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Rice right on time in Arsenal escape act

Updated: 2023-12-07 10:24
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Declan Rice leaps in celebration after netting Arsenal's stoppage-time winner at Luton Town on Tuesday. A 4-3 victory sent the Gunners five points clear at the top of the English Premier League standings. REUTERS

Midfielder's dramatic winner sends Gunners five points clear at top

As soon as the ball hit the back of the net, Arsenal goalkeeper David Raya sprinted the length of the field to celebrate the last-gasp winner with his jubilant teammates.

No player will have been more relieved than Raya to see Declan Rice's glancing header creep into the corner and seal a chaotic 4-3 Premier League win over Luton Town at Kenilworth Road on Tuesday.

"Luton are a top side and they can't be overlooked in this league for the quality they have," Rice told Amazon Prime.

"To score in the last minute and keep the momentum building, it's massive for us.

"Those are the moments you look back on. What a game. To score the winner is an honor."

While Rice is proving value for money after his club-record signing in July, Raya — another offseason recruit — remains an issue for Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta as the team bids to win the league title after last season's near miss.

"Incredible evening. First of all, congratulations to Luton, their players, staff, the atmosphere they created made it a special night to play football and they made it very hard for us," Arteta said.

"They are so good at set pieces and they made us really fight for the game and at the end it was a beautiful win."

Luton remains fourth from bottom with nine points and while the defeat stung, manager Rob Edwards was rightly proud of his players who gave Arsenal a real scare.

"Arsenal wanted a game of order and we made it chaotic at times," Edwards said. "I don't think that has ever happened to me, conceding that late to lose a game so I'm flat right now."

Arsenal moved five points clear with its fourth straight victory in the league, overcoming errors from Raya that led to two goals for Luton by netting in the seventh minute of stoppage time through England international Rice.

"The spirit of the team — how we fought, showed our quality in the right moments and never gave up," Arteta said. "We went for it and got our rewards."

Arteta chose not to talk about the mistakes by Raya, which looked like they would be costly for Arsenal.

The team was leading 2-1 in the 49th minute when the Spanish goalkeeper was beaten in the air at a corner by Elijah Adebayo, who powered in a header for an equalizer.

Eight minutes later, Raya allowed a shot by Ross Barkley to go under his body as he dived to his left.

Luton, a promoted team likely to be battling relegation this season, was suddenly 3-2 ahead and Raya didn't know where to look.

Kai Havertz scored an equalizer almost immediately, though, and incessant pressure in the final minutes ended with Martin Odegaard whipping in a cross and Rice rising to flick a header into the bottom corner, sparking wild celebrations in the away end and jeers from Luton fans. The goal came after the six allotted minutes of stoppage time had expired.

Arsenal has won nine points from goals in the last five minutes of games this season, a good sign for a club looking to win the league for the first time since 2004.

Arteta now has to decide what to do with Raya, who has taken the place of Aaron Ramsdale since arriving from Brentford. He is considered better with his feet than Ramsdale, but has produced errors in other parts of his game, like being caught completely out of position to let in a cross from Mykhailo Mudryk in a match at Chelsea in October.

However, Arteta refused to play the blame game.

"We have to defend better the situations as a team. There are certain things leading to the goals and it's not about blaming, we have never done it, and we're not going to do it now," Arteta told reporters when asked about Raya's display.

"It's about how the team reacts to that, because it's going to happen, and I love that response."

Arteta was far keener to talk about the mental fortitude of his side who refused to accept dropped points at Kenilworth Road — a ground Arsenal had not won at since 1984.

"We don't want a draw, we want to win! That drive, that energy, that risk and emotion that we put in the pitch, you can sense it," Arteta said.

"Today we conceded some goals that we are going to be disappointed with but that's part of it as well. It's going to happen and how we react to that, and it was great."

Touchline ban

The Gunners next travel to Aston Villa on Saturday, when Arteta will be banned from the touchline after being booked for his overzealous celebration after Rice's winner.

Arteta charged down the touchline and stepped onto the pitch before celebrating with staff, for which he was shown his third yellow card of the season, which automatically results in a touchline ban.

Asked if his celebration was worth it, Arteta replied: "Yeah, I could not be sitting on my seat, unfortunately... I had no spatial awareness at all. It was just pure emotion. So if that's a yellow, OK, it's a yellow."

Hwang's hot streak

South Korea boasts two of the leading scorers in the Premier League this season.

While Tottenham's Son Heungmin isn't too much of a surprise, Wolverhampton Wanderers' Hwang Hee-chan certainly is.

Hwang made it eight goals in 15 games in this campaign with the first-half winner in Wolves' 1-0 victory over Burnley at Molineux.

That's as many league goals as he managed in his first two full seasons for Wolves after joining from RB Leipzig in August 2021, initially on loan.

Hwang is one goal behind Son, with only Mo Salah (10) and Erling Haaland (14) ahead of them.


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