Reiss Nelson was the hero for Arsenal as his 97th-minute winner sealed an astonishing Gunners comeback from 2-0 down to a 3-2 victory over Bournemouth.
A bizarre encounter at a raucous Emirates Stadium began with the Cherries taking the lead after just nine seconds, as a well-worked kick-off routine was finished by Philip Billing at the back post.
Mikel Arteta’s side dominated the possession and chances against the relegation-threatened side, holding 80 per cent of the ball and mustered 30 shots on goal overall – but fell further behind to Marco Senesi’s header from a corner.
But Arsenal’s young side were not to be disheartened as they levelled the game with two goals in seven minutes after the hour mark. Both goals came from unlikely sources as Partey tapped home at the back post from Emile Smith Rowe’s header, before White finished Nelson’s cross.
And as Arsenal huffed and puffed for a winner, Nelson curled home with the last kick of the game to spark bedlam at the Emirates, with the Gunners’ five-point lead at the top of the table maintained.
Scenes at the Emirates
How the Gunners turned it round
Fans were still filtering into the stands when Bournemouth took a surprise lead in even more stunning circumstances.
The Cherries players put five players on the left of the halfway line at the kick-off but played the ball right to Dango Ouattara, who crossed for an unmarked Billing to tap home past Aaron Ramsdale.
The Emirates were stunned but the home crowd roared their team towards encouragement. It nearly led to a quick equaliser as Neto got down well to save Martin Odegaard’s shot from the edge the box, the Cherries goalkeeper also quick to deny Bukayo Saka at the rebound.
The same Arsenal duo tested the Bournemouth goalkeeper again – but despite the hosts having around 85% possession, the Cherries created the next big chance of the game.
- Arsenal made three changes from the side who beat Everton 4-0. Fabio Vieira, Thomas Partey and Takehiro Tomiyasu replaced Granit Xhaka, Jorginho and Ben White. This was only Vieira’s second Premier League start for Arsenal.
- Bournemouth made two changes from the team beaten 4-1 by Manchester City last week. Jefferson Lerma and Hamed Traore were missing, so Joe Rothwell and Antoine Semenyo started.
Dominic Solanke’s break saw him play Billing in behind the defence, played onside by the retreating Leandro Trossard who was carrying an injury.
Billing squared to Solanke and Ouattara in the penalty area, who were both waiting for a tap-in but Ramsdale denied the latter with a superb sprawling save.
Trossard limped off injured with Emile Smith Rowe replacing him off the bench. That dampened Arsenal’s momentum slightly in terms of attacking influence, despite seeing two VAR checks on a Chris Mepham handball and a challenge on Takehiro Tomiyasu go against their way.
Arsenal: Ramsdale (7); Tomiyasu (5), Saliba (6), Gabriel (7), Zinchenko (7); Partey (9), Vieira (6), Odegaard (7); Saka (6), Trossard (5), Martinelli
Subs: Smith Rowe (6), White (8), Nelson (7), Xhaka (n/a)
Bournemouth: Neto (7); Smith (6), Mepham (7), Stephens (7), Senesi (7), Zemura (7); Ouattara (5), Rothwell (6), Billing (7), Semenyo (6); Solanke (7)
Subs: Anthony (6), Fredericks (6), Christie (6), Cook (n/a)
Player of the match: Thomas Partey (Arsenal)
Arsenal continued their dominance after the break but what nobody saw coming was a Bournemouth second. Partey fell asleep at a corner and it allowed Senesi to run across him and head past Ramsdale.
Jack Stephens nearly gave Arsenal a way back into the game as his wild slice ended up in the back of the net but the resulting corner saw the Gunners pull one back.
Neto punched an Arsenal corner clear and Smith Rowe headed onto Partey at the back post, who tucked home in a moment of redemption for the midfielder.
The Emirates noise levels rose again and Bournemouth could only last seven minutes before succumbing to another goal. Arteta brought on Reiss Nelson for Smith Rowe and the substitute’s cross was met by White at the back post.
The England defender’s first-time finish was clawed out by Neto from behind the line, but goal line technology validated the effort.
Arsenal went to complete the comeback as Martinelli broke clear behind the Bournemouth backline, but blazed over as he entered the box. Vieira saw a long-range shot end up in a similar outcome while the Gunners had handball appeals on Senesi and Billing waved away by VAR.
Arsenal thought the chance had gone when Oleksandr Zinchenko’s deflected effort bounced wide. But Nelson stole the show at the end by finding that same corner.
Analysis: Young Gunners pass biggest resilience test yet
Mikel Arteta walked into his post-match press conference and the first question was whether he believes in fate. “Yes, I do,” was his response. You can certainly see why.
Because it was all going haywire for Arsenal. Two goals down at home to Bournemouth, their first three centre-forwards injured and a slightly makeshift front four in its place.
Gabriel Martinelli was playing up top, in a role he has never been in this season. A raw Emile Smith Rowe came on having played barely an hour of league football all term. Bukayo Saka was being doubled up against. Fabio Vieira was making just his second start of the campaign but was tasked with dictating the play. Alternatives? There were barely any, just one Reiss Nelson who had played one league minute since October.
But the front five of Saka, 21, Martinelli, 21, Vieira, 22, Smith Rowe, 22, Nelson, 23, and captain Martin Odegaard – the senior of the group at 24 – pulled through. They toiled, toiled and toiled to the point where Bournemouth, also facing the wrath of the Emirates crowd, couldn’t hold on any longer.
Arsenal turned it round. In the space of one Nelson swish the whole dynamic changed. It’s what they’ve done all season. This was the fifth time in the Premier League this season where they’ve gone behind and gone on to win.
Arteta: Our most-emotional moment | ‘I started to run and didn’t know where I was!’
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta:
“It was probably the loudest and most-emotional moment we have lived together,” he said. “The journey that we’ve been on together and how the supporters and team are together, adding the important moment we had today, it was very special.
“Everybody is probably overwhelmed a little bit. It was madness from the first second of the game with a routine we knew they could do and we defend so poorly.
“Then we just had to climb a mountain with 10 players behind the ball. We tried every single way, we didn’t score the goal and suddenly, we are 2-0 down with a set play again.
“After that, we don’t lose the shape, don’t lose the discipline and start to do all the simple things right and try to score the first goal. We showed maturity and resilience to do that. Once we did that, the atmosphere changed and the energy.
“Once we scored the second, it was ‘OK, let’s throw the toys out and go for it’. The subs made a huge impact today, I’m so happy for Reiss after the difficult months he’s had.
“I think the team and individuals showed they had a different level of willingness to win, determination and initiative, because when the game gets ugly, there is a moment where you can lose momentum. You can start to hide and to navigate through the game.
“But the players didn’t do that. They wanted the game, every time with the ball, they took risks, took initiative and kept trying until we broke them down. It was great to see that from the team.
“[When the winner went in] you lose sight of where you are. I started to run and I didn’t really know where I was running to! But just looking in the faces of everybody, the staff, the players, our supporters with that joy in their eyes, it’s great to live.
“It was an extraordinary day, a beautiful experience at the end. Very dramatic, but worth living because it was a great end to it.”
“It’s just another game and another three points. To win three in a week in this league is extremely difficult. We’ve done it and you have to win games in different ways. Hopefully that will give us more belief.
“We want to stay there [at the top of the table] but obviously it’s going to take a lot of effort. There’s still a lot of games to play and the Premier League, unfortunately every game is like that, but that’s the beauty of it.”
O’Neill disappointed but praises Bournemouth effort
Bournemouth manager Gary O’Neil told Sky Sports:
“I thought we gave it a real good go against the best team in the country. Everyone that comes here gets dispatched fairly easily. We didn’t, but I’m bitterly disappointed for the group and for everybody that we suffer in the last seconds. But it was a huge effort from everyone to make it as close as it was.
“I don’t know when it [Arsenal’s winner] went in, maybe slightly over the allotted time, but we still have to see out the corner anyway. We had some moments, Arsenal were very dominant with the ball and our lads defended very well, we just couldn’t quite hang on.
“The kick-off routine is one we came up with. We scored two goals from decent set plays and should’ve scored a couple more on the counter.
“To suffer a 3-2 loss in the nature that we did is very disappointing, but I’m sure when the dust settles and we look at it as a whole, to take Arsenal that far with the type of form they’re in and the team they are, and where we are and where we’ve been for the last few years, it was a big effort from everyone.
“The boys will be devastated, as am I, for the next few hours or maybe slightly longer. But Liverpool come next week and we’ll be ready.”
FPL stats – Arsenal vs Bournemouth
FPL stats: Arsenal vs Bournemouth
|Goals||Billing, Sensei, Partey, White, Nelson|
|Assists||Rothwell, Smith Rowe, Nelson|
|Bonus points||Billing (3pts) | Nelson (2pts) | Partey (1pt)|
Opta stats – Arsenal’s ability to win late on
- Arsenal have won a Premier League game in which they trailed by 2+ goals for the first time since February 2012 vs Tottenham (5-2) having gone winless in 65 such games prior to today.
- Bournemouth have lost three of their last four Premier League games in which they’ve led by 2+ goals (W1).
- Reiss Nelson’s winner (96:57) was Arsenal’s second-latest 90th-minute winner on record in the Premier League (since 2006-07), after Alexis Sánchez’s penalty against Burnley in January 2017 (97:14).
- Arsenal have scored more 90th-minute winners than any other side in the Premier League this season (3). It’s the joint-most 90th-minute winners the Gunners have scored in a single season in the competition.
Arsenal travel to Portugal to take on Sporting Lisbon in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie on Thursday at 5.45pm. The Gunners then return to Premier League action with a trip to Fulham next Sunday at 2pm, live on Sky Sports.
Up next for Bournemouth is a Premier League home match against Liverpool next Saturday at 12.30pm. Gary O’Neil’s side then travel to Aston Villa on March 18 at 3pm.