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Rare Old Trafford victory sees Arsenal take title race to the wire

Updated: 2024-05-14 09:11
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Arsenal's Gabriel Jesus (left) tussles for the ball with Manchester United's Rasmus Hojlund during an English Premier League match at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, on Sunday. Leandro Trossard scored in the 20th minute to give the Gunners a crucial 1-0 victory. AP

MANCHESTER, England — It's going down to the wire.

Arsenal ensured the Premier League title race will go to the last day of the season after returning to the top of the standings with a 1-0 win at Manchester United on Sunday.

Leandro Trossard's 20th minute winner at Old Trafford means the Londoners will take defending champion Manchester City to the final round of games on May 19.

Arsenal has 86 points with one game left in the tightest title race in years, while City remains in the driving seat with 85 points and two matches to play. Arteta said that Arsenal's season finale against Everton will be a moment to cherish.

"Today we wanted to really knock (at) that door and open that box of dreams and live the last and final day of the season in front of our fans with the opportunity to win the Premier League," Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. "Everything is at stake. We have had no margin for error since January."

Anything other than a win for Arsenal against United could have seen City clinch the title with victory at Tottenham on Tuesday. Arteta's team duly delivered and moved one point clear at the top.

Arsenal will host Everton in the final round, when City plays at home against West Ham after Tuesday's game at Spurs.

City, which is aiming for an unprecedented fourth consecutive English top-flight title, can retake the lead if it beats Arsenal's archrival Tottenham in London on Tuesday.

History did not favor Arsenal on Sunday, as it had won on just one of its previous 16 trips to Old Trafford.

"Today we had to play in a really special place where our history was not very optimistic about what could happen, but we found a way to win it," Arteta said. "That says a lot about how much the team wants it."

A draw could have set City up to clinch the title with a victory on Tuesday, and the high stakes made for some nervy moments for Arteta and his men.

"Because, at the end you know what the consequences are to draw," he said. "When you are there and you really want it ... (but) I felt the team was in a really good head space before the game."

Arsenal's victory on Sunday was a club record 27th this season in the Premier League. It topped that mark twice in the old First Division, back in 1970-71 (29 wins) and 1930-31 (28).

"That's not progress, that's history," a proud Arteta said. "That's very difficult to do, especially in the league where we are playing now. It's a big compliment to all the players and staff for what they've done."

Asked if fifth-placed Tottenham could secure any points against City, Arteta said: "My experience in this league is that any team can beat any team.

"I've lived it. Various scenarios in the last day when a lot of teams have necessities. The margin of respect that everybody puts into those games is phenomenal. We know we need a result. We still need to do our own thing in the last game."

For now, Arsenal has done all it can to keep the pressure on Pep Guardiola's team — improving on last season, when it suffered a late collapse to allow City to wrap up a third successive title with three games to spare.

While the title is still in City's hands, it will have to win its remaining two games to be certain of writing itself into the record books.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is aiming to be crowned champion for the first time since 2004, when Arsene Wenger's team went an entire league campaign without defeat to earn the nickname "The Invincibles".

The current class cannot match that feat, but with 27 wins and 89 goals, it has set two new club records in the Premier League era.

The visit to Old Trafford always looked like Arsenal's biggest test during the run-in, and history was not on its side. Despite it's dismal record in the red half of Manchester, it was still the favorite to overcome a United team that had been ruthlessly exposed by Crystal Palace earlier in the week in a 4-0 rout at Selhurst Park.

Casemiro, who had received heavy criticism for his performance as a makeshift centerback against Palace, was culpable again for Arsenal's winner, when he was slow to push up and played Kai Havertz onside. The Germany forward took advantage and drove into the box, before crossing for Trossard to convert from close range.

With so much at stake, the tension appeared to get to Arsenal's players, who could not build on that early advantage, and instead ceded long periods of possession to United.

Still, United rarely looked likely to open up its opponent, and it was Arsenal that came closest to adding to its lead in the second half through substitute Gabriel Martinelli and Declan Rice.

United slump

Defeat for United was another blow for under-pressure manager Erik ten Hag, whose team lost its 14th league game this season and extended a damaging run that has seen it win just one of its last eight games in England's top division.

While Ten Hag has the FA Cup final against City to look forward to at the end of the season, there was little to encourage co-owner Jim Ratcliffe, who was in the crowd along with Keir Starmer, leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party.

With two games remaining in the league, United is eighth in the standings and in danger of missing out on European soccer next season. United has never finished lower than seventh in the Premier League era.

But, Ten Hag believes he still has the backing of the club's fans.

"They understand where we are and where this club is. We have so many injuries in key areas they (the fans) don't get what (they) deserve, but they understand this, and that is why they are behind the team," he said. "I think that is why they are with us, we are united, and hopefully we can pay them back in the future."

Ratcliffe was in attendance at Old Trafford rather than at Wembley with 76,000 others to see the club's women win their first-ever major trophy after beating Tottenham 4-0 in the Women's FA Cup final.

The work that lies ahead of Ratcliffe has been laid bare in recent weeks, and he saw first hand the improvements that are also required at Old Trafford as rain started pouring through the leaking roof when the sun turned to a thunderstorm.

Alejandro Garnacho was United's one live wire, but Arsenal was rarely seriously troubled as it held out for a sixth clean sheet in its last seven away league games.


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