NOTTINGHAM, England (Reuters)
Arsenal’s last-flickering hopes of winning the Premier League were extinguished on Saturday by Nottingham Forest, whose 1-0 win courtesy of Taiwo Awoniyi secured their top-flight status.
Eight points clear at the top just two months ago, Mikel Arteta’s team have had a dismal end to the season, with their latest defeat ensuring what had become an inevitable-looking consecutive title for Manchester City.
“I congratulate Man City. They are the champions, they deserved to win,” a despondent Arteta said.
“I apologise because we generated the belief that we could do it, but we fell short and that is my responsibility.”
In contrast to the visitors’ despondency, Steve Cooper’s Nottingham Forest celebrated a remarkable survival after reaching 37 points to guarantee safety from relegation back to the second-tier Championship where they escaped a year ago.
“I can’t believe we kept a clean sheet!” quipped Cooper after pumping his fist at jubilant fans in the packed, sun-kissed City Ground on the banks of the River Trent.
“It’s a day for the supporters, a day for the players … Nobody’s given up, and in the end we’ve managed to get over the line. I’m really proud and really pleased.”
The game turned in the 19th minute when Arsenal’s normally brilliant midfielder Martin Odegaard made a rare mistake to give possession to Morgan Gibbs-White who drove forward before finding Awoniyi to poke the ball home and spark wild scenes.
Predictably, Arsenal dominated possession but were unable to make it count, with Gabriel Jesus thwarted several times by the excellent Keylor Navas in goal for the hosts. Forest played on the counter-attack, also carving out a string of chances.
The result put Arsenal second on 81 points with one game remaining, while Manchester City have 85 points and three matches left starting at home to Chelsea on Sunday.
Forest are 16th and six points clear of the bottom three, ensuring them a second year in the Premier League after a miserable 23-year absence.
“It’s a special feeling right now, we did it!” Gibbs-White told Sky Sports as fans danced in the stands.
“Without them, it wouldn’t have been possible. It’s the best crowd, the best fans in the league by a country mile.”
Awoniyi, who hit form just in time for Forest’s crucial run-got a stroke of luck for his goal: Arsenal defender Gabriel reached the ball just before him but struck it onto the striker’s leg before it went past Aaron Ramsdale.
Nottingham Forest’s measly 18% possession was the lowest on record by a winning side in the Premier League. But in truth they could have won by more against a subdued Arsenal, with Felipe seeing a shot deflected wide among their various chances.
And no one would deny Forest deserved their achievement after straining every sinew in recent weeks to pull off a survival few outside the city predicted.
Having signed more than two dozen new players this season, at vast cost, Forest will hope the bonding experience of avoiding relegation will ensure them a less scary ride next time.
Arsenal led the Premier League table for 248 days in 2022-23, the most for any team who then failed to win the title in English top-flight history.
Once the pain subsides, however, they will surely take pride in having improved hugely on recent years to come second in what many see as the world’s best domestic league and start planning how to go one better next season.