Arsenal 3-2 Bournemouth (Partey 62′, White 70′, Nelson 90+7’| Billing 1′, Senesi 57′)

A thunderous Reiss Nelson strike in the dying moments re-established Arsenal’s five-point lead at the top of the Premier League as Mikel Arteta’s side overturned a 2-0 deficit to beat an obstinate Bournemouth 3-2.

Philip Billing opened the scoring with the second-fastest goal in Premier League history, yet it was Nelson’s final hammer blow which ultimately decided the tie. Billing had finished off a perfectly-executed kick-off routine to nullify the raucous Emirates, while Marcos Senesi had doubled the Cherries’ lead early in the second half.

However, goals from Thomas Party, Ben White and Nelson secured a win which many may point to as fundamental if the Gunners go on to secure a first league title since 2004.

Those arriving late probably wondered who the minute’s silence was for. Billing’s goal, coming after just 9.11 seconds, stunned the Emirates into momentary submission, as pre-match talk of improving goal difference quickly became blind panic.

The Cherries began the game with seven men on the half-way line, quickly working the kick-off wide to summer signing Dango Outtara. The Burkinabe winger slipped the ball through a gaggle of retreating Arsenal bodies, allowing Billing to smartly finish.

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Arsenal’s first-half was characterised by a series of bright ideas kiboshed by anxious execution and Bournemouth’s seemingly never-ending supply of totemic defenders.

Three minutes after the opener, Martin Odegaard slinked his way around the opposition box in trademark fashion. His low shot forced a smart save by Neto, before Bukayo Saka’s close-range effort drew one the Brazilian stopper probably had little idea about.

Arsenal’s four-pronged attack repeatedly prodded and pulled at the Cherries backline, yet for all the Gunners’ early pressure, O’Neil’s side produced the better first-half chances. The finest saw Aaron Ramsdale excellently stop from Outtara after Billing’s cut-back into an empty Emirates penalty area, but Arteta’s backline appeared fragile to counter-attacks throughout the match.

Arsenal’s early difficulties were perhaps best illustrated by a free-kick late in the first-half. A five-strong committee discussed their masterplan round the ball 30 yards from goal, while captain Odegaard painstakingly organised his wall. When the ensuing strike flew into the North Stand, you could not avoid the feeling it was a complete waste of time from a team increasingly frustrated by the opposition’s time-wasting tactics.

Backed by their early lead, the Cherries repeatedly wound up the baying home crowd, with Neto and Jordan Zemura religiously checking and double-checking the ball’s cleanliness at every opportunity.

Then, just before the hour mark, Senesi’s bullet header from a Joe Rothwell free-kick induced a familiar sense of dread across the Emirates, before Partey’s smart finish five minutes later reignited hope in North London.

Neto looked to have kept out White’s strike for a fleeting moment, although referee Chris Kavanagh’s watch informed him otherwise and that brief hope became an impending air of inevitability.

Yet it took until the game’s dying embers, as close to the final whistle as Billing’s opener was to the first, for Nelson to inspire rapture across the Emirates, firing a left-footed thunderbolt past the prone Neto.

There will remain concerns for Arsenal despite the three points – not least that Arteta’s side have still not kept consecutive home clean sheets in the league since December 2021. Takehiro Tomiyasu and William Saliba were particularly friable to the counter-attack, with former Bournemouth man Ramsdale called upon to thwart his former employers more often than he would have liked or expected.

But despite all this, the Gunners remain comfortable atop the Premier League, thanks to the pig-headed resilience they have relied on all season. This is a side which can win ugly and win when it matters. This afternoon’s performance may not have been pretty, but there are none inside the Emirates who would claim it doesn’t matter.

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