LONDON — Reiss Nelson scored a dramatic 97th-minute winner as Arsenal came from two goals down to beat AFC Bournemouth 3-2 on Saturday to reestablish a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League.
Philip Billing scored the second-fastest goal in the division’s history, after just 9.11 seconds, to give the relegation-threatened visitors a surprise lead at the break before Marcos Senesi converted a 57th-minute corner to extend their advantage. However, Thomas Partey halved the deficit with a close-range finish on 62 minutes before two substitutes combined as Nelson crossed for Ben White to side-foot home a 70th-minute equaliser.
Just as it appeared Arsenal would drop two precious points in the title race, Bournemouth could only clear a Martin Odegaard corner to the edge of the box, where Nelson took aim to score his first Premier League goal since October, sparking jubilant scenes at Emirates Stadium.
1. Arsenal leave it late again
If last month’s stoppage-time win at Aston Villa proves a pivotal moment in Arsenal’s season, then Saturday’s stunning comeback will be its equal at the very least. The atmosphere inside Emirates Stadium at full-time was nothing short of euphoric, securing the win so many anticipated before kick-off but in a manner nobody could have predicted: a last-gasp goal from a player on the periphery all season suddenly taking centre stage.
Mikel Arteta has repeatedly spoken about Arsenal developing a winning mentality to last the pace in the title race by overcoming difficult experiences, and Bournemouth made this tougher than most expected, leading 2-0 with an hour played. Yet just as they recovered at Villa Park, the Gunners kept playing here — finishing the afternoon with 31 shots, the highest number by any Premier League team this season — and found a way to get over the line, Nelson’s goal sparking an explosion of relief and joy as Arsenal’s backroom staff flooded the pitch and fans stared at the pitch after the final whistle in sheer disbelief at what they had seen.
On the face of it, beating 19th-placed Bournemouth at home is routine, but the way they achieved it will trigger a surge in self-belief that this could yet be their year. Saturday was the first time they have won a game in which they trailed by two or more goals at half-time since February 2012, spanning 65 matches.
2. Gunners’ squad players step up
Before Saturday, Nelson had played 64 minutes of Premier League football all season. The 23-year-old was the most unlikely hero on a day when Arteta shuffled the pack, partly through necessity and partly design, as they faced their third game in eight days.
Not all his decisions paid off.
Takehiro Tomiyasu was substituted at half-time in place of White after a disappointing showing, while Fabio Vieira did not make the most of a rare start in midfield. Emile Smith Rowe, making just his eighth outing of the season following groin surgery, was introduced early on for the injured Leandro Trossard and he lasted 47 minutes in a subdued display. But Smith Rowe did provide the assist for Partey’s goal, which proved the catalyst for Arsenal’s comeback before Nelson crossed for White to equalise.
Nelson’s winner was reward for the his commitment to his technique, opting not to thrash at the ball but set himself before drilling a superb shot past Neto. There is still a considerable distance to travel, but Arsenal’s title hopes will be aided considerably if the fringe players can make such game-changing contributions; it is also indicative of the togetherness Arteta has created that multiple players are able to come in from the cold and perform like this.
3. Arsenal need to rediscover their defensive resilience
Dominic Solanke has scored just three Premier League goals all season yet he was able to make the most of Bournemouth’s sporadic counterattacking threat to cause regular concern in Arsenal’s defence. Solanke’s name is added to the list of strikers containing Ivan Toney, Erling Haaland and Ollie Watkins, all of whom have made Gabriel and William Saliba look more uncertain than at any other points in the campaign so far.
Only Newcastle United (17) have conceded fewer goals than Arsenal in the league this season with their defending providing the foundation of their improbable title challenger. They were caught out from kickoff here, though, a clever Bournemouth move from the outset as they lined up to overload on the left but moved the ball right, crossing for Billing to finish. Only Shane Long (for Southampton against Watford in 7.69 seconds in April 2019) has scored a quicker goal in Premier League history.
The home side’s desperate pursuit of parity perhaps led them to take more risks at the back than otherwise planned for, but nevertheless, it was surely alarming for Arteta that a team as limited as Bournemouth caused them so many problems on the break.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Reiss Nelson, Arsenal. Came off the bench to assist the equaliser and score the winner: a remarkable substitute cameo.
BEST: Marcos Senesi, Bournemouth. More clearances (11) than any other Bournemouth player and was at the heart of the visitors’ rearguard action while also scoring at the other end.
BEST: Thomas Partey, Arsenal. Scored the goal that started the comeback and made sure Arsenal kept probing for a winner.
WORST: Takehiro Tomiyasu, Arsenal. Substituted at half-time and produced one of the worst crosses in Premier League history, knocking it straight out of play.
WORST: Lewis Cook, Bournemouth. Unable to stem the tide as a second-half substitute as Bournemouth were pushed back.
WORST: Fabio Vieira, Arsenal. Struggled to impose himself in a game played a high tempo, winning just 38.5% of his duels.
Highlights and notable moments
Fighting back from two goals down to draw level, only for Nelson to deliver a winner with practically the final kick of the game? It was a script writer’s dream in North London on Saturday.
Reiss Nelson came on in the 69th minute.
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) March 4, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
Nelson: “It’s amazing. When the ball came out to me I eyed it up. Everyone went crazy when it went in. It’s a great moment for me. I have been here all my life and it means a lot to me. I’m just happy. I’m delighted.”
Arteta: “I’m incredibly happy. It was just mad. Those feelings of happiness and joy. It was a really special way and it took until the last second to earn it. I am really proud of [the players]. They never gave up. There is nothing like sharing those great moments with your people. I’m so happy for [Nelson].
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– Bournemouth’s goal was 9.11 seconds into the match. It is the Cherries’ third goal in the Premier League within the first minute, and the second-fastest goal scored in league history.
– That goal was Arsenal’s eighth allowed all time in the first minute of a Premier League match. Only Everton (10) and Newcastle United (9) have allowed more in the competition’s history.
– This win was the first time Arsenal had come back from two goals down to claim all three points in the Premier League since Feb. 26, 2012, against Tottenham Hotspur.
– Arsenal’s game winner was the 119th stoppage-time goal they’ve scored in the Premier League, 11 more than any other team (Man United).
Arsenal: The Gunners begin their Europa League campaign in the round of 16 on Thursday, when they travel to Lisbon to take on Sporting CP.
Bournemouth: The Cherries return to Premier League play on Saturday, when they welcome Liverpool to the South Coast.