LONDON—Arsenal struck two late goals to escape with a point in a pulsating 3–3 home draw with bottom club Southampton but their Premier League title hopes suffered another setback on a Friday night of frazzled nerves in north London.
For much of a stomach-churning encounter it appeared Arsenal were self-destructing in their quest to hold off Manchester City and win the league for the first time since 2004.
They gifted a goal to Carlos Alcaraz after 28 seconds and were 2–0 down inside 15 minutes as former Arsenal forward Theo Walcott fired home to stun the home crowd.
Gabriel Martinelli struck back for the Gunners after 20 minutes but Ruben Selles’s Southampton refused to wilt and regained their two-goal lead in the 66th minute as substitute Duje Caleta-Car headed in at the back post.
The visitors, seeking a first win in seven league games in their desperate battle to extend their 10-year stay in the top flight, appeared to be heading for a priceless victory.
Many Arsenal fans were heading for the exits when captain Martin Odegaard curled a shot past Gavin Bazunu in the 88th minute to throw the hosts a lifeline.
And when Bukayo Saka equalised in the 90th minute the stadium was rocking on its foundations.
With the home fans willing Arsenal to find a winner, just as they did a month ago when coming back from two goals down against Bournemouth, they laid siege to the Southampton goal.
In eight nailbiting minutes of stoppage time Leandro Trossard hit the woodwork, fellow substitute Reiss Nelson’s shot was deflected agonisingly wide of the post and Gabriel Jesus was denied a spot kick after tumbling in a congested penalty area.
There was to be no final twist to the plot, however, and both sets of players looked spent at the final whistle, collapsing to the turf after a draw that did little to help either side in their very different objectives.
Arsenal increased their lead over reigning champions Manchester City to five points ahead of Wednesday’s blockbuster clash of the top two at The Etihad, although City now have two games in hand and are clear favorites for the title.
Southampton belied their precarious position with some courageous football, but remain bottom with 24 points, three below the safety zone having played a game more than those above them.
Despite the setback, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta remained defiant. “It hasn’t changed,” he said.
“Obviously the task is even bigger but now we have to do the simple things better and cut out mistakes. We made it very difficult again for ourselves but the way we reacted I love my players more than ever.”
Whatever happens over the next few weeks, a health warning should be issued to Arsenal fans of a nervous disposition.
Winning titles is not supposed to be easy, but the last three games have put Arsenal fans through the wringer.
Firstly back-to-back 2–2 away draws against Liverpool and West Ham United in which two-goal leads were squandered, allowed City to close the gap and gave Friday’s clash with Southampton a must-win feel for the London club.
Cool heads and clear focus were required but instead Arsenal suffered an horrific start with keeper Aaron Ramsdale’s casual pass going straight to Alcaraz who finished in style.
Sloppy Arsenal then turned over possession in the 14th minute and Alcaraz threaded a perfect pass to Walcott who did not even break stride before shooting into the corner.
Arsenal’s shell-shocked players gathered in a huddle to regain their composure and five minutes later the deficit was halved as Saka jinked to the byline and clipped back the perfect pass for Martinelli to sweep a finish past Bazunu.
Ramsdale redeemed himself with a double save to keep out Adam Armstrong’s header and Mohamed Elyounoussi’s follow-up volley and Alcaraz then proved a thorn in Arsenal’s side at the other end with a miraculous goalline clearance to keep out Ben White’s header from a Saka corner.
Arsenal looked down and out when Caleta-Car sent Southampton’s fans into delirium but their barnstorming finish stretched their unbeaten run to 10 games and maintained the belief that the title is still in reach.
By Martyn Herman