‘Arsenal survive painful flashbacks to maintain title push’

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Arsenal were having painful flashbacks to the nightmare moments that threw their Premier League title challenge off course last season as a bump in the road threatened to become a giant boulder at Tottenham.

The Gunners never recovered from losing two-goal leads in successive weeks at Liverpool and West Ham in April last season, those results the catalyst for a collapse that saw Manchester City claim the title.

Here, Arsenal were in danger of throwing away a 3-0 half-time advantage in the most unlikely fashion but gathered themselves to close out a vital win that kept them top of the table with three games left.

And the fact that Arsenal crossed the line this time may yet be the difference between a first Premier League title in 20 years and finishing second.

Mikel Arteta’s side were sitting pretty as they exposed Spurs’ horrible frailty at corners, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s own goal and Kai Havertz’s header bookending Bukayo Saka’s smooth finish on the counter for their second.

Not wishing to make life easy for themselves, Arsenal keeper David Raya’s dreadful clearance then gifted Cristian Romero a goal, a nerve-shredding finish ensuing when Heung-min Son scored from the spot three minutes from the end of normal time.

The away fans, who had run through their full repertoire of taunts aimed at Spurs, suddenly fell silent fearing the worst, especially when the board went up for six additional minutes.

Things, however, have been different with Arsenal this season and they closed out a priceless three points without further alarm, celebrating wildly at the final whistle.

To lose the win at this stage, in these circumstances, would have been close to unbearable so the scenes that unfolded in one corner of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium carried a mixture of elation and relief.

The Gunners might have cracked last season with the volume turned up to maximum on this most hostile territory but not this time. It may not have been comfortable for that frantic finale but they did the job and that is all that matters.

Their character was called into question once more after they were outplayed by Aston Villa at home then went out of the Champions League to Bayern Munich. The response of three straight wins when the pressure is on brooks no argument about their stomach for this fight.

It is always posted as the sign of potential champions to win when not at your best, especially when the finishing line is in sight, and Arsenal were short of their usual standards even with that 3-0 lead.

At this stage of the season it is a case of never mind the quality, check the result – and Arsenal delivered in trying circumstances against their north London arch-rivals, who would have loved nothing more than inflicting a blow to their title challenge while bolstering their own hopes of a place in the top four.

For all Spurs’ attacking prowess, they appear to fly by the seat of their pants when defending under manager Ange Postecoglou, especially at set-pieces, and Arsenal were only too happy to be the grateful beneficiaries of their lack of organisation.

Spurs appeared not to have noticed Arsenal’s prowess at corners this season, the two that brought goals here taking their tally to 16 this season, the most by a team in a single campaign since West Bromwich Albion scored the same number under manager Tony Pulis in 2016/17.

It was quite the oversight, Havertz’s unaccompanied header a particularly glaring example.

Arsenal are now three games from glory, although Manchester City remain favourites for a fourth successive title, but there is no doubt this is a team heading in an upward direction under Arteta, irrespective of this season’s outcome.

Declan Rice may have mistimed a challenge on Ben Davies to create the nail-biter by conceding a penalty but otherwise he was imperious, showing exactly what he has brought to this side. The £105m paid to West Ham is not even a point of discussion any more, apart from fans serenading him with the chant: “Declan Rice We Got Him Half Price”.

Not quite but there is no doubt Arteta bought a player of the highest quality and influence when they shelled out that vast amount.

So on we go into the final stages of the season. Arsenal and Manchester City will fight it out with Liverpool fading.

Plenty of drama in this north London derby. And plenty more drama to come as the Premier League season reaches its climax.

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