By Mark Mann-Bryans, PA
Arsenal’s Premier League title tilt stuttered yet again even after they came from behind to score two late goals and earn a battling point against bottom club Southampton.
Bukayo Saka’s last-minute equaliser earned the hosts a thrilling 3-3 draw that still hands the impetus to rivals Manchester City ahead of their clash at the Etihad Stadium next week.
Saints had looked on course for a shock win to move off the bottom of the table after Carlos Alcaraz opened the scoring inside a minute and then teed up former Arsenal forward Theo Walcott to double the lead.
Gabriel Martinelli pulled a goal back, but the hosts looked down and out when substitute Duje Caleta-Car headed home in the second half.
However, captain Martin Odegaard bent home a fine strike with two minutes to go before Saka turned in the late leveller before substitute Leandro Trossard rattled the crossbar in stoppage time.
The result leaves Arsenal five points clear of City at the summit, but they have now played two more games than their rivals, whom they meet on Wednesday.
Arsenal had let 2-0 leads slip in their last two games to draw with both Liverpool and West Ham, but they would not get the chance to make it a hat-trick.
Mikel Arteta would have been hoping for a simple evening but saw his side fall behind to a goal after just 27 seconds as goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale gifted possession to Alcaraz, who duly slotted home.
Walcott doubled the lead, leaving Gabriel Magalhaes trailing in his wake to finish coolly after latching on to an Alcaraz pass, with the Emirates Stadium stunned into silence.
Oleksandr Zinchenko called an impromptu huddle to rally the hosts and it worked in the short term at least as Martinelli turned home a Saka cross.
Ben White had a flicked header cleared off the line by Alcaraz in first-half stoppage time after Southampton had lost Jan Bednarek to a head injury.
With Arsenal toiling and visiting keeper Gavin Bazunu doing a fine job of holding up play, it was Southampton who struck again, Bednarek’s replacement Caleta-Car free to head home at the back post as Arsenal failed to deal with a corner.
Arteta threw on Trossard, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson in an attempt to set up a grandstand finish, but, after Gabriel Jesus had missed a couple of decent chances, it was skipper Odegaard whose curled finish gave them hope.
That hope would turn into a point as Nelson’s low shot was saved by Bazunu, only for Saka to react quickest and finish, before Trossard’s effort from the edge of the box cannoned off the woodwork.
Nelson then saw a shot bravely blocked behind by James Ward-Prowse as Saints held on for a point and Arsenal were left to rue another missed opportunity to put further daylight between themselves and City.