Arteta-time: How Arsenal became masters of late drama
In the seconds that followed Reiss Nelson’s extraordinary winner for Arsenal on Saturday afternoon, there were bodies on the floor, tears in the stands and, bizarrely, a child on the pitch. Such was the explosion of emotion inside the Emirates Stadium that no one seemed to notice the young boy wandering around the touchline.
It was Mikel Arteta who grabbed him in the end, leading him towards a security official as the players returned to their positions for the final few seconds of action. “I saw a kid next to me,” Arteta laughed afterwards. “It was crazy. You lose sight of where you are.”
There can be no preparing for the intensity of the joy that follows a stoppage-time winner, although Arsenal are certainly growing used to the feeling. Arteta’s side are developing a habit for late heroics — Arteta-time, perhaps? — and their willingness to fight until the end is fuelling their title charge.
This season, Arsenal have scored more winners in the 90th-minute or later than any other team in the division. They have done so three times in the last six weeks, against Manchester United, Aston Villa and now Bournemouth.
As ever with late goals, there is an element of fortune to it. But it is clearly so much more than that, and there are some footballing reasons for Arsenal becoming the masters of added-time drama.
Over the past 18 months, Arsenal have gradually become more and more dominant in matches. They are now at a point where, for much of this season, they have been able to pin opposition defences deep within their own half, suffocating them as the entire Arsenal team pushes high up the pitch. When they lose the ball in those moments, they inevitably win it back a few seconds later.
Over the course of 90 minutes, this becomes exhausting for their opponents. They cannot get out, and they cannot get hold of the ball. They are instead forced to chase from one Arsenal player to the next, maintaining their shape but also draining their legs (and minds) as they attempt to close down the gaps.
Arsenal’s stoppage-time winners in 2023 have come against United, Aston Villa and Bournemouth. In the second half of those matches, Arteta’s side has averaged 69 per cent of possession and played an average of 134 passes in the final third. Their opponents in those second halves, meanwhile, have played an average of just 30 passes in Arsenal’s final third.
The action is therefore all taking place in one part of the pitch, as Arsenal squeeze upfield and crank up the pressure. In the second halves of those three matches, Arteta’s side have taken a combined total of 49 shots. In each of those three games, the sheer weight and number of Arsenal attacks has eventually overwhelmed their opponents.
Arsenal were trailing 2-1 and in desperate need of a goal on Saturday when Ben White, their right-back, emerged at the back post to convert Nelson’s cross. It was the defender’s first goal for the club and only the fourth of his entire senior career, and it further underlined why Arsenal have become such a difficult team to stop.
White’s goal made him Arsenal’s 14th different scorer in the Premier League this season — more than any other team. There are threats all over the team, with no single player posing the biggest danger to an opponent.
Truly, they boast a multi-man attack: Gabriel Martinelli has 11 goals in the league, Bukayo Saka has 10 and Martin Odegaard has nine. And if you manage to stop those three, then Arsenal’s midfielders and defenders might hurt you instead.
The Emirates ‘energy’
Do late winners lead to more late winners? It certainly seems that way, especially when you consider the emotional and psychological impact of stoppage-time goals. On Saturday there was a clear sense of belief from the players and the supporters that another late win was possible, no doubt as a result of their recent victories over Aston Villa and United.
“We showed a lot of maturity and resilience to score the first goal,” said Arteta. “Once we did it, the atmosphere and the place changed, the energy.”
Arsenal did not panic in their pursuit of the decisive moment. They continued to play their passes, and kept looking for the spaces between the Bournemouth defenders. They now have an unshakeable faith in the club’s philosophy, and the same can be said for the vast majority of the supporters in the home crowd.
Time-wasting does not pay
Against Bournemouth, Arsenal’s third goal was scored after 96 minutes and 59 seconds. Against Aston Villa, their third was scored at 92 minutes and 34 seconds, and their fourth came after 97 minutes and 29 seconds.
In the case of Aston Villa, especially, Unai Emery’s side could only blame themselves for the amount of added time at the end of the game. Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, especially, attempted to waste as much time as possible during the second half, all of which was later added on at a moment of maximum exhaustion for his team-mates.
Bournemouth also tried to slow the game down as much as possible, albeit less blatantly than Martinez. They too paid the price, as stoppage time dragged out and their sapped players were eventually done by the relentlessness of Arsenal’s attack.