Arsenal wrestle ghost of old habits as goalkeeper nightmare threatens to spook title bid

Arsenal's performances this season have been all about control, but this was a night of chaos.

In the end, the Gunners left Luton with a win that moves them five points clear at the top of the Premier League — and Mikel Arteta will be a relieved man.

The same goes for David Raya, whose two errors in the second half handed Luton a 3-2 lead.

Not for the first time, Declan Rice was Arsenal’s saviour, as he scored late in added time. The goal sparked wild celebrations during which Arteta was booked for his reaction on the touchline.

It was the Spaniard’s third yellow of the season, meaning he will banned from the touchline for Saturday’s game at Villa Park, but he has no regrets.

“I could not be sitting on my seat, unfortunately,” Arteta said. “I had no spatial awareness at all. It was just pure emotion. So, if that’s a yellow, okay it’s a yellow.”

Arsenal have made a habit of scoring late goals this season. Nine of the 33 they have managed in the League have been in the 84th minute or later and it has earned them an extra nine points.

That could be crucial come the end of the season and it is easy to see why some will view this win as a sign of Arsenal’s title credentials. They will truly be tested at Villa Park — and it is fitting the Gunners face a reunion with former boss Unai Emery, because this performance was a throwback to his days at Arsenal.

Games under Emery often resembled basketball matches and individual errors also proved a constant thorn in his side.

Arsenal, especially this season, have become a controlled team under Arteta, but last night they slipped back into old habits. For that, credit must partly go to the home side, whose direct and physical approach unsettled Arsenal. The atmosphere drummed up by the home fans at Kenilworth Road fuelled the chaos.

Arsenal arrived at Luton with the best defence in the League and having conceded three goals away from home all season. In the space of 57 minutes, that tally was doubled — and the frustration for Arsenal is that all of Luton’s goals were avoidable.

For Luton’s first, Gabriel Martinelli lost Gabriel Osho far too easily and the defender was able to head home from a corner. Arsenal were undone by another set-piece for Luton’s second. Raya came to claim a corner, but he was beaten to it by a towering Elijah Adebayo.

At that point, Luton had their tails up after coming back from 2-1 down to level the game. The crowd was on top of Arsenal and Raya was at fault yet again as he allowed Ross Barkley’s shot to squirm under him.

It was a shaky performance from the Spaniard that will reignite the debate around whether he or Aaron Ramsdale should be Arsenal’s No1. Arteta said this week he wants Ramsdale to stay and, on the evidence of last night, the England goalkeeper can justifiably feel he deserves another chance to prove himself.

Whether the 25-year-old gets that opportunity or not remains to be seen, but either way the goalkeeping situation is proving problematic for Arteta. Neither Raya nor Ramsdale looks confident.

For all Arsenal’s troubles at the back last night, they looked sharp going forward. They have now scored 12 goals in their last three games and question marks over the attack are gone. Gabriel Jesus led the line brilliantly, getting a goal and setting up Kai Havertz to make it 3-3 on the hour mark. Havertz was equally impressive and now has three goals in his past four games.

It was Rice, however, who turned out to be the hero, and his goal was a reminder of how this is not the Arsenal team of old.

In seasons gone by, Arsenal would have crumbled at 3-2 or settled for a point when they had levelled the game.

Arteta’s side, however, do not have that mindset and Rice’s excellent header from Martin Odegaard’s cross was just reward for their refusal to give up.

“The way we want to play, we are never satisfied with a draw — we want to win games,” said Arteta. “It was a beautiful match of football.”