Daily Mail

Comeback kings!

Nelson’s 97th-minute strike was Arsenal’s THIRD injury-time winner in the last six weeks and sparked frenzied celebratio­ns as the Emirates hailed Arteta’s. . .


EVEN at 2-0, Gary O’Neil said he knew what was coming next: ‘Arsenal were going to come back.’ It took the 31st of 31 shots, in the seventh of six minutes added on, but the league leaders did it again. The tracer bullet from Reiss Nelson’s left foot sparked a frenzy that is becoming more and more common to Arsenal fans.

Mikel Arteta’s team have won three matches this season with winning goals in the 90th minute or later, the most of any team and all coming in the last six weeks against Manchester United, Aston Villa and now Bournemout­h.

It is no coincidenc­e, and is a testament to their undying belief in the way they have gone about establishi­ng a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League.

Arsenal do not really have a plan B. They can, of course, change personnel or speed up play or switch from underlappi­ng to overlappin­g but the idea stays the same.

In attack that means five players on the opposition’s defensive line, the full backs supporting a defensive midfielder and the centre backs as the last line. Three players — usually Oleksandr Zinchenko, Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Martinelli — will rotate the ball and their positions on the left, and three team-mates — Ben White, Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka — will do the same on the right.

Arsenal win because they are relentless, grinding opponents down by exerting 90 minutes-plus of intense pressure, zipping the ball around and looking for any weakness or numerical advantage to exploit. Playing against them is not just a technical test but hugely draining both physically and mentally as teams try to hold out.

Sometimes, Arsenal’s strategy leads to an early breakthrou­gh. But other times, especially recently, the goal does not come until late, or they concede and make their task twice as hard.

It is those moments, such as around the hour mark against Bournemout­h when they had just gone 2-0 down thanks to Marcos Senesi’s header, that they could wobble, or conclude that the strategy is just not working. But this team has been drilled to keep passing, keep probing and pushing. A pair of unlikely goalscorer­s, Thomas Partey and White, dragged Arsenal level but even then it seemed as though they had left themselves too much to do after they had gone behind when Philip Billing scored on 9.1 seconds.

‘We had to climb a mountain against 10 players behind the ball,’ said Arteta. ‘Suddenly we were 2-0 down, and after that it’s about don’t lose the shape, don’t lose the discipline, do the simple things right, score the first goal. We showed a lot of maturity and resilience to do that.’

The job of killing teams off earlier will get a boost in the next couple of weeks with the return of Gabriel Jesus. His knee injury at the World Cup was meant to be the death knell for Arsenal’s title charge. But three months and 12 league games later they are still five points clear of Manchester City, just as they were when Jesus went down. Even that is a tribute to the system Arteta has built. A £45million, four-time titlewinne­r can be replaced by an inexperien­ced, hungry academy product in Eddie Nketiah, or a part-time false nine who has just joined the club in Leandro Trossard, because the setup has been designed to get the best out of players, not the other way around.

It was revealed last week that Arsenal have the lowest wage bill of the Big Six clubs, and yet here they are, flying far higher than the sum of their parts.

ARSENAL (4-3-3): Ramsdale 7; Tomiyasu 5.5 (White 46min, 7), Saliba 6.5, Gabriel 6, Zinchenko 7; Odegaard 6.5, Partey 7, Vieira 6 (Xhaka 84), Saka 7.5, Trossard 6 (Smith Rowe 22, 6.5; NELSON 69, 8), Martinelli 6.5.

Scorers: Partey 62, White 70, Nelson 90+7. Manager: Mikel Arteta 7.5.

BOURNEMOUT­H (5-4-1): Neto 6; Smith 6, Mepham 6.5, Stephens 6, Senesi 7, Zemura 5 (Fredericks 64, 5); Ouattara 6.5 (Christie 82), Rothwell 6 (Cook 71, 6), Billing 7.5, Semenyo 6 (Anthony 64, 6); Solanke 6. Scorers: Billing 1, Senesi 57. Booked: Neto, Mepham. Manager: Gary O’Neil 7. Referee: Chris Kavanagh 6. Attendance: 60,222.

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 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? Ecstatic: Arsenal players and staff embrace on the pitch after Nelson’s stunning late goal
GETTY IMAGES Ecstatic: Arsenal players and staff embrace on the pitch after Nelson’s stunning late goal

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