As Martin Odegaard prepared to take what felt like our 200th corner of the day, in the 7th minute of six minutes added on, I realised that I had held my breath. When Reiss Nelson fired the ball home in dramatic fashion, I breathed again. I think. I’m not sure. I mean, I must have, but who knows?
If you look at the the liveblog, you’ll see a faint microcosm of what was going on inside my brain. Even hours later, I was wandering around the house not quite sure what to think or feel, other than a deep understanding that I was very, very happy. Who doesn’t love a last minute winner? Only bad people don’t. But even bad people must like them, because what’s not to like? Unless you’re Bournemouth or Aston Villa but this isn’t about them, is it? Not on here.
This title challenge. Ho.Ly.Sheeeeeeeeeiiiiiit. I can take it. I’m 51 years old. I’ve seen most of everything before. But I also can’t take it. I’m a football fan. I’m desperate to see my team win the league again. Every thing feels so acute. Every moment, every emotion, every single thing amplified and heightened to the Nth degree. We were playing at 10 yesterday but we needed a little bit more, that little push over the cliff, so we went to 11.
On Premier Sports yesterday, they gave predictions before the game. I’m not saying I blame Eoin McDevitt of Second Captains, as well as Kenny Cunningham and Damien Delaney, but they were all ‘Oh 5-1, easy win for Arsenal’, or ‘4-0, Bournemouth are gonna get spanked’, and then Bournemouth scored in 9 seconds. Cheers lads.
To be fair, it was an adventurous kick-off routine, not least because a couple of their players were in our half before the ball was touched, but we were shabby. Defensively not switched on. Thomas Partey should have done better in the tracking the run of Billing, but he switched off, the ball squirmed across and he finished to make it 1-0. If a goal like that, as quickly as that, doesn’t tell you you’re in for a madcap afternoon, then you’re not paying attention.
We responded well, with just the 85% possession in the first half, and 13 attempts on goal. Bournemouth blocked 7 of them, they sat deep, defended well, and we couldn’t find a way through. Should we have had a penalty for handball? It’s one of those where I was desperate for it to be given, but had it happened up the other end I think I’d have been a bit annoyed. The one where Tomiyasu was kicked though, that looked clear cut.
It’s also worth remembering that Aaron Ramsdale kept it 1-0 with a brilliant save after Bournemouth failed to make the most of a break; Gabriel defended another break very well but again it was poor from the visitors; and the way we were pushed forward did leave space for them at times.
Having lost Leandro Trossard during the first half, replaced by Emile Smith Rowe, and with no Eddie Nketiah on the bench, I was worried that we didn’t quite have enough attacking variety on the bench to help us change things if the game continued in the same fashion. Which it did. Until they scored again. We had ten trillion corners and did nothing. They had one and scored from it. Again, Partey was culpable for not tracking Senesi well enough. 2-0 down. Trouble, big, big trouble.
We were relentless though. Ben White, on for Tomi at half-time, added something down the right. We nearly forced an own goal, and then Partey got one back, poking home at the far post after Smith Rowe had headed a cleared corner back into the mixer.
Neto went down, as goalkeepers do in all our games, to waste time. The referee had a word. Neto said something back and got booked. Arteta took off Smith Rowe for Reiss Nelson. Subbing a sub is a difficult thing to do, but it was an understandable change. ESR is still building match fitness, and while Nelson has hardly been playing regularly himself, he hasn’t had to deal with surgery and the like.
He made an immediate impact, his cross to the far side of the area found White, who finished really well for his first Arsenal goal. I’m sure he won’t care, but it’s a shame it didn’t nestle in the back of the net, but it was well behind the line before Neto made the ‘save’.
A Saka cross was saved onto the post by a defender’s arm (no penalty); Martinelli’s fine run deserved a better finish than the one he put over the bar; an Odegaard shot hit a player’s arm (no penalty, and I don’t think it was), but from the resulting corner there was what looked like an obvious handball by Billing that could easily have been a spot kick. Gabriel was certain, and who am I to doubt a man whose teeth are so bright they could lead you through a sunken cave to find your way to freedom? No penalty though. There are to be no penalties for Arsenal today. Is that me writing, or what was on the whiteboard at PGMOL HQ yesterday? Who can say?
The last 10 minutes are breathless. I did breathe though. I’m not a free diver. I can’t hold it that long. Crosses. Corners. Clearances. Blocked shots. We get to 90 mins. 6 minutes more. A Bournemouth player goes down in their box, stays down for some time. Time which the referee, to his credit, makes note of. So those questioning the timing of the Nelson goal, take it up with Billy Bournemouth, whoever it was.
Another blocked shot. That’s it, surely. A cross hacked away. That must be that. Zinchenko, the mad bastard, steps outside, whacks a shot and it deflects beyond the post for one last corner. This is definitely the last of the last chances. Odegaard takes it. It’s headed out. It falls for Nelson, drops to his left foot, he cocks it like a shotgun, aims for ‘top bins‘, let’s fly, and have you ever seen anything as beautiful as that ball hitting the back of the net?
Forget glorious sunsets over pristine mountains. Forget the birth of your favourite child. Forget the majesty of nature. That yellow ball in the back of that net is the most wonderful sight there has ever been. What a moment for Reiss too. He’s had a difficult time, his future is uncertain, but he comes up with something like that.
Mayhem. Pandemonium. Joy. Odegaard falls on his back like Willem Dafoe from Platoon. Gabriel drops to his knees. William Saliba decides the corner flag needs a good kicking. Ben White, my beautiful adult son, stands in front of Neto – who had slapped him on the back of the head in the 80th minute – fists pumped. ‘Have a bit of that old chap’, I’m sure he said. Or words to that effect.
The Arsenal bench empties onto to pitch. Manager, staff, subs, players all going absolutely mental. At one point Mikel Arteta high-fives a small child who has somehow ended up on the touchline before he realises ‘Holy cow, there’s a small child on the touchline!’
I can only imagine what it was like in the stands, but the Arsenal fans in that stadium got to experience a glorious moment. Up there with the Welbeck goal against Leicester, or Arshavin’s winner against Barcelona. Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, that will be unforgettable.
Arteta said afterwards:
Probably the loudest and the most emotional moment we have lived together. The journey we have been on together, how the supporters and the team are together, added to that moment we had today. It was really special.
I realise that there is another discussion to be had with regards this game. That you don’t want to leave it so late to win matches in a season that promises so much. I get it, but also what’s the point in that this morning? And really, this is what happens in title races. This is what the final third of a season throws up. Teams who are both fighting for something. We had two sides at both ends of the table desperate for the points for different reasons, and sometimes that creates a cocktail of unpredictability and when coupled with the inherent madness that exists at the very core of football, you get that. THAT. 3-2. 90+7′ winner.
Would you swap it for a routine 3-0 win? Perhaps. But here’s the thing, you don’t get to choose. You’re just on this rollercoaster like the rest of us. Strap in, enjoy the ride, because we’re gonna be upside down, looping the loops and twirling, always twirling towards the ultimate goal of the Premier League title.
I feel knackered just writing about it.
My final thought, and a serious one. For all the drama, you don’t do this if there isn’t something a bit special about your team, its character, and its desire to win football matches. Mikel Arteta has instilled a belief in these players which means things like this can happen. It’s impossible to quantify, but you know when you have it and you know very well when you don’t.
We do, and I love it. I love this team and where they’re trying to take us. The worst thing about football is, for me anyway, when your gut tells you your team don’t really feel like it matters. It matters to these lads, in a big way.
Right, that’s it for now. We’ll have plenty to relive in the Arsecast Extra tomorrow with James, so please join us for that.
Have a great Sunday, my table-topping friends.