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A special night – Mikel Arteta savours late Declan Rice winner

Declan Rice, right, scored Arsenal’s last-gasp winner at Luton (Joe Giddens/PA)
Declan Rice, right, scored Arsenal’s last-gasp winner at Luton (Joe Giddens/PA)

Mikel Arteta hailed a “special night” for Arsenal after Declan Rice’s headed goal seven minutes into stoppage time secured a sensational 4-3 win against Luton at Kenilworth Road.

Rice climbed to nod home Martin Odegaard’s cross and seal a victory that sent his team five points clear at the top of the Premier League.

That outcome had looked unlikely when Ross Barkley squeezed a shot through goalkeeper David Raya to put the hosts 3-2 up early in the second half and send home fans into delirium.

But Arteta said: “I really enjoyed it, especially the end.

“It’s the incredible thing about football, emotions and the moments that you live together. It was a special night.

“Credit to Luton for the incredible atmosphere that they created and the way they played. They made life really difficult for us. But we found a way to win. The resilience and the the character and the quality showed.

“Playing every three days, and we have to win every game, the demands are there. It’s the way (the players) go about it, how much they want it.

“Today we conceded some goals we’ll be disappointed with. That’s part of it as well, it’s going to happen. It’s how we react to that.”

Arsenal had opened the scoring when Gabriel Martinelli tapped home after being set up by a low cross from Bukayo Saka, though Luton hit back quickly when Gabriel Osho headed in from a corner to make it 1-1.

Arteta’s side regained the lead before the break, Gabriel Jesus nodding beyond Thomas Kaminski at the far post after good link-up play between Saka and Ben White on the right, but they were again pegged back shortly after half-time by Elijah Adebayo who out-jumped the goalkeeper to equalise.

Barkley’s goal, an effort straight at Raya that passed through his hands and under his body, put Rob Edwards’ side in sight of a famous victory.

That lead was wiped out within minutes when Kai Havertz scored his third goal in four games, beating Kaminski to the ball to score from Jesus’s dinked pass into the box.

Then late drama as Rice’s intervention with virtually the game’s final touch broke Luton hearts and extended Arsenal’s winning run to four league games.

Mikel Arteta, centre, celebrates with his players at full-time
Mikel Arteta, centre, celebrates with his players at full-time (Joe Giddens/PA)

It was the fourth league game this season in which Arsenal scored a winning goal beyond the 85th minute after similarly late shows against Brentford, Manchester City and Manchester United, with Rice scoring in the 96th minute against the latter.

“We don’t want to draw, we want to win,” said Arteta. “That drive, that energy, that risk and that emotion we put in the pitch, you can sense it.

“We should have scored before with the chances that we had. We didn’t, but we tried until the end and we got rewarded.

The manager would not be drawn on the performance of Raya, who was arguably at fault for two of Luton’s goals.

He added: “It’s not about blaming, we’ve never done it and we’re not going to do it now. It’s about how the team reacts to that. I loved that response. I think we can defend much better there, for sure.”

Luton boss Edwards reflected on a game from which his team can take confidence despite a disappointing conclusion.

Luton manager Rob Edwards reacts after the final whistle
Luton manager Rob Edwards reacts after the final whistle (Joe Giddens/PA)

“I didn’t know what to say to the lads afterwards,” he said. “I’m proud. We mustn’t let that one moment affect us too much, we’ve got to look at the bigger picture.

“They did exactly what we asked of them and gave everything. We’ve just come up short tonight.

“We made it a really uncomfortable night for them, we tried to make it chaotic, be aggressive and brave. We can take some positivity from it, and we have to.”