How did we go two behind to a side that had scored just 22 goals in 24 matches? It scarcely matters, but let’s give Bournemouth credit. A trick-play from kickoff resembled an onside kick in American football, with five players lining up to the left only for the ball to be played wide right and then crossed in and tapped home. 9.1 seconds in, and it felt like our title hopes had been smashed into a milllion pieces, and we just couldn’t pick them up. We crashed again and again against their eight and nine and ten men in the box, flashing shots and spurning chance after chance after chance. By the time our visitors went up 0-2, it felt like time to console ourselves with a top-four finish. And then… and then…
Well, we all know what happened. Smith-Rowe headed back in from Neto’s weakly punched clearance and Partey nipped in at the back post to poke home. Scenes. Game on. Eight minutes later, it’s White tapping home from—let’s face it—what felt like an overhit cross from Nelson. Neto pawed it away beut only after it already crossed the line. Even Kavanagh, who had given us little else all day, had to confirm it. Well, that’s a point saved, then isn’t it? That will be enough to keep us level with City, at least on points…right?
Wrong. This young squad, around which has swirled a tempest of skeptical questions and dubious punditry, refused to quit. Not a single player gave up despite the endless rejections of various penalty shouts of varying degrees of legitimacy, despite the innumerable seconds and minutes lost to time-wasting, despite the gnawing sense of doom that had to be rising. While I don’t there are many of us who can honestly say we knew our lads would find a way to win, it’s starting to feel more and more like both we and those lads know something else: we refuse to quit. Down 2-0, it might have been easy to heave a sigh of relief, sense the ebbing energy in our own legs and lungs, and reconcile ourselves to a hard-won draw against a desperate and determined opponent.
Wrong again. It felt and sounded like every last fan in that stadium shouted and chanted and cheered until their throats bled—and then went to to double and triple the volume anyway. When was the last time the Emirates was this loud, this long, after we’d conceded twice? If anything, those fans got louder. Bournemouth’s players, instead of feeling bold and resoluted, looked more and more like panicky Uruk-hai and Orcs as the Rohirrim charge at them. Crosses were flimsy, passes misplaced, nerves were jangled. Once we found that equaliser, a win did start to feel almost inevitable.
Karma works in mysterious ways. Every time he had the ball, Neto took as many as 25 seconds before a punt, throw, or goal-kick. His teammates were just as bad with throw-ins and mysterious injuries that seemed to never need treatment. The whistles rained down because Kavanagh just wouldn’t use his. By the time he finally booked Neto (for dissent, mind, not for time-wasting), the sarcastic cheers flowed.
It’s only just then, for the second time in as many matches, that we’d score a winner in the very stoppage-time the keeper created in his desperate, cynical attempt at wasting time in the first place. Our players are either too naïve or too brave or both to believe that they’ll lose. Elsewhere around the league, rivals and their fans had to be licking their lips at the prospect of Arsenal’s failure. For more than an hour, they could savour a scoreline that would surely end with Arsenal dropping points at home to relegation fodder. The schadenfreude would be immeasurable.
Well, that part is at least true. I daresay that I haven’t scales or measuring tape or buckets capable of measuring the schadenfreude we’re feeling after Reiss Nelson (Reiss Nelson? Arsenal must be desperate) came on to assist White’s goal and then score the dramatic equaliser.
You want to talk about how young, naïve, and inexperienced this squad is? Go back and watch Nelson chests the ball down and, with two defenders rushing at him, coolly takes a touch and then just lashes the ball home, leaving Neto no chance. It would have been easy to panic, understandable even, for a young player who’d played only 80-odd minutes all season. He didn’t. No one did.
The roar that went up was deafening, the celebrations frantic. No, we haven’t won the league. In the end, we only beat the team that sits 19th in it. Our lead over City is still a very fragile five points. Winning this match doesn’t mean we’ll win the league, although it certainly does help. What it does do is fuel an ever-deepening belief among everyone associated with this club, that something very, very special is that much closer. This is the kind of win that forges champions. They can’t all be 3-0 cakewalks. Not in this of all leagues. If we do end up hoisting that trophy for the first time since 2004, this is one match that will stand out as one in which we learned just what it takes to be champions and just much of that we have in this young, determined, wonderful squad.
Can you believe it? Can you?