Nervous football Arsenal lose their grip with the summit in sight

By Martyn Hermann

LONDON (Reuters) – Even when Arsenal were building a daunting lead at the top of the Premier League and excitement was building in north London, some wondered whether Mikel Arteta’s side would be able to pull it off when the Manchester City would have turned up the pressure.

Until a week ago it looked like they were taking it all in stride as they arrived at Anfield on a run of seven consecutive league wins and then went 2-0 up against Liverpool in a glittering half hour.

Perhaps then the enormity of what was looming on the horizon – the first Scudetto since 2004 – began to make itself felt.

Liverpool came back to draw 2-2 and were unfortunate not to claim all three points as Arsenal visibly reduced.

When the Gunners took a 2-0 lead against West Ham United on Sunday, this time within 10 minutes, they appeared to have regained their composure after last weekend’s trauma in Merseyside.

But, once again, Arsenal stopped doing what they have done so well all season as the weight of expectations weighed on their shoulders and West Ham, much like Liverpool, took the opportunity to take control after to have been initially beaten.

An unnecessary penalty converted by Said Benrahma and a superb volley from Jarrod Bowen canceled out early goals from Gabriel Jesus and Martin Odegaard in a thrilling 2-2 draw.

To make matters worse Bukayo Saka had sent a penalty well wide a couple of minutes before Bowen equalised.

City, who have won six league games in a row and are four points behind Arsenal with one game to spare and a home game coming up against Arteta’s side, certainly need no help to win titles.

But Arsenal have offered the kind of gifts that Pep Guardiola’s ruthless side are unlikely to reciprocate as they look for a fifth Premier League crown in six seasons.


Arteta’s face at the final whistle said it all and he knows Arsenal have lost control of the title race.

The Spaniard wouldn’t accept that nerves were a factor, but he’s right to criticize his team’s lack of game management and killer instinct.

“When I see a team playing with that flow at 2-0, it’s certainly not the pressure,” Arteta told reporters. “It’s that we misunderstood what the game needed at the time.

“There’s a moment where you could go 3-1 up after 50 minutes and the game is probably over. Two minutes later you concede an equaliser. It’s part of football.

“My concern is that after 2-0 we made that huge mistake and didn’t understand what the game required.

“In that moment we gave them hope.”

It’s hard to imagine Manchester City dropping four points in consecutive games in which they led by two goals.

Arteta, who worked under Guardiola at City, knows that ruthlessness is needed in title fights.

“When the game is there to kill you have to do it. We didn’t do it today,” added the Spaniard.

“The last thing we want in our brains is to not have the confidence to kill the game when you can.”

Once the disappointment has eased, however, Arsenal are still in a strong position.

They host bottom club Southampton on Friday and, with City in the FA Cup semi-final next weekend, could head to the Etihad for what is being billed a title decider on April 26 with a seven-point lead over the champions, albeit from two more games.

If they do, the pressure could shift to Guardiola’s side who know they have little margin for error.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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