At 8:50 pm on Thursday evening, it looked as though Arsenal were in for the perfect weekend. Arch rivals Tottenham Hotspur led 2-0 at Manchester City, and the Gunners’ lead at the Premier League’s summit looked set to be extended even further. At that point, oddschecker, which compares Premier League odds and offers, had made Mikel Arteta’s side the favourites for the title for the first time in the season. What a difference a few days make…
Within 20 minutes of the restart on said Thursday evening, Pep Guardiola’s juggernaut of a team had overturned that two-goal deficit courtesy of goals from Julián Álvarez, Erling Haaland, and Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian winger added a second goal late on to complete a 4-2 victory and reduce Arsenal’s lead at the top of the division. The Blues would then pick up another three points on Sunday afternoon when Haaland bagged a hat trick at home to Wolves to seal a 3-0 victory. This took his incredible goal tally for the season to 25 in 19 Premier League appearances.
By the time Arsenal’s game against rivals Manchester United got underway on Sunday evening, their lead in the English top flight had been cut from what would have been eight points down to just two. And when Marcus Rashford gave the visitors an early lead at the Emirates, the home faithful must have been thinking, “here we go again.”
But this Arsenal team is made of sterner stuff.
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In years gone by, Arsenal would have capitulated following Rashford’s earlier opener – the Englishman’s ninth goal in as many games since returning from Qatar. But Mikel Arteta has instilled a belief in North London which hasn’t been seen since the days of Arsene Wenger. Within seven minutes of falling behind, the Gunners were level thanks to Eddie Nketiah, who has been in fine form since playing more games after Gabriel Jesus returned from the World Cup with an injury.
Bukayo Saka then gave the hosts the lead for the first time in the game shortly after halftime. The explosive winger has been awarded the Player of the Season award at the Emirates in each of the last two seasons, and he was at his brilliant best here, thumping home from distance to give his side the lead. It was a lead that, once again, wouldn’t last long.
Manchester United World Cup-winning defender Lisandro Martinez capitalised on an uncharacteristic mistake from Gunners keeper Aaron Ramsdale to nod United level. It looked as if they would head back north with a point.
But it was the man who has had to wait years for his opportunity at the Emirates that would have the last laugh.
Nketiah Makes The Most Of His Chance
Eddie Nketiah has been at Arsenal since he was 15 years old. He’s now 23, and it wasn’t until the second half of last season that he finally got an opportunity to lead the line for his club. He netted five goals toward the end of last term. However, manager Arteta still opted to bring in Gabriel Jesus in the summer, and the former Leeds loanee was once again reduced to a squad player.
But with the injury to their new Brazilian hitman, Arsenal have been forced to turn back to Nketiah, and their talented young English striker didn’t let them down. Deep into injury time, captain Martin Ødegaard’s mishit shot found its way to Nketiah, who bundled it home and sparked scenes of delirium unlike anything ever seen at the Emirates.
His goal was enough to seal a 3-2 victory in a hair-raising display, and the delight was clear to see both on the faces of the fans in attendance and all of Arsenal’s staff, both players and coaches. Arsenal are now once again five points clear at the Premier League’s summit, and have a game in hand on their closest rivals.
Manchester City travel to the Emirates on February 15th in what looks to be a genuine six-pointer. If Arsenal win that, they could be 11 points clear of the reigning champions with 16 games remaining. If that is the case, a chance of a first Premier League crown in almost two decades goes from a possibility to a distinct probability.
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