NOTTINGHAM, United Kingdom, May 20 (Reuters) – Arsenal’s last-ditch Premier League title aspirations were destroyed on Saturday by Nottingham Forest, who confirmed their top-flight survival with a 1-0 victory thanks to Taiwo Awoniyi.
Mikel Arteta’s club, which was eight points ahead at the top only two months ago, has had a dreadful season, with their latest loss securing what seemed to be an inevitable-looking successive triumph for Manchester City.
“I congratulate Manchester City. “They are the champions, and they deserved to win,” Arteta lamented.
“I apologise because we created the illusion that we could do it, but we fell short, and that is my fault.”
In contrast to the visitors’ despair, Steve Cooper’s Nottingham Forest were celebrating a stunning survival after accumulating 37 points to avoid relegation back to the second-tier Championship, from which they had escaped a year before.
“I can’t believe we kept a clean sheet!” Cooper said, raising his fist at the ecstatic crowd at the sun-kissed City Ground on the banks of the River Trent.
“It’s a day for the fans and a day for the players… Nobody has given up, and we have finally crossed the finish line. “I’m extremely proud and pleased.”
In the 19th minute, Arsenal’s typically superb midfielder Martin Odegaard made a rare error, allowing Morgan Gibbs-White to drive forward before finding Awoniyi to poke the ball in and trigger frenzied celebrations.
Arsenal controlled possession but failed to convert it, with Gabriel Jesus denied multiple occasions by the superb Keylor Navas in goal for the hosts. Forest used the counter-attack to create a number of opportunities.
Arsenal is now second on 81 points with one game remaining, while Manchester City is third on 85 points with three games remaining, beginning at home against Chelsea on Sunday.
‘SPECIAL FEELING’ Forest sit 16th in the table, six points clear of the bottom three, assuring a return to the Premier League after a terrible 23-year exile.
“It’s a special feeling right now, because we did it!” As spectators danced in the stands, Gibbs-White told Sky Sports.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without them.” It’s by far the finest audience, the best supporters in the league.”
Awoniyi, who rediscovered his form just in time for Forest’s critical run, scored thanks to a stroke of luck: Arsenal defender Gabriel grabbed the ball slightly ahead of him but smacked it off the striker’s thigh before it went past Aaron Ramsdale.
Nottingham Forest’s 18% possession was the lowest ever recorded by a Premier League winning team. But, against a sluggish Arsenal, they should have won by more, with Felipe seeing a shot deflected wide among their several opportunities.
And no one could argue that Forest earned their success after straining every sinew in recent weeks to pull off a survival that few outside the city expected.
Forest will hope that the bonding experience of surviving relegation will guarantee a less terrifying ride next time after signing more than two dozen new players this season at a high cost.
Arsenal led the Premier League table for 248 days in 2022-23, the longest in English top-flight history for a side that later failed to win the championship.
After the first shock wears off, they will undoubtedly take satisfaction in having progressed significantly in recent years to finish second in what many see as the world’s greatest domestic league and begin planning how to improve even more next season.