That was about to be an extremely annoying match of football. Arsenal completely outplayed Luton Town but found themselves tied at 3-3 as the clock ticked beyond the 6 minutes of added time. It looked like the Gunners were headed for disappointingly dropped points against one of the poorer sides in the Premier League.
Then Declan Rice happened. Arsenal’s £105M record signing rose above Luton’s tired defenders to head a Martin Ødegaard cross into the corner of the net to claim the points.
It was a fully-deserved result. Luton played a particularly unpleasant brand of football, as we’ve become all too accustomed to seeing from lesser sides against Arsenal’s talent. The home side tried to kick the Gunners off the pitch, clattering Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka at every opportunity and grabbing Gabriel Jesus and Kai Havertz every time they tried to glide past a defender. They played like Stoke 2.0, with their supporters stepping up as well. The home fans decided to boo every Arsenal player who had the temerity to get kicked, tripped, or otherwise fouled.
Luton Town had single digit touches in the Arsenal box, but thanks to David Raya’s generosity, got themselves three goals. The Spanish keeper had a dreadful outing. He flapped wildly at and got nowhere close to a corner kick on the second goal. He was beaten from a tight angle on an easily savable ball on the third. Poor marking from Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus allowed Luton a free header for their opener. Statistically (or probabalistically?), Luton score three goals from the chances they generated only 2.1% of the time. They were living a truly blessed existence this evening.
Arsenal were denied multiple penalty shouts in the second half. Jakub Kiwior, who may have been just outside the box, was clattered after beating a defender to the ball. Gabriel Magalhaes had his shirt nearly pulled off his back by his marker on a corner, who had a firm grasp of his wrist with the other hand for good measure. Bukayo Saka was cleaned out by a defender coming across the box late to try to cover him. It’s really difficult to square those penalties not being given when you look at what is given as a penalty elsewhere.
Critically, the referee got one thing correct: he added the time back that Luton wasted in added time. The Hatters substituted at the start of the additional time and delayed every restart. The referee indicated he was aware of the timewasting as it was happening, and those additional seconds were critical for the Gunners. Well done for that, I suppose.
It’s no accident Arsenal have made a habit of scoring late. Their suffocating play wears opponents down. Not for the first time this season, the Gunners were able to ratchet up the pressure as the clock ticked down and get the ball into dangerous areas seemingly at-will. When the legs get tired, the mind gets tired. Defenders make mistakes and can’t keep up with attackers. Martin Ødegaard had the legs to run around on the ball and serve it into the area deep in added time. The Luton players did not have the energy to challenge him nor to jump with Declan Rice.
Speaking of Ødegaard, we can officially declare him back. He was magnificent in the second half. Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus, and Gabriel Martinelli were all buzzing, too. Kai Havertz had his best game as an Arsenal player and scored another goal. Apart from David Raya’s nightmare outing, it was an evening of solid to excellent performances all over the pitch from the Gunners.
Two pieces of bad news from the evening: Mikel Arteta was given a yellow card for his celebrations of the late winner, meaning he will miss the Aston Villa match at the weekend for his third caution. He should have gotten in the face of a referee, screamed at him, and bumped into him like Erling Haaland did. Then he wouldn’t have been disciplined.
The other bit of bad news — Arteta told reporters after the match that Takehiro Tomiyasu’s scan revealed a calf injury that would keep the defender out “a while.”
But for now, let’s revel in another late Arsenal win. As I said, it was a deserved three points, but you don’t always get what you deserve in the Premier League. It looked like the Gunners were going to drop points to a bottom side, and they found a way to win. Arsenal move five points ahead of Liverpool and six points ahead of Manchester City, both of whom play later this week.