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.
By contrast to the visitors’ despondency, Steve Cooper’s Nottingham Forest were celebrating a remarkable survival after reaching 37 points to guarantee safety from relegation back to the second-tier Championship where they escaped a year ago.
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 on the pitch after the game as fans danced in the stands and Cooper pumped his fist in joy at the packed, sun-kissed stadium on the banks of the River Trent.
“From the first game to the last, the fans have been incredible. Without them, it wouldn’t have been possible. It’s the best crowd, the best fans in the league by a country mile.”
Defender Joe Worrall was equally ecstatic: “It’s been a tough season. This means so much to so many people. It’s absolutely fantastic. The future is bright.”
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.
But in truth, Forest could have won by a larger margin, a Felipe shot deflected wide among 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.