Wednesday night finally saw Arsenal catch up with their all-important game in-hand. An emphatic 4-0 win over Everton saw Mikel Arteta’s team extend their lead at the top of the Premier League by five points.
However, before they kicked off against Bournemouth on Saturday, they were forced to watch on as City comfortably glided past Newcastle 2-0 to reduce the gap to just two points.
Mikel Arteta made three changes to the side that bested Sean Dyche on Wednesday. Takehiro Tomiyasu replaced Benjamin White in the starting XI, Thomas Partey started ahead of Jorginho and Fábio Vieira earned just his second start of the season in place of Granit Xhaka.
However, Arsenal planned to start the game, it certainly wasn’t what ended up happening. 9 seconds from the kick-off and Bournemouth already had the ball in the back of the net.
A break forward down Arsenal’s left-hand channel saw the ball fall for Phillip Billing in the penalty area with Gabriel Magalhães and William Saliba utterly wrong-footed and giving the visitors the lead.
The next 45 minutes was Arsenal playing catch-up.
They threw everything they had at Bournemouth, but nothing seemed to come off.
Chance after chance was wasted and those that did result in shots were either off-target or offside.
To make matters worse, the team were forced into an early change. Emile Smith Rowe was brought on to replace Leandro Trossard, who could not continue.
The first-half was a very frustrating affair and Arsenal will have been glad it was over quickly. They were pretty lucky not to be two-down given the myriad of breaks Bournemouth had.
The second-half saw Bournemouth come out of their shell more. Reduced to simple counter-attacks in the opening exchanges, they began to assert themselves in the game more and were bringing the game to Arsenal more and more.
It was, therefore, fairly predictable when they doubled their lead. Thomas Partey managed to lose Marcos Senesi in the penalty area and the Argentine was on-hand to head home from a superb corner.
This was now the moment when Arsenal needed to show their title credentials.
Arsenal kept their heads and began to attack, in earnest.
Bournemouth’s two-goal advantage lasted only five minutes. A corner from Bukayo Saka reached Emile Smith Rowe, who’s header found Thomas Partey and the Ghanian lashed home a finish to hand Arsenal a life line.
Not long after, Mikel Arteta made a substitution which changed the course of the game. Reiss Nelson has been fairly out of favour this season and seemed to be included on the substitute’s bench purely because of the absence of Eddie Nketiah. Arteta took a gamble and threw on Nelson for the already subbed-in Emile Smith Rowe.
Immediately, Nelson had the desired effect.
A whipped cross from the substitute found Benjamin White at the back-post who’s volley was quickly turned out by goalkeeper, Neto. However, the referee’s watch buzzed, the goal had crossed the line and Arsenal were level, with White’s first-ever Arsenal goal.
From there, Arsenal began their search for a winner. Bournemouth dug deep and really sank their heels into the turf to keep Arsenal out, but that didn’t stop Mikel Arteta’s men doing everything they could.
Handballs seemed to be a theme of the match, with VAR working over-time. Quite how Arsenal did not end up with at least two penalties after the match will be anyone’s best guess.
Soon, the clock kicked into extra-time as the fourth offical held up the board for six minutes to be added on.
The minutes flew by quicker than anyone could realise. Bournemouth were throwing themselves to the ground at every opportunity and eating away at the seconds.
The referee and fourth official, however, were not fooled. Even past the sixth minute, time was added on. Chance for one last corner.
It came to nothing. The ball was headed clear.
What happened next seemed to take an eternity.
The ball fell to Reiss Nelson on the edge of the penalty area. Nelson controlled the ball and swung his left-foot at the ball, whuch flew past one, two, three, four defenders before nestling in the back of the net to tear the roof off the Emirates Stadium and hand Arsenal all three points to break Bournemouth hearts.
The final whistle could barely be heard in and amongst the din.
It was an emotional end to the game. A game that had been everything Arsenal need to work on and everything they are to be commended for.
Silly goals to give Bournemouth the lead, but a mentality the size of N5 that seemed to push them over the edge.
It was a vital win for Arsenal and one that see’s their hard-fought five point lead over Manchester City restored.
Reiss Nelson will perhaps have no greater memory than this when all said and done. His performance repaid the manager’s faith in him and to come away, not just with an assist, but an all-important last minute goal is the stuff any kid from Hale End would dream of and there he was, living it all.
Arsenal cannot get too carried away, they have a trip to Lisbon to focus on next, before a tough away game to Fulham. But they will go into the game full of beans and possibly the biggest smiles of all those in the top four this weekend, regardless of results elsewhere.
1.) Aaron Ramsdale
18.) Takehrio Tomiyasu (White 45’)
12.) William Saliba
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
35.) Oleksandr Zinchenko
5.) Thomas Partey
21.) Fábio Vieira (Xhaka 84’)
8.) Martin Ødegaard ©
7.) Bukayo Saka
11.) Gabriel Martinelli
19.) Leandro Trossard (Smith Rowe 21’ (Nelson 68’))
30.) Matt turner
16.) Rob Holding
15.) Jakub Kiwior
4.) Benjamin White
3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka
10.) Emile Smith Rowe
24.) Reiss Nelson
13.) Neto ©
15.) Adam Smith
6.) Chris Mepham
3.) Jack Stephens
25.) Marcos Senesi
33.) Jordan Zemura (Fredericks 63’)
11.) Dango Ouattara (Christie 81’)
14.) Jack Rothwell (Cook 69’)
29.) Phillip Billing
24.) Antoine Semenyo (Anthony 63’)
9.) Dominic Solanke
1.) Mark Tavers
12.) Darren Randolph
2.) Ryan Fredericks
17.) Jack Stacey
4.) Lewis Cook
10.) Ryan Christie
21.) Kieffer Moore
41.) Euan Pollock
32.) Jaidon Anthony