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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at Emirates Stadium

Almost as good as the Invincibles - but it's still not quite enough to get superb Arsenal past remorseless Man City

Arsenal (1) 2 Tomiyasu 43, Havertz 89

Everton (1) 1 Gueye 40

Two minutes. That's all the time it took for those slender hopes to pretty much vanish into the ether.

The pre-match atmosphere around the Emirates was electric and even if few entering the stadium truly believed the Gunners could end the day at the summit, it would have been nice to prolong the illusion just a little longer on a sun-lit afternoon.

As it was, Phil Foden scored for Man City after less than 120 seconds to puncture the ebullient mood and after 18 minutes, the title was pretty much confirmed as news emerged that the striker had bagged another at the Etihad. So much for last day drama and Super Sundays.

"You nearly won the league!" sang taunting Toffees fans - one of those refrains beloved of Man City followers these days. You get mocked more for going close than for missing by a mile in the tribal world of English football.

With a sense of deflation in the air, it was no real surprise when Everton went in front. They had already gone close through Dominic Calvert-Lewin, with his shot against an upright and follow-up into the side-netting, when they took the lead.

Thomas Partey tripped Dwight McNeil outside the box and Idrissa Gueye's free-kick ricocheted off the head of Declan Rice to wrong-foot David Raya and find the net.

All over? Not quite. Takehiro Tomiyasu converted a cross from Martin Odegaard and news came through of a Mo Kudus goal in Manchester. Half the necessary goal swing had happened.

The stadium became feverish as rumours spread of a Hammers equaliser. But in the end that was as close we came to a last day miracle. The unbeatable killjoy that is Rodri made it 3-1 to City and it was Poznan time again in the north west.

Arsenal did their best to sign off with a win, even though not quite at their best and they managed it.

Kai Havertz and sub Emile Smith Rowe both struck the woodwork, although much of the tension had left the game by then. At least the Gunners had the satisfaction of getting a late winner when Havertz followed up to put away a loose ball after Odegaard had been set up for a run by Gaby Jesus.

The match ended in defiant acclaim from the stands for Mikel Arteta and this fine Arsenal team, who managed their second highest points total of the Premier League era. He received rapturous applause from fans when he took the mic after the match to thank supporters for their backing.

Only time will tell whether the Manchester City era comes to be seen as a footballing equivalent of the Lance Armstrong Years in cycling, but Arsenal can at least say they came mightily close to scaling the mountain in first place.

When The Gunners strode through their unbeaten season last time they were crowned champions in 2004, they accumulated 90 points and 26 wins. This year, they finish with only one point fewer than their legendary side and have grabbed more wins (28 after today's final day fixture).

By any metric, that should be enough to win the Premier League. But of course we are in an era when the playing field has simply not felt level and the incredible team built by Pep Guardiola - whether by fair means or foul - has been brilliant enough to even stop one team from claiming the title after amassing 97 points.

That was the Liverpool side of 2019, who found that even a superhuman effort was not quite enough. City have now won the crown six times in seven seasons. Only Liverpool's Covid-year success in 2020 has bucked the trend.

So it has been with Arsenal in this campaign. There can be no suggestions of bottling it when they lost only once in the league since the turn of the year, winning 16 out of 17. Only the 0-0 draw at Man City stands alongside the home defeat to Aston Villa last month among the lost points.

Not only that, but they went unbeaten against City, United, Liverpool and Chelsea, beating each of them at least once. Only those silly dropped points against Fulham and West Ham after Christmas wrecked the final outcome. In short, there wasn't much else they could have done.

Gunners: (4-3-3) David Raya - White Timber 69), Saliba, Gabriel (Zinchenko 60), Tomiyasu - Odegaard, Partey (Smith Rowe 69), Rice - Trossard (Jesus 78), Havertz, Martinelli

Toffees: (4-4-1-1) Pickford - Coleman, Tarkowski, Branthwaite, Young - Garner, Gueye, Onana, McNeil - Doucoure - Calvert-Lewin (Chermiti 74)


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