From an Arsenal perspective, Bukayo Saka was again the story of the International Break, receiving rave reviews from the media for his role in England’s 2-0 Euros Qualifier win over Ukraine, where the winger grabbed a goal and an assist, the goal being a wonderful curled finish into the top corner from outside the box. On his return to Arsenal, he received the award for Premier League Player of the Month for March, making it the first time since 03/04 that Arsenal had multiple players win the award in the same season.
Given Arsenal’s league form in March, the club’s own Player of the Month award was just as competitive as the one for the overall competition. Both Saka and Martinelli missed out despite the latter scoring 4 in 4, and the award instead went to Leandro Trossard for his 5 assists. An easier decision to be made was for the Premier League manager of the month, Mikel Arteta to pick up the award for the 4th time that season as Arsenal won all 4 games in the competition.
Arsenal’s first game of April would be their first league game of the season without Saka’s name in the starting 11, but in his place came Gabriel Jesus, making his first league start since November. The visitors to the Emirates were Leeds United, in the midst of their own scrap against relegation, they and 8 other teams all in the lower places were fighting for every point to survive in the Premier League’s most competitive season to date. For the first half an hour or so Arsenal failed to do anything meaningful with their possession until Jesus faked to shoot then chopped back to manoeuvre his way past Kristensen in the Leeds box, then he left Ayling on the floor and ran past him. As he did so the Leeds defender dangled a leg which caught Jesus on the knee and sent him to the turf. Without hesitation the ref pointed to the spot and after receiving the ball from captain Odegaard, Jesus sent Meslier the wrong way to give Arsenal the lead and score his first goal for exactly 6 months.
Arsenal started the first half slowly, but they were immediately at the races in the second, doubling their lead 2 minutes into the second half when Martinelli beat Ayling and then put an inviting ball across the six-yard box. It was right-back Ben White who gambled on it and got to the back post unopposed. His powerful connection cannoned into the net off the underside of the crossbar. 8 minutes later and Arsenal had their 3rd following a devastating combination between Trossard and Jesus. This was the first game the two started alongside each other, but their understanding on the pitch was already apparent. Jesus found Trossard on the edge of the box, he made his way into the penalty area and found the angle to provide the cut-back to Jesus, who had the easy task of converting from six yards for his first open-play goal since scoring against Tottenham in October.
With a quarter of an hour to go, Arsenal briefly allowed Leeds back into the game with a very soft goal they will feel was very avoidable. As Leeds broke out from Arsenal’s press they attacked the Gunners backline and despite Arsenal managing to get 7 players back behind the ball, the ball still broke to an unmarked Kristensen who had the time to pick his spot and he found the bottom corner as a deflection off Zinchenko took the flight of the ball away from Ramsdale. Like their last game before the break against Crystal Palace, Arsenal had been cruising 3-0 when they’d allowed the visitors a glimmer of hope with a goal against the run of play.
Like against Palace though, Arsenal quickly restored their 3-goal margin, getting their 4th goal in the 84th minute. Substitute Saka dragged 4 men out wide with him, then found Odegaard who instantly looked for the head of Xhaka. Odegaard’s ball was a perfect one but it still needed a good header, and Xhaka certainly provided it. His touch was so good that the keeper didn’t even move for it, he knew he was beaten as Xhaka netted his 4th goal in his last 5 appearances for club and country. In between Arsenal’s two 4-1 home wins against Palace and Leeds, City had a 4-1 home win of their own beating Liverpool, but Arsenal had restored their 8 point advantage (having played a game more).
Next up for Arsenal it would be their turn to face Liverpool as they travelled to Anfield, a ground they had last won at in 2012. Since then the ground had become a graveyard for them with Arsenal having conceded at least 3 goals in 8 of their last 9 Premier League visits to the ground, and having lost by a margin of at least 2 goals in all 6 of their most recent league visits. For the first time since before the World Cup, Arsenal started with what is considered their first-choice front 3 of Saka, Jesus and Martinelli. It was a combination of Arsenal’s young trio of Odegaard, Saka and Martinelli that got the league leaders off to the ideal start. Saka led the attack and found Odegaard who looked to return it to him, though his pass deflected off Van Dijk into the path of Martinelli who kept control of the ball and then poked it beyond Alisson in the 8th minute.
20 minutes later things got even better for Arsenal when Martinelli was found once more, with a clever pass from Xhaka putting him in down the flank, from there he swung in a perfect cross to find the unmarked Gabriel Jesus who headed it down into the ground and into the back of the net for 2-0. The first 40 minutes went better than any Arsenal fan could have dreamed of, in a game that was considered a huge test of their title credentials, they had risen comfortably to the challenge. They led 2-0 and for a spell of around 10 minutes, looked the likelier of the two teams to get the game’s 3rd goal which would surely secure all 3 points.
However, at a time when Arsenal looked most in control, Liverpool halved the deficit when Jota’s pull-back for Henderson was steered to the back-post by the Liverpool skipper and Salah was waiting to turn it in from inside the six-yard box. The timing of the goal just 3 minutes from half-time was a crucial one and meant that an entirely different second half was promised and that was what materialised. Just 7 minutes into the second half and Liverpool won a penalty when Arsenal failed to clear a corner and Holding rather clumsily brought down Jota whilst attempting to reach the ball first. There would be a reprieve for him and his team however as Salah missed the chance to level the contest with his second of the game, pushing his penalty wide of the post. Ramsdale had stayed down the middle so all Salah had to do was hit the target from 12 yards, but he was unable.
The equaliser still looked and felt inevitable as Arsenal continued to toil in the second half, squandering possession cheaply time and again and failing to get to grips with Liverpool who continued to attack, constantly swarming into the Arsenal half with swathes of red shirts and Arsenal seemed caught in a blur as had been the case so many times before at Anfield. However after weathering a storm which in reality lasted around 20 minutes (but must have felt like 6 hours for Arsenal fans, coaches and players) the game began to settle down again with Arsenal finally getting the chance to catch their breath and play some of the game outside of their own half, whilst Liverpool were almost re-charging and preparing themselves for one last big push.
With less than 10 minutes of normal time remaining Liverpool began to get sights of goal again, and a big chance came when substitute Nunez was put through one-on-one against Ramsdale, but the Arsenal keeper was equal to it getting a big hand to the ball as Nunez attempted to pass it beyond him. A 4th goal in the game appeared near certain, but it wasn’t definite which way it would go as Liverpool pushed more bodies into the Arsenal half, the Gunners had threats on the counterattack and as well almost scored from a corner when Gabriel got good contact on his header but aimed it straight at Alisson. A minute later another Arsenal chance came when Saka got free of 2 Liverpool defenders in the area, but his ball across goal could not find substitute Trossard.
Arsenal were immediately made to rue those missed opportunities when Alexander-Arnold got beyond Zinchenko and stood an inviting ball up to the back post, Firmino was there and he won the header for his 10th Premier League goal against Arsenal. There was still a couple of minutes of normal time remaining and now Liverpool really smelt blood, feeling the game was now theirs to go and win. With 6 minutes added on, in the 5th minute Salah tried to bend one into the top corner and a deflection off Gabriel made it even harder for Ramsdale, pushing the ball further away from him but the Arsenal keeper pulled off one of the saves of the season giving the importance of the moment to divert it behind for a corner.
Liverpool was still not done and a flighted ball from Alexander-Arnold found the run of Nunez who had got in behind the Arsenal defence, his header down across the six-yard box found Konate just inches from the goalline, the defender couldn’t go with his head so opted to try and guide it in with his chest when Ramsdale somehow got back on the line in time and was able to push the ball away from goal, when the Liverpool winner looked so certain that some fans began celebrating prematurely. The drama of the game still wasn’t done as Arsenal attempted to counter-attack with Saka, Martinelli and Trossard up against just one Liverpool defender, Martinelli attempted to put Saka in on goal but his pass was too heavy and Alisson got their first. Then the ref called time on a pulsating second half and one of the most dramatic Premier League games in recent memory.
Whether it would be a point gained or two points dropped for Arsenal would ultimately come down to whether they finished 1st or 2nd, as at full-time there were arguments for both. Having led for nearly 80 minutes and outplaying Liverpool for nearly the entirety of the first half they would on one hand rue the opportunities they didn’t take to get the 3rd goal and put it out of Liverpool’s reach. However they had got out of jail with Salah missing a penalty and then they’d had to rely on a miraculous, heroic performance from Ramsdale between the sticks, as he produced not one but two incredible saves in the final minute
The following Sunday and Arsenal were on the road again, this time travelling to West Ham who were in the midst of their own fight against relegation. It took Arsenal just 7 minutes to open the scoring. Patient, intricate build-up in and around the West Ham box eventually saw Odegaard play in White, who squared it across the six-yard box for Jesus who was waiting to tap home for his 4th goal in 3 starts. Just 3 minutes later and Arsenal’s advantage was doubled with Martinelli swinging a ball over to an unmarked Odegaard who had all the time he needed to side-foot volley it beyond Fabianski. Arsenal were opening West Ham up at will, and with such a flying start they had roared into such a commanding position that the only question at that point seemed to be: “How many will West Ham keep it down to?”
Arsenal spent the next 20 minutes passing the ball around at a leisurely pace, with no real urgency or desire to push for a 3rd goal, they were content to just leave West Ham chasing shadows as they passed it around the side who had been away in European action just 3 days prior. Arsenal’s casual approach would come back to bite them, however, as Partey attempted a flick past Declan Rice who was on him in a flash, charging the ball down and finding Paqueta. His first touch was a dreadful one as he lost control of the ball, but Gabriel had already committed his body to a diving tackle, and though he managed to pull out at the last second, Pacqueta felt enough of a touch off Gabriel to go down and try to win a penalty. It was soft and perhaps harsh, but Arsenal had given the ref a decision to make. Firstly by Partey’s carelessness in possession so close to his own box and then by Gabriel’s clumsy challenge attempt.
Benrahma sent Ramsdale the wrong way to half the deficit and suddenly a game that was completely in Arsenal’s hands was once again in danger of slipping away. The chance to re-establish control emerged early in the second half when a Martinelli shot was charged down by the outstretched arm of Antonio and the ref pointed to the spot for the game’s second penalty. Saka had never before missed a penalty for Arsenal and stepped up to take it, however, on this occasion he pushed it way wide of the goal. Mere minutes after passing up this golden opportunity Arsenal were made to pay when a simple ball lifted into the box from Kehrer bypassed an Arsenal defence that hadn’t pushed out quickly enough. They were caught cold as the ball arrived for Bowen to take on the volley and his shot which bobbled into the ground beat Ramsdale, who will have been disappointed he didn’t do better with it.
With West Ham’s tails well and truly up, Arsenal were dragged into a game where possession was exchanged regularly and cheaply, as they were forced to defend many situations such as corners and throw-ins. Holding in particular endured a torrid afternoon, with Antonio enjoying regular success in isolating himself against him one v one and getting the better of him. Arsenal wanted to salvage the day and rescue all 3 points which earlier on had looked all but assured, but they lacked the control over the game to do it. Substitutes helped them to re-establish some authority but they never really looked likely to score a 3rd goal and in the end, they were forced to accept a second 2-2 draw in a week. Like at Liverpool, they had been 2-0 up but conceded before half-time and like the previous week a missed penalty early in the second half was a crucial moment in the game, this time of course it was Arsenal making the costly miss.
Arsenal had only themselves to blame for squandering such a commanding position through individual errors and a seemingly lax approach, but they had the chance to put things right just 5 days later at the Emirates as they hosted bottom-side Southampton. However, they got off to an unimaginably bad start when Ramsdale under-hit a pass for Zinchenko, which was easily cut out by Alcaraz who immediately punished the error by putting it straight into the back of the net to put Arsenal behind after just 28 seconds. It was an unfathomably poor attempted pass from Ramsdale and after rescuing his side late away at Anfield, he had on this occasion put his side in a precariously bad position early doors.
A bad start got worse in the 14th minute when sloppy play in midfield eventually led to a poor giveaway from Odegaard which went straight to the Southampton midfield, with one pass they picked out Alcaraz who was in acres of space running towards the Arsenal back four, he spotted the run of Walcott and picked him out in behind Gabriel. The pass allowed the former Arsenal man to take a first-time shot, and he was able to simply pass it beyond Ramsdale. 6 minutes later and Arsenal got themselves back into the game with Saka getting beyond his man and digging out a cross from the byline which found Martinelli who expertly steered it in on the volley. Arsenal pushed for an equalising goal for the remainder of the first half, but Odegaard and Vieira (covering for Xhaka who missed out with illness) were wasteful with their opportunities. The closest Arsenal came to a first-half equaliser came when a clever Ben White header from a corner was cleared off the line.
Arsenal continued their domination in the second half but struggled to carve out many clear-cut chances, despite keeping Southampton pinned in their own third for much of the halves opening 20 minutes. One good chance came just shy of the hour mark when Saka and Jesus both had opportunities to force the ball over the goalline but both were unable. With 25 minutes of normal time remaining Arsenal made their job harder, when Partey unnecessarily played himself into trouble and ended up conceding a corner. From that resulting corner, taken by dead-ball specialist Ward-Prowse, Bella-Kotchap got the contact to send the ball to the back post where Carleta-Car had been left completely free to nod home. Arsenal had begun the game with over 50 more league points than Southampton, but now they trailed them at home by 3 goals to 1, as their title dreams crumbled all around them in the most unlikely of ways.
Just minutes later a big chance falls to Jesus to get Arsenal back in it once more, but on a frustrating night for the Brazilian, surely his worst for the club thus far, he fluffs his lines and skies his volley way over the bar. Another chance comes when a shot from Saka looked likely to find the back of the net before it was blocked by his own teammate substitute Nketiah. Just as Arsenal had appeared to run out of ideas Odegaard bent one into the bottom corner from outside the box, an excellent strike from the Norwegian who like most of his teammates had endured a poor match. One of the few who hadn’t been poor was Bukayo Saka and 2 minutes later he got the equaliser. A good ball into the box by the lively Trossard (who had replaced the ineffectual Vieira) was held up by Jesus who teed up Nelson for the shot. His effort was saved but fell to the feet of Saka who levelled the game, just before the board for 8 additional minutes went up.
They surely couldn’t do it again, could they? They tried. 2 minutes into stoppage time and Trossard thundered one off the bar, a few inches lower and the power would have beaten the keeper and the net would have been bulging. In the 5th minute, lightning almost strikes twice for Nelson as he comes close to scoring his 2nd injury time winner of the season, but his effort deflects just wide. Partey’s evening which had been one to forget got even worse in the 98th minute when he ignored all his teammates and opted to try his luck from 30 yards out. It was just what Southampton was hoping for, a dreadful effort which flew miles high and wide of the goal.
Still it wasn’t over though as it went to the 100th minute, with Arsenal still attacking. Another chance fell to Jesus and yet again he was unable to take it, again ending up on the floor and appealing for a penalty which wasn’t forthcoming. The referee called time on a crazy game between top and bottom that ended in a 3-3 draw. The game showcased Arsenal’s fighting spirit and never say die desperation which is why they are top of the league, but it also showed their defensive vulnerabilities and capability to produce abysmal individual errors, which has meant their lead at the top had been cut to 5 points despite them having now played 2 games more than City. Just as they had when the two sides met back in February, Arsenal were taking poor form into their blockbuster clash with Manchester City.
Arsenal had not beaten City in the league since 2015, and since Guardiola took the job the following year, the Gunners had only managed to avoid defeat in the league against him once, going into the game on a run of 11 straight defeats in the Premier League to their title rivals. Arsenal began as 4/1 underdogs and those odds would’ve moved even higher when City scored the opening goal in the 7th minute. A long ball up to Haaland allowed City to bypass Arsenal’s press and the Norwegian touched it down and laid it off with Holding on his back as if he wasn’t there. His pass was perfectly weighted into the path of De Bruyne who was then able to isolate Gabriel 1 v 1, with ease he made room for the shot which beat Ramsdale from outside the box. The Belgian simply passed the ball firmly past the Arsenal keeper, of whom questions would be asked as to if he should have done better, but in fairness it did appear to be a very well-placed finish.
Ramsdale was twice called into action later in the half, his intervention needed to stop Haaland from doubling the lead on two separate occasions. First when he weaved his way in between Zinchenko and Holding with the ball at his feet and later when he attempted to finish off a cut-back from Gundogan. Ramsdale was equal to these attempts and Arsenal was in touching distance of getting into halftime only a goal down. But right on half time, they conceded a free-kick and from the resulting set-piece, De Bruyne found the unmarked head of John Stones who made no mistake. The linesman’s flag then immediately shot up for offside, but on VAR review it was found that White’s foot was just playing Stones onside, and now Arsenal had a mountain to climb.
A mountain they never really looked like climbing since they had been completely unable to get their dangerous wingers in the game, as the players instead mostly opted for safety first passes backwards and sideways, as though their only intention was to stave off City attacks for a while by keeping possession in an unthreatening manner. The game already appeared to be over but it was made certain in the 54th minute when a poor pass from Odegaard (typically of Arsenal on this night, one that tried to go backwards to Partey rather than try to progress the ball towards City’s goal) was picked off by De Bruyne who linked with Haaland, the duo’s combinations had destroyed Arsenal all evening and this instance was no exception as De Bruyne finished the move off with another smart finish for his second of the game.
After an opening hour where City had been vastly superior to Arsenal in every department in each area of the pitch, the hosts seemed content with their cushion and looked to see it out, which finally allowed Arsenal to grow into the game and string some passes together in better areas of the pitch. The introductions of Jorginho and Trossard in place of Xhaka and Martinelli who had been completely anonymous saw a slight improvement from Arsenal and it was a combination between them and fellow substitute Reiss Nelson that eventually saw Trossard tee up Holding for a first-time shot. It was a good finish from the centre-back as he gave Arsenal the smallest of small glimmers of hope with 4 minutes of normal time remaining. The final goal of the game would be City’s however when substitute Foden was allowed to bring the ball down on the edge of the box with all the time and space he needed to nudge it on for Haaland to strike first time. It wasn’t the cleanest of strikes but there was enough venom on the shot to beat Ramsdale and make it 4-1.
On the night Arsenal needed to produce their best performance of the season, they in fact produced their worst. Predictably Holding was terrorised by Haaland, Neither Partey or Xhaka had any success getting to grips with De Bruyne and in an attacking sense Odegaard, Martinelli and Saka had their quietest games of the season, with all 3 being subbed off before the end. The warning signs had been there with the contrasting form of the two sides going into the game. The damage had seemingly already been done by Arsenal’s side with the way they had surrendered and thrown away points in the previous games. By holding onto their 2-0 lead away at West Ham and then beating the bottom-placed side at home they could have gone to Etihad 9 points clear. Instead, their slip-ups allowed the City game to be something of a straight shoot-out with the winner being the overwhelming favourite to take the title.
Given Arsenal’s recent struggles with Holding looking out of his depth, the form of Partey really dipping and a host of individual mistakes from others, getting a favourable result from the Etihad appeared a long shot but there could be questions asked of Arteta’s decision to stick with the likes of Holding and as well not bringing in Jorginho to try and bring more control to Arsenal’s midfield, either in support or in place of Partey. By keeping the same team, Arteta allowed Guardiola to see all of Arsenal’s weaknesses in recent games and set up to brutally expose them, which he did.
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After 4 without a win, Arsenal were desperate to return to winning ways at home to Chelsea who were down in 12th position. Sensing he could persist no longer with what had not been working, Arteta made 3 changes to the starting line-up taking out Holding, Partey and Martinelli and bringing in Kiwior for his first Premier League start, Jorginho and Trossard who had been on the winning side in all 6 of his previous league starts for the club. Arsenal quickly began to look more like their old selves, pressing aggressively and winning the ball back regularly in duels or by picking up the second ball. They got the goal their start merited in the 18th minute when Xhaka picked up the ball on the left-hand side, with time to pick his head up he expertly found Odegaard who was in some space on the edge of the box. The captain’s first-time finish was a magnificent one as his effort went in off the underside of the crossbar. Chelsea almost responded when Kante picked out the run of Chilwell who had got free down the right-hand side. Ramsdale produced an excellent stop to push his attempt wide for a corner and keep Arsenal ahead.
Just past the half-hour mark and Arsenal doubled the lead, with that same combination of Xhaka to Odegaard causing the problems for Chelsea once more. A cross from the left-hand side from the Swiss again found an unmarked Odegaard who again scored with a one-touch finish for his 14th league goal of the season. 3 minutes later and Arsenal had their third with White’s diagonal ball to the back post picking out the chest of Jesus who laid it off for Xhaka to shoot. His effort was blocked but the ball fell to the feet of Jesus who struck it home for his 10th goal of the season, making Arsenal the first side in Europe’s top 5 leagues to have 4 different players hit double figures. The Gunners looked to continue where they’d left off in the second half and almost got the 4th when Gabriel got his head on a corner, beating Kepa to the ball but Thiago Silva was well positioned on the goalline to clear it away. Chelsea had not been able to deal with Xhaka all night long and he was the next to come close to adding himself to the scoresheet but his effort was saved by Kepa.
As has become a regular occurrence at the Emirates in recent months, just as Arsenal appeared certain to score the game’s 4th goal and make it 4-0, they would instead concede it against the run of play. Yet again it was a goal they should have done better on, Zinchenko this time the guilty party, switching off and allowing Madueke to run off the back of him, which gave Kovacic a clear target to pick out which he did. With one pass, from a situation where there was no danger Madueke was now through on goal and with a good first touch he was able to finish beyond Ramsdale despite the attentions of Gabriel by bobbling the shot into the ground.
Arsenal had once again failed to be ruthless at one end and then at the other switched off to concede a soft, avoidable goal. From there the game got messy, Arsenal could not regain the same control over it they’d had up to conceding, but Chelsea never looked likely to seriously threaten the result of an Arsenal win, with the game ending 3-1. There had been positives for Arsenal, the main one of course being they’d ended their winless run by beating a local rival, and they looked more comfortable as a team with Kiwior in defence who had done well on his first league start. Jorginho as well had been a big improvement on the recent displays in that position from Partey, the Italian midfielder kept things ticking, never dwelling on the ball unnecessarily and that helped Arsenal to move the ball around much quicker and get the ball into the forward players regularly. There would be however tougher tests ahead, such as the away trip to 3rd place Newcastle.
After recent away fixtures at Anfield, West Ham and the Etihad, Arsenal’s travels were not getting any easier as they visited a team who had only lost once at home in all competitions and who had recently dispatched Arsenal’s North London rivals Tottenham 6-1, with the Magpies leading 5-0 after 21 minutes. They threatened to make a similarly fast start against Arsenal, hitting the post inside 70 seconds with Jacob Murphy afforded too much room for the shot by Zinchenko. Pressure from Newcastle forced Arsenal into conceding a corner and from that resulting set-piece, the referee pointed to the spot for a penalty judging Kiwior, who had kept his place in the team, to have blocked a Joelinton effort with his arm.
VAR looked at the incident and in the end asked the ref to go across to the monitor and decide for himself. After several re-watches, it was clear that the ball had first hit Kiwior around his knee before diverting onto his arm and nearly 3 minutes after pointing to the spot, the referee reversed his decision. It was already looking like another long afternoon for Arsenal though, in an incredibly hot and hostile atmosphere with 50,000 Newcastle fans relishing the occasion of their side coming up against one of the Big Boys and attempting to unsettle them.
In the 14th minute though the game turned in Arsenal’s favour. After winning a free-kick, Jorginho who was keeping Partey out of the team went back inside to Odegaard. Newcastle had expected the ball to be worked out wide so had everyone deep in their box preparing for a cross. This gave Odegaard time to set his sights and after setting the ball out of his feet he let fly with a powerful, accurate strike which quickly travelled through Botman’s legs and all the way into the back of the net. It was a goal eerily similar to the one he scored away at Spurs back in January, and with this one he joined Martinelli on 15 league goals, to mark the first time in Premier League history that Arsenal had 2 players reach 15 goals.Embed from Getty Images
The goal settled Arsenal down massively, and they began to thrive in the white-hot atmosphere twice cutting through Newcastle with scintillating passing moves. The first opening came after 20 minutes when after a patient build-up Odegaard suddenly put Martinelli clean through with an exquisite pass, but he could only hit it straight at Pope in goal, Odegaard then forced Pope into immediate action in the aftermath with a curling effort from a wide position. Just minutes later Arsenal were in again as Saka found himself suddenly in on goal after another sharp passing move. He faired no better than Martinelli though hitting his shot straight at the frame of Pope.
Those misses could have been costly as Newcastle forced Ramsdale into action at the other end, but he was on hand to deny Willock with his legs. Right on half-time Arsenal had another huge chance to get into the break 2-0 up but this time it was Odegaard’s turn to be denied by Pope when presented with a one-on-one. Saka won the ball back down Newcastle’s left and fed Martinelli who was able to find Odegaard. The skipper dummied past Burn who was left on the floor but Pope was quick to close down the angle and Odegaard could not find the precision to beat the big target Pope had imposed.
Newcastle started the second half with the same intensity they began the first, and there were a couple of bad minutes for Zinchenko. First, with Murphy running at him, he continued to back off and back off, in the end falling over and allowing Murphy to easily pick out a cross which was met by the end of Isak who was denied by the post. A minute later Zinchenko then gave a cheap free-kick away in a dangerous area. Schar’s head met the subsequent free-kick and but for a fantastic reaction stop from Ramsdale, the Geordies would have been level. Arsenal again responded to the Newcastle chances by coming up with one of their own, Martinelli coming close with a fantastic effort which left Pope rooted to the spot, but didn’t quite come down enough and bounced off the crossbar.
The hosts came close again just shy of the hour mark but were again denied this time by a fantastic sliding block by Xhaka just as Willock was about to pull the trigger from close range. Xhaka was high upfield but as a good Newcastle move played through Arsenal’s press, the Swiss midfielder chased all the way back and then timed his tackle to perfection. Sensing the precarious nature of Arsenal’s lead, Arteta withdrew Zinchenko who had again suffered in moments and replaced him with Tierney. Arteta made the switch with the intention of preserving the clean sheet but it also had an impact at the other end as the Scot leapt onto a loose Newcastle pass and found Jesus who then fed Martinelli on the half-way line, the winger carried the ball down the flank until slowing down when he was level with the penalty area, he then faced the Newcastle full-back up, teasing him before eventually making room to fire a low cross along the six-yard box which Schar turned into his own net.
With the two-goal cushion Arsenal’s win never again looked in doubt, with Partey brought on in place of Odegaard to try and help shut the game down. Arsenal saw out the 2-0 win for one of their most impressive results of the season, which offered some revival to their title chances. Against a very physical side who attempted to bully them by often leaving a foot in and going in extremely aggressively, the Arsenal players remained brave for 90 minutes and took their bumps and bruises in order to win the game. The Gunners did not allow themselves to be rattled by Newcastle’s roughhouse tactics, instead using them to their advantage by taking their time getting up to frustrate the crowd and stifle the home team’s rhythm.
After a wobbly April, The Arsenal looked their old selves again, back to something approaching their best. Ramsdale’s form had dipped in the previous month but here he was flawless as he picked up his 10th away clean sheet of the season, which was twice as many as any other keeper in the league. Kiwior and Jorginho helped Arsenal to look much more solid and composed than they had with Holding and Partey in the side in recent games. Xhaka and Odegaard were also vital in Arsenal picking up the 3 points and with 3 games left to play, they remained alive in the title race.Embed from Getty Images
For the 8th successive gameweek that Arsenal and City were both in Premier League action not against each other, Arsenal took to the field knowing their title rivals had already won that weekend. On this occasion, it was particularly damaging. City had a tricky-looking fixture away at relegation-threatened Everton sandwiched in between two Champions League semis with Real Madrid. To still be in with a fighting chance of the title, realistically Arsenal required City to drop points here, but they won easily by 3 goals to 0 for their 11th successive victory in the league. It was a punch to the gut for the Arsenal fans in the stadium and the players who took to the pitch shortly afterwards.
Arsenal’s opponents on the day Brighton were fighting for European qualification for the first time in the club’s history and they needed to bounce back from a shock 5-1 home defeat to Everton earlier that week. They boasted a good record at the Emirates, having already won there this season in the League Cup. Arsenal had beaten Brighton at the Emirates just once in their last 5 attempts. Arsenal would be without Zinchenko who had been all but ruled out for the remainder of the season, and after 20 minutes they lost Martinelli as well, as he was unable to shake off a poor challenge on him by Caicedo that also ruled him out of Arsenal’s last 2 games of the campaign. His replacement Trossard came closest to giving Arsenal the lead against his former club when he travelled into the box with the ball and then let fly, but his shot was just too high and clipped the crossbar on its way over.
For much of the first half, Arsenal had to be patient and disciplined as Brighton knocked the ball around with supreme confidence, daring Arsenal to push high and press them, leaving space in behind for their wide players to run onto accurate clipped balls forward. It was a tactic that did give Arsenal some trouble, but they also came close at the other end when pouncing on loose Brighton passes and as the half drew to a close Arsenal were growing into the game and beginning to edge closer to the opening goal. The best Arsenal chance fell to Saka when the Gunners kept the ball alive in the box and it eventually fell to the youngster who looked to find the bottom corner but fired just the wrong side of the post.
The game was finely poised at half-time, Arsenal had been made to accept far less possession at home than they were used to, but they still had the better chances of the half, being let down by less than clinical finishing from Saka and Odegaard. The first goal of this game always felt like a massive one in deciding the outcome and it was the visitors who got it. Mitoma had given White a torrid afternoon, the Arsenal right-back was completely unable to get to grips with him, he was toyed with and tormented all game in what must have been his most difficult day in an Arsenal shirt since his debut. So it was unsurprising that the goal would come from Mitoma’s work down his side, the winger put Estupinan in behind White whose initial cross was blocked but the ball fell to him once more and this time he was able to pick out the head of the 5 foot 7 Enciso who could head home unmarked from point blank range. The goal immediately looked bizarre as just before the cross came in Kiwior went down off the ball clutching his ankle. On the replay, it was clear Ferguson had impeded Kiwior by accidentally stepping on the back of his ankle but VAR did not intervene.
Going behind early in the second half was a real blow to Arsenal as it gave Brighton yet more confidence and they began to play even better, raising their level to heights Arsenal were struggling to match. Substitute Nelson who had replaced Xhaka came closest to getting Arsenal an equaliser with a powerful low drive after cutting in from the left, again it was close but not close enough for the hosts. With time running out, Arteta played his final hand and brought on Nketiah and Smith-Rowe, neither of whom had made much impact as second-half substitutes all season for Jesus and Odegaard. It seemed something of a bizarre move, as did leaving on Saka who for the 6th time in his last 7 starts failed to notch a goal or assist and was evidently badly struggling for form.
Arsenal did not muster any further threat after these subs and it was Brighton who secured victory in the 86th minute. Arsenal’s day was summed up when Trossard, one of their most consistent performers since joining the club made a costly mistake when he lost possession after being found by his goalkeeper, his attempted pass was instantly blocked by Gross and with that one touch the ball fell perfectly into the flight of Undav who lifted the ball over Ramsdale and into the empty net.
If Arsenal thought their day couldn’t get any worse they were wrong as in the 6th minute of added-on time, Ramsdale could only push out an Undav shot to Estupinan who reacted quickly and bobbled his shot beyond the Arsenal keeper, who was celebrating a very unhappy 25th Birthday. It was just the 3rd league game all season Arsenal had failed to find the net and at the other end, they’d now conceded 15 goals in their last 8 games. The week before they’d managed to hold onto City’s coattails with a great win at Newcastle, but this time faced with another tough opponent and needing to dig deep once more just to hold onto the coattails of the league leaders that little bit longer, they had been unable to muster what was required. It was a day where everything went wrong.
Arsenal’s final away game all season would also see them wearing their much-loved black away strip for the final time, a kit generally considered to be one of the best in the clubs’ history. The Gunners hoped to bid a fond farewell to it at Nottingham Forest, the home team who knew one more win would keep them mathematically safe from relegation in their first season back in the Premier League. Anything less than an away victory would secure City as Champions with 3 games to spare. Arteta went with an unusual-looking side, Kiwior moved to the left-back position with White filling in for him at centre-half, making his first start of the season in his old position. Partey came back into the team for his first start since the City defeat, filling in at right-back. For the third time in the last 5 games, an Odegaard giveaway in midfield led immediately to a goal as another cheap giveaway from the skipper allowed Gibbs-White to break away. His through pass for Awoniyi was weighted just right, Gabriel slid in to try and clear the ball but only succeeded in pushing the ball into the forward stride as he made contact with the ball and put it beyond the sprawling Ramsdale.
Arsenal had 71 minutes to find an equaliser against a team who had not kept a clean sheet in their last 15 matches. However they never really looked like getting it. With something to protect Forest sat in a compact shape with nearly every player behind the ball and waiting for Arsenal to try and break them down. The away team passed the ball around in a laboured fashion, with slow side-to-side passing where too many touches were taken and the most obvious option was taken again and again. They were desperate for some creativity but nobody on the field seemed to have it in them to be the game’s spark and get the team back in the game. The most obvious candidates to be that player: Jesus, Trossard, Odegaard and Saka all toiled in their own way. Trossard was anonymous, Jesus was bullied, Odegaard could not find the space to get on the ball in dangerous positions and Saka continued to look all out of ideas and energy. Jesus appeared to have a strong case for a penalty when he was clearly pulled back when trying to get on the end of a pass played in behind by White. Instead of pointing to the spot though, the referee booked Jesus for his angry protests at the penalty not being given.
Arsenal looked like a team desperate for the season to end as they crawled on their knees towards the finish line. Arsenal managed 82% possession but it mustered just one more shot on target than Forest with 3. 19% possession is the lowest possession with which a team has won a Premier League game since the 03/04 campaign. With the win at Newcastle, Arsenal had given fans hope they could dig in until the end of the season and at least finish it strong, but instead they suffered back-to-back league defeats for the first time all season, and failed to score in consecutive league games for the first time in the campaign too. After such a magnificent campaign it was now all petering out rather lamely.
Arsenal would close the season out with a home game against Wolves. Arteta opted to keep the same 11 that had lost against Forest, he and everyone else hoped for a better outcome this time. It took Arsenal 11 minutes to end their goalless run when Jesus appeared on the right, reached the by-line and produced a pin-point cross onto the head of the unmarked Xhaka who nodded home from inside the six-yard box. 3 minutes later and Arsenal’s advantage was doubled, again it began with wing play down the right, this time it was Saka beating his man and playing in Odegaard who attempted to return it to him with a flick of his heel, the ball instead was met by Wolves defender Kilman, but he only succeeded in putting the ball in the path of Xhaka who sidefooted it into the net. With a move back to Germany now an open secret, in his 297th and final game in Arsenal colours, the Swiss midfielder had notched his very first brace for the club. The goal was also Arsenal’s 100th of the season across all competitions.Embed from Getty Images
Arsenal went 3-0 up before the half-hour mark, the ball was again worked out wide to Saka who played it to Partey before Trossard and Odegaard combined. This made room for Saka to be fed inside the box by Trossard, the youngster took a sharp, sudden touch to go back inside and with it he made the space for a shot. His shot was an excellent one fiercely curling in beyond Sa in the Wolves goal and the perfect end to the week for the man who had just committed his future to Arsenal with the signing of a new contract. The goal was Saka’s 15th in all competitions, putting him level with both Martinelli & Odegaard. Arsenal’s 3 young guns sharing the top scorer spot felt fitting in a season where they had all contributed enormously.
There was still time in the first half for Xhaka to have the chance to notch his first ever hattrick, an excellent patient passing move we have become accustomed to seeing from Arsenal this season eventually led to Saka finding an unmarked Xhaka right in front of goal. He had time to set himself and pick his spot and appeared certain to net his 3rd goal with his 3rd shot, but this time he got the connection all wrong and miscued horribly wide, denying himself the most perfect possible send-off.
Early in the second half Partey momentarily thought he’d put Arsenal 4-0 up but on a replay it was quickly apparent that White had clearly fouled the goalkeeper and the goal was rightly chalked off. However, it didn’t take Arsenal much longer to get the 4th goal, an excellent long pass from Jorginho picked out the run of Trossard who waited for support before getting the cross which was met by the head of Jesus. This was Trossard’s second assist of the game and already his 10th in Arsenal colours despite only joining in January. In the 78th minute, Arsenal got their 5th when a corner eventually fell to Kiwior who got decent contact on the ball. However, Sa should have done much better with the effort but instead fumbled it over his goalline. Not only was this goal Kiwior’s first for Arsenal, it also gave Arsenal their 88th league goal of the season, which had the distinction of being their highest-ever tally in a Premier League season, this goal taking it clear of their previous best of 87 in the 04/05 season. The 5-0 win was their 26th league win of the season which was the club’s joint most ever in a Premier League campaign, equalling the number won in their league-winning campaigns of 01-02 and 03-04. Their final points tally of 84 was their highest since the Invincibles 19 years earlier and their 3rd highest ever in a Premier League season.
Arsenal player ratings from April to End of Season (must have started a game or else appeared in at least 5 games):
Ramsdale 6/10- Continuing the season pattern he produced his best performances at difficult away grounds, winning Arsenal a point with a series of top saves at Anfield and keeping a clean sheet away at Newcastle with a flawlessly solid display. His worst moment of the season came at the worst possible time, a huge error in the first minute of Arsenal’s home game against Southampton, as the team floundered with their title bid on rocky waters.
White 6/10- All Arsenal’s backline suffered with the loss of Saliba and White was no different. The injury to Tomiyasu also meant White was ever-present in Arsenal’s last 10 games. His worst day of the season came in the 3-0 loss to Brighton where he was terrorised by Mitoma. Otherwise White was usually one of Arsenal’s better performers even in games the team did not play well. He finished the season back in his old centre-back slot as Arteta made tactical alterations.
Holding 3/10- His first 2 games in place of the injured Saliba went fine with Arsenal winning with a combined aggregate score of 8-2 at home to Palace and Leeds. However as fans feared, when tougher tests emerged Holding was found wanting. He conceded a penalty at Anfield and was bullied by Antonio at West Ham as Arsenal dropped points from commanding positions in both games. At this point, it seemed unsustainable to continue with Holding in the team, but Arteta did and that’s on the manager, not the player. Arsenal then conceded 3 to bottom-placed Southampton and the away match at City went predictably badly with Holding up against Haaland. Though it would be unfair to pin Arsenal’s collapse solely on Holding, I don’t think 21-year-old Saliba would’ve prevented nerves and the magnitude of the title run-in from hampering Arsenal’s displays somewhat, there is no denying Holding complicated matters further for Arsenal due to his style of wanting to defend from a deep position which clashes with how Arsenal want to play. It is likely that with Saliba or even Kiwior, Arsenal would have at least picked up more points than they did in April.
Kiwior 6/10- Made his first league start against Chelsea and helped Arsenal to look more like themselves and end a winless run of 4 games. He looked similarly composed the following game when tested further away at Newcastle. Ended the season at left-back which could suggest this is where Arteta sees his future.
Gabriel 6/10- Didn’t look quite the same without his centre-back partner Saliba. Committed a soft foul in the box against West Ham which allowed them back into the match and was the beginning of Arsenal’s collapse. His need to be present in the middle of the defence to help with build-up and because Holding does not have the athleticism to defend the area alone meant Zinchenko was often left more isolated as Gabriel could not offer his usual protection on the left side of the defence.
Zinchenko 5/10- A tough end to the season for the left-back. His score of 5 is due to what he gives Arsenal on the ball, always giving them a safe passing option with his technical security. However, if it was on defending alone, his score would be much lower as his defensive lapses have cost Arsenal goals on a far too regular basis across the final two months of the season.
Tierney 6/10- His game time has continued to be limited, even when Zinchenko has ruled out the final 3 games with injury, Arteta still chose a different option to fill in. He started just 2 of Arsenal’s last 10 games, struggling away at West Ham trying to replicate Zinchenko’s inverted role and being on the wrong end of a 3-0 loss at home to Brighton. He fared better in his cameos though, shoring up Arsenal’s defence in the second half at Newcastle when Zinchenko was starting to struggle.
Partey 4.5/10- More than any other player, Partey suffered the most from the absence of Saliba. His overplaying which saw him robbed of possession by Rice was the start of things unravelling for him and Arsenal. He made another costly mistake the following game against Southampton losing possession needlessly and Arsenal conceded from the resulting corner to go 3-1 down. After another poor performance away at City, he lost his place to Jorginho. Partey later returned to the side in a new right-back role.
Jorginho 6.5/10- Helped Arsenal return to winning ways with his introduction to the starting line-up at home to Chelsea. Followed it up with a classy performance away at Newcastle but was unable to prevent Arsenal from losing their next two at home to Brighton and away at Forest.
Xhaka 6.5/10- Got two assists against Chelsea and was excellent in Arsenal’s away win at Newcastle. Like nearly everyone, he struggled in Arsenal’s disastrous April but finished the season with a brace in his last game for the club.
Odegaard 6.5/10- 3 poor giveaways in midfield from the skipper led directly to 3 goals conceded in a six-game run. The sloppy passes from Odegaard in what had become a dysfunctional-looking team were punished by Southampton, City and Nottingham Forest respectively. However, at the other end, the Norwegian had a run of 5 goals in as many games, including a nice goal from outside the box against Southampton to get Arsenal back in the game, a brace against Chelsea to help end Arsenal’s 4-game winless run and the opener away at Newcastle which settled the Gunners down after they’d begun under the cosh.
Vieira 4/10- Started against Southampton but was hooked before the hour-mark after failing to input any personality on the game, and wasting a couple of potential openings. Did not fare any better when appearing off the bench.
Saka 6/10- His missed penalty at West Ham, while Arsenal led 2-1, was one of the defining moments of Arsenal’s season. Mentally and physically the season appeared to take its toll on the youngster as the weeks went on as he seemed without his usual creative spark and explosiveness as the season drew to a close. Re-found it on the last day of the season to score a smashing goal to end a 5-game run without a goal or assist.
Martinelli 7.5/10- Scored 2 and assisted 2 in Arsenal’s 3 successive draws. Was anonymous away at City but after returning to the starting line-up away at Newcastle produced a top performance. Unlucky to have his season come to an end two games early. The 21-year-old may lack experience but he didn’t lack belief or fighting spirit as he fought hard to keep Arsenal’s title hopes alive.
Reiss Nelson 6/10- Made a positive impact from the bench when introduced against Southampton and City. Unlucky not to be given a chance to start at some stage.
Jesus 6/10- After 4 goals in 3 games he then endured his most frustrating games thus far for the club against Southampton and City where he did not make a positive impact. Returned to the goals against Chelsea and finished with a goal and assist at home to Wolves.
Trossard 6.5/10- The return to fitness of Jesus meant Trossard lost his place in the side but when returning to the starting line-up against Chelsea he played well. An uncharacteristic mistake at home to Brighton led to Arsenal conceding the game killing the second goal, but he finished the season well with 2 assists vs Wolves.
Arteta 6/10- The manager had been nearly faultless up to April but in the season-defining moments he came up short. His substitutions vs Liverpool and Brighton in particular were eyebrow-raising and did not work. His persistence with always starting Saka despite the winger’s apparent lack of fitness as well as form seemed unnecessary. It was a big ask to keep a young, inexperienced side calm and composed in what was many players’ first experience of a title race and he was not able to do it. That said, the Emirates Stadium was still near capacity a full hour after the final match of the season against Wolves as fans waited to hear the manager’s parting message for the summer. This pays testament to the work he has done this season in bringing the fans and the club closer together.