LONDON — Arsenal handed control of the Premier League title race to Manchester City despite scoring twice in the final three minutes to salvage a 3-3 draw against Southampton at Emirates Stadium.
An unexpected night of high drama in north London began with a dreadful mistake from Gunners goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, gifting possession to Carlos Alcaraz to open the scoring after just 27 seconds. Former Arsenal forward Theo Walcott doubled Southampton’s advantage in the 14th minute before Gabriel Martinelli pulled one back six minutes later from Bukayo Saka‘s cutback.
The Gunners pushed for an equaliser — with Ben White having a header cleared off the line by Alcaraz in first-half stoppage time — but Southampton extended their advantage against the run of play on 66 minutes. James Ward-Prowse‘s corner was flicked on by Armel Bella-Kotchap to the back post, where substitute Duje Caleta-Car nodded home.
Gabriel Jesus missed two good chances as the Gunners attempted to rally, but they had to wait until the 88th minute to find the net again as Martin Odegaard curled a 20-yard shot past Saints goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu.
Bukayo Saka then turned home the rebound after Bazunu saved substitute Reiss Nelson‘s shot as the Gunners tried to pull off another late escape. But they could not find another goal in eight minutes of added time, and this damaging defeat leaves them just four points clear of Manchester City having played two games more.
The top two face off at Etihad Stadium next Wednesday.
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1. City now in control of title race
The knock-on effect from this draw for next Wednesday’s clash between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium is profound. A fortnight ago, City had to win that game to stay within touching distance of the Gunners. Now they don’t even need a victory, given City are just five points back with two games in hand.
There have been accusations that Arsenal have “bottled” the title race after twice surrendering two-goal leads to draw 2-2 at Liverpool and West Ham United. That suggestion was largely unfair, although those performances hinted at a vulnerability that was exposed further here in embarrassing fashion by a Southampton side that had not beaten Arsenal away from home since 1987.
So many of the Gunners’ key players underperformed. Thomas Partey gave the ball away too often, Gabriel Jesus was profligate in front of goal, even Gabriel Martinelli, who started so brightly alongside Bukayo Saka, faded in influence.
There is an alarming momentum shift away from Arsenal toward City that will be incredibly difficult for Mikel Arteta to reverse, although the late comeback gives them something to cling to. City are now in control of the title race.
2. Arsenal’s composure faltered once more
Aaron Ramsdale’s terrible error in gifting Southampton their opening goal after 27 seconds can be catalogued alongside a number of damaging mistakes that have crept into Arsenal’s play of late.
Most obviously, there was Bukayo Saka’s missed penalty at West Ham last weekend but also Thomas Partey’s cheap loss of possession and Gabriel Magalhaes’ clumsy tackle for the Hammers’ first goal. Oleksandr Zinchenko was left in tears after being beaten by Trent Alexander-Arnold for Liverpool’s late equaliser at Anfield on April 9, and the combined effect has been to concede control of a title race that has increasingly appeared likely to be settled by fine margins.
At least they didn’t blow another lead. The desperation to show the best of themselves was palpable from kickoff, but it led to an almost manic edge to their play as they rushed attacks and left themselves alarmingly exposed at the back.
The fact they managed just one shot between the 45th and 77th minutes points to a loss of composure, even if they deserve credit for dragging themselves to parity in an utterly frantic finale. Ultimately, they left themselves too much to do.
Only Leeds United and Southampton (both 30) have conceded more goals at home in the Premier League this season than Arsenal’s 21. It is a damaging number that could cost them the title.
3. Saints keep hopes alive behind Walcott
It will obviously frustrate Southampton that they were unable to hang on, but when the dust settles on this frenetic night, a point away at the league leaders is a positive outcome. The sight of Theo Walcott playing on the shoulder of the last defender before slotting a smart right-foot finish brought back memories of his 12 years as an Arsenal player; he refused to celebrate out of respect for his former club. Only Robin van Persie (46), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (43) and Olivier Giroud (40) have scored more Premier League goals in this stadium than Walcott (39).
Ruben Selles’ decision to withdraw Alcaraz — Southampton’s best player — at half-time appeared curious, but with Lyanco drafted into a five-man defence, Southampton kept Arsenal at bay for long periods before succumbing late on. Southampton are the only side to take points from Arsenal at home and away this season.
This draw leaves them bottom of the table but with evidence they can compete in the most difficult environments. Before tonight, they had scored just nine away goals all season.
Best and worst performers
Romeo Lavia, MF, Southampton
Composed beyond his years and it was not a coincidence that Southampton collapsed after he was substituted late on.
Carlos Alcaraz, MF, Southampton
A goal, an assist and goal-line clearance from Ben White in first-half stoppage time. Hugely unfortunate to be substituted at the break.
Bukayo Saka, FW, Arsenal
Kept plugging away and although he waned a little after a fast start, the 21-year-old still came up with a precious equaliser.
Aaron Ramsdale, GK, Arsenal
Set the tone for an awkward night with a dreadful pass straight to Alcaraz for Southampton’s opening goal.
Fabio Vieira, MF, Arsenal
Unable to add creativity and composure when deputising for Granit Xhaka. Surprising he lasted 57 minutes before being replaced by Leandro Trossard.
Gabriel Jesus, FW, Arsenal
Missed two very good second-half chances for which Arsenal paid a high price.
Highlights and notable moments
Aaron Ramsdale’s early error (and by early, it was 29-seconds-into-the-game early) would see Arsenal furiously play catch-up all night long.
SOUTHAMPTON LEAD ARSENAL AFTER ONLY 29 SECONDS!
📺: @USANetwork | #ARSSOU pic.twitter.com/VKgz4R82hm
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) April 21, 2023
Bukayo Saka sent the Emirates into a frenzy when his late goal saw the Gunners pull level. Eight minutes of stoppage time would see the home side come achingly close to a game winner, but it never came.
ARSENAL SCORE TWICE TWO MINUTES TO TIE THE MATCH AT 3-3 JUST BEFORE STOPPAGE TIME!
📺: @USANetwork | #ARSSOU pic.twitter.com/ETrktLVBnT
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) April 21, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta to BBC, on the draw: “Obviously disappointed with the result. We made it really difficult for ourselves with the way we started the game, giving one away and then another.”
Arteta on the next game vs. Manchester City: “I cannot wait, these are the games you want to play. When everything is at stake you have to go there to win.”
Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse, on giving up two late goals: “It’s a massive blow, but we have to take a lot of positives from it and I was surprised to see eight minutes at the end, a strange amount to be added on. But we have to defend better.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– According to FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index, Arsenal’s chance of winning the title now stands at 25%, compared to Man City at 75%.
– Arsenal have never beaten Southampton when trailing to them at halftime in the Premier League. In nine total matches they are 0-4-5 (W-D-L).
– Bukayo Saka is the 10th player in Premier League history to score 30 goals before his 22nd birthday.
Arsenal: To call the next game pivotal is an understatement as they head to Man City next Wednesday, who have two games in hand and are five points behind.
Southampton: The fight to climb up the table continues, with fellow strugglers Bournemouth visiting St Mary’s on Thursday.