It was frantic and it was dramatic, but after a nerve-shredding night at Emirates Stadium, most were left thinking that Arsenal have handed the Premier League title advantage to Manchester City.
The 3-3 draw against Southampton – rescued by late strikes from Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka, after the visitors led 3-1 with two minutes of normal time remaining – means only Manchester City have beaten Arsenal at Emirates Stadium in the Premier League this season.
It also means City are now five points behind Mikel Arteta’s side, but with two games in hand. They host the Gunners on Wednesday knowing they will retain the title if they win all their remaining fixtures – but Arsenal can say that too.
However, Arsenal’s new uncertainty in the title race was not lost on the players or the manager following a fixture in which they had to scramble for a point against the bottom club.
Forward Gabriel Jesus, speaking to Sky Sports, said: “Manchester City have two games in hand but if we want to be champions we have to go there to win the game – that is all.”
It was a statement Arteta agreed with, while former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher claims the Gunners now need something “miraculous” to win the title.
Arsenal have not won at City since 2015, and Arteta knows they need to change that recent record if they are to lift the Premier League trophy for the first time in 19 years.
“I cannot wait,” he said when asked about the trip to face the team with whom he won two league titles as City boss Pep Guardiola’s assistant. “These are the games you want to play. When everything is at stake you have to go there to win.
“This young team reacts in a way that is incredible, when it is against the odds, but the chances they created and the spirit they had… it was a joy to watch. The message is clear that I love them.
“We are down and they are more willing than anybody to win it. You can see that spirit and fight in the dressing room but it is clear we have to do defensively things better.”
Much has been made of the absence of the injured William Saliba in Arsenal’s defence, while they were further hampered by the late withdrawal of Granit Xhaka on Friday because of illness.
However, there was more than enough talent and experience in defence to beat Southampton, with full-backs Oleksandr Zinchenko and Ben White both making their 100th Premier League appearances.
Zinchenko, returning from a groin injury, held an impromptu team meeting in the centre circle when Arsenal went 2-0 down after 12 minutes.
There was also enough talent up front to earn three points – Gabriel Martinelli scored his 15th league goal of the season to equal Roberto Firmino’s record for Brazilians in a Premier League campaign, before Odegaard and Saka showed their class.
However, for a third successive game, Arsenal were found wanting.
Arsenal’s former City striker Jesus said: “A lot of things are going on now. We don’t want to come here and talk negatively because we are in a very good position. What we are doing this season is amazing – the Premier League is tough.
“Now is the difficult moment. It is time now to stick together until the end. We still have a lot of things to do this season, it is not over, we are still five points clear.
“We are the youngest team in the league, not making excuses. Sometimes we do right and sometimes we do wrong, everyone can make mistakes, that is why it is so important to stick together.”
A draw at home to Southampton might not sound like a good result, but after Aaron Ramsdale passed the ball straight to Carlos Alcaraz to score to after 28 seconds, Arsenal needed to summon plenty of fighting spirit before the late drama.
Similar errors cannot be afforded against City, acknowledged Arteta.
“It is not a final because there are still six games to go,” he said. “The concern is turning around these moments, especially if the players in some moments are in doubt.
“In football you go through moments when you make errors and are not in a good moment but you have to come away from that.”
Having dropped six points in their past three games, Arsenal have allowed Wednesday’s match to become close to a must-win.
Only three sides have previously been eight or more points clear at the top after 28 games, as Arsenal were on 7 April, and failed to win the title.
The showdown at Etihad Stadium will be the ninth time in Premier League history that the top two have met in the leader’s final six games of the season with five points or fewer between them.
On five of the eight previous occasions, the team that won the game went on to win the title.
It is set up perfectly for a thriller – one where the hunters of City are chasing wounded prey.
“Arsenal have definitely got a bit more tense in the last couple of games,” Gary Neville told Sky Sports. “It is a mentality thing now.
“They should go there with freedom and excitement. The worry is they are conceding goals and City will smell blood. They are all the hallmarks of a team that are wobbling like hell.
“Arsenal have to pick themselves up for the game of their lives at the Etihad. It is not all over yet, but they have the huge task of going to the power house that is Manchester City.
“It is one game they have left in run in they are not expected to win. Does that take the pressure off and free their minds?”
Having not won the Premier League title for 19 years, and finished outside the top four in each of the past six campaigns, it is some achievement for this young Arsenal team to still be leading the race at this point.
But, as Carragher put it, they now need some magic.
“They have to go to City and get three points to win the league now I think,” said the Sky Sports pundit. “They are going to have to do something miraculous now. It is going to have to be really special.
“If that game is in the balance though Arsenal should not do something stupid to try to win the game. If they lose it on Wednesday, it is all over, City win the title.”
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