that we had this season. I think this will raise the spirit of the team and of the fans to keep on supporting. This is the football that we all want to play.”

Manager Mikel Arteta said: “Where does this rank in games that I have managed at Arsenal? Now, the best. Because the emotions are still there. There is nothing like sharing those great moments with your crowd, with your people, your staff and players. That was what makes everything worth it.”

Arsenal went behind after 9.11 seconds to a Philip Billing strike – “Really poor from us,” admitted Arteta – and the unmarked Marcos Senesi headed home to give the visitors a 2-0 lead after 57 minutes. The stirring comeback, with goals from Partey and substitutes Ben White and Nelson, should not cover up Arsenal’s defensive frailties or their lack of quality in the final third without the injured Gabriel Jesus, Eddie Nketiah and now Leandro Trossard.

But Arteta’s team found a way. Nelson, who is out of contract in the summer, has only made three Premier League appearances from the bench this season because of a thigh injury but has scored three goals – none better than his left-footed strike into the top corner from the edge of the box.

 

“In the title race that we are in the minute, I think goals like that are the most important for us,” Nelson said. “You saw the whole stadium erupt and I think this is going to just take us all the way. We need moments like this which can change the game.”

 

So, with away games at Liverpool, Manchester City and Newcastle still to come, can Arsenal keep going until the last minute of the season and start an Areta era?

“We want to stay there, but it is going to take a lot of effort,” said the Spaniard. “There are still a lot of games to be played. In the Premier League every game, unfortunately, is like that, but that is the beauty of it.”

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