Mikel Arteta hails Arsenal's resilience and quality after dramatic late victory at Luton

Declan Rice scores in the 97th minute to secure a 4-3 win and move the Gunners five points clear at the top

Declan Rice scored the winning goal for Arsenal against Luton Town in the 97th minute. EPA
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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta praised his players' "resilience, character, and quality" after Declan Rice's last-gasp goal secured a thrilling 4-3 win against Luton Town in the Premier League on Tuesday.

Arsenal entered the half-time break at Kenilworth Road leading 2-1 following goals from Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus either side of Gabriel Osho's equaliser. But the league leaders soon trailled 3-2 after strikes by Elijah Adebayo and Ross Barkley. Kai Havertz soon pulled the Gunners level on the hour mark before England midfielder Rice grabbed the winner in the seventh minute of stoppage time to move Arsenal five points clear at the top of the table.

"I really enjoyed [it], especially the end," Arteta said. "The incredible thing about football, the emotions and the moments that you live together with a lot of people. It was a special night.

"Credit to Luton for the incredible atmosphere they created, the way they played, the way they were coached, they made life really difficult for us, but we found a win. The resilience, the character and quality that the team showed, and how much we wanted it, it was great."

Arsenal have been superb away from home since the start of last season – winning 17 away games in that period – and the Gunners' first trip to Kenilworth Road for 32 years brought their first victory at the venue since 1984.

They struck first in the 20th minute when Bukayo Saka weaved his way down the right flank for a low cross that Martinelli met with a scuffed finish into the bottom corner from 12 yards.

Undone by a well-worked corner routine, Arsenal were left flat-footed five minutes later as Osho found space to thump his header past goalkeeper David Raya from 10 yards for his first Premier League goal.

Jesus put Arsenal back ahead on the stroke of half-time with a close-range header from Ben White's looping cross.

Luton's set-piece prowess provided another plot twist in the 49th minute when Adebayo rose highest to head home from close-range after Raya flapped at Alfie Doughty's corner.

Rob Edwards' side lead the Premier League in set-piece goals this season, with over 50 per cent coming from free-kicks, corners and penalties.

The Hatters did not need to unleash their dead-ball excellence as they grabbed a third goal thanks to another Raya blunder in the 57th minute.

Former Chelsea midfielder Barkley glided away from White inside the area for a low shot that squirmed under Raya's weak attempted save.

But Arsenal were level again just three minutes later through Havertz, who poked home from close-range after Jesus showed impressive strength to hold off his marker before picking out the German's run.

Showing the fortitude of potential champions, Arsenal kept pushing for the winner and completed their spirited fightback in the seventh minute of stoppage-time.

Rice met Martin Odegaard's cross with a glancing header that nestled in the far corner as Arteta danced a jig of delight on the touchline.

While Arsenal returned to North London with all three points, fresh questions will be asked of goalkeeper Raya after another unconvincing performance.

The Spanish stopper joined the Gunners on an initial loan deal in the summer from Brentford, ahead of a reported £30 million permanent switch, and has been installed as the team's new No 1 ahead of Aaron Ramsdale. However, he has struggled for form and was at fault for Luton's second and third goals.

As he has for much of the season, Arteta was quick to defend Raya, saying: "We have to defend better the situations as a team. There are certain things leading to the goals and it’s not about blaming, we have never done it, and we’re not going to do it now. It’s about how the team reacts to that, because it’s going to happen, and I love that response."

However, when asked if his goalkeeper was at fault for Luton's second two goals, Arteta added: "I think we can defend the goals much better, that’s for sure."

Second-placed Liverpool can close the gap on Arsenal to two points when they take on Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Wednesday night, while champions Manchester City, in third and six points behind the Gunners, will aim to keep pace when they take on Aston Villa at Villa Park.

Updated: December 06, 2023, 4:22 AM