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Monday, June 24, 2024

‘Arsenal win ugly to take title race to the wire’

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Arsenal’s players celebrated in the driving rain after their vital victory at Manchester United [Getty Images]Arsenal have rarely been accused of winning ugly but it was a charge they will joyfully accept after a 1-0 victory at Manchester United befitting that unflattering description – and then some.Mikel Arteta’s side were scrappy and well below their fluent best against a desperately poor United but this was three points that meant the world to them.This eyesore of a game was settled by Leandro Trossard’s 20th-minute swoop at the near post after Casemiro fell asleep – not literally of course – in unforgivable fashion to play Kai Havertz onside.Casemiro, a sad and fading shadow of the great player who bestrode Real Madrid’s midfield through their Champions League glories, simply strolled out.Havertz initially looked well offside until a glance revealed the dawdling veteran playing him on, leaving Trossard the grateful beneficiary.Manchester City still hold the cards, with the destiny of the title in their own hands.But if Tottenham can somehow do north London rivals Arsenal a favour against Pep Guardiola’s reigning champions on Tuesday then that first Premier League title in 20 years will come within touching distance.Arteta says title still ‘possible’ – but what chance do Arsenal have?’So bad’ – is this Man Utd team really ‘one of the worst ever’? City have only won once in six visits to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. These are the sort of statistics Arsenal will be poring over as they search every avenue for hope.If Arsenal are indeed looking for fate to play a hand, this was a day when even the gods were on the Gunners’ side after Manchester was hit by a huge late storm that left the playing surface waterlogged – and surely unplayable – 30 minutes after the final whistle.The end came just in time – no-one was raining on this Arsenal parade.The closing phase of a tense encounter lacking in quality was played out under leaden skies amid stifling humidity – thunder and lightning flashing around Old Trafford while rain battered down on a roof that has been known to spring a few leaks in the past.It did not matter a jot to Arsenal’s players, fans or management when referee Paul Tierney sounded the final whistle after six minutes of added time.Arteta’s trademark black sweater and trousers were drenched by the deluge, but the manager was past caring.Prospect of a thrilling finale awaitsArsenal’s ugly win came on an ugly day but it has set the stage perfectly for the final day of the season.They have asked Manchester City the question. It is one they have answered successfully so often in the past but all Arsenal could do was put it in front of them and, in this context, it was mission accomplished.It all came on a ground where they have suffered in the past, with only two wins in their past 17 visits, and even when not at their best Arsenal were still able to expose the chasm that currently exists between themselves and United, a club that naturally regards itself as rivals.The Gunners looked set for a stroll after Trossard’s strike but they could not quite see United off with a second goal, their threat only resurfacing late on as United keeper Andre Onana was finally forced into action.Arsenal were nervy and unconvincing but they have now won 15 of their past 17 games in the face of the usual sustained Manchester City assault at this stage of the season, banishing the label of “chokers” that was attached to them when they slipped up late last season.Arsenal fans are hoping their club can land the Premier League title for the first time since 2003-04 [Getty Images]If there is one result they may live to regret it might be the home loss to Aston Villa on 14 April but now is not the time to dwell on that setback, with everything still to fight for.Once again, against an admittedly flimsy challenge, Arsenal’s central defensive partnership of Gabriel and William Saliba looked formidable. For all their attacking flourishes, this has been the bedrock of the title pursuit, along with the extra dimension of solidity provided by Declan Rice.Even if Arsenal are not celebrating a title triumph after Sunday’s final game at home to Everton, Arteta’s men have proved their character and resilience as well as confirming this is a club and a team heading in an upward trajectory.This is all for another day.Arsenal did what they had to do, even if it was not pleasing on the eye, and now the show will move on to next Sunday with every prospect of a thrilling finale.Latest Arsenal news, analysis and fan viewsGet Arsenal news sent straight to your phone

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