Son’s miss shows Premier League title race will be decided by inches

Football

LONDON — Premier League titles are won over a season, but there is always a decisive moment that points towards success or failure and, for a split second, Tottenham‘s Son Heung-Min had the destiny of Arsenal and Manchester City at his feet.

As he raced towards the Manchester City goal in the 86th minute at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Son would either nudge Arsenal towards their first championship in 20 years or inch City closer to their fourth successive title.

But the fact that City now face West Ham United at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday knowing that a win will ensure they become the first team in English football history to seal four titles in a row is down in a huge part to Son missing a golden chance to cancel out Erling Haaland‘s opening goal and equalise for Ange Postecoglou’s Spurs.

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With only substitute goalkeeper Stefan Ortega to beat, Son had both corners of the net to aim at. But he directed his low shot too close to Ortega, who blocked the effort with his outstretched right leg.

Had Son scored, the pendulum in the Premier League title race would have swung firmly back to Tottenham’s bitter rivals Arsenal by leaving City in second spot, behind the Gunners on goal difference going into the final game of the season. When Son bore down on goal, City manager Pep Guardiola held his head in his hands before throwing himself to the floor in a mixture of panic and relief when Ortega rescued his team.

You can only imagine how Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and his players reacted as the chance opened up for Son. Probably something along the lines of euphoria rapidly followed by agonising dejection. That was the moment that the title was truly in the balance — a split second almost at the end of a 38-game season.

But by the time the two sides left the pitch, City had sealed a 2-0 win. Haaland scored again, from the penalty spot of a Pedro Porro foul on Jérémy Doku, just four minutes after Son blew the chance to equalise. The cold reality of the final score doesn’t tell the story of what could have been for Spurs, and for Arsenal.

City won, they moved two points clear at the top and Arsenal now need West Ham to avoid defeat at the Etihad — the Hammers have lost their last seven league games away to City — to have any hope of finishing top. Arsenal must also beat Everton at home, too.

But the irony of Son’s miss is that it was celebrated by the Spurs fans. One post on X by the prominent Spurs fan account @HotspurRelated, published seconds after Son’s miss, showed the forward underneath a caption saying, “Our Captain.” It was dripping in sarcasm, as highlighted by the next post, an image of Son’s miss, alongside the words, “Hang it in the Louvre.”

It seemed that nobody inside the stadium, other than Spurs manager Postecoglou, was sad to see the forward miss. City fans were relieved and the Tottenham supporters were happy to avoid giving Arsenal a helping hand towards the title. Throughout the game, chants of “Stand Up if You Hate Arsenal” rang around the stadium. When the game was lost for Spurs, the home fans sang “Are you watching Arsenal?”

There was a certain relish in the fact that Spurs had not been able to disrupt City’s charge to the title, although the home side could have damaged Arsenal’s hopes much more had they not lost to them in the North London derby last month. For Postecoglou, the obsession with harming Arsenal rather than focusing on Tottenham’s own ambitions — a draw would have kept them in the hunt for Champions League qualification — was clearly a source of irritation.

“Outside, inside, everywhere,” Postecoglou said. “It’s been an interesting exercise. It’s my observations. You can make your assessment. I probably misread the situation. But that’s OK.

“Maybe I’m out of step but I just don’t care, I want to win. What other people, how they want to feel and what their priorities are, has zero interest to me.”

Despite the strange atmosphere inside the stadium, nobody could accuse Postecoglou’s players of not trying to get a positive result. Rodrigo Bentancur, Brennan Johnson and Son all forced important saves from Ederson before the City No.1 was forced to leave the field after being injured in a challenge with Bentancur.

Ortega then stepped into the breach and made a big save from Dejan Kulusevski before denying Son with four minutes to play. Had Spurs displayed any kind of ruthlessness in front of goal, it could have been a different story and Arsenal, rather than City, would have been going into the final game in pole position.

But it was City who took their chances when the big moments arrived. Haaland tapped in from close range on 51 minutes after latching onto Kevin De Bruyne‘s pass and the forward put the game beyond the home side’s reach when he scored from the spot in the first minute of stoppage time.

City did what they always do — they punished teams for their failure to take their own chances. But on this occasion, it is not the beaten team that is suffering the most for their wastefulness. It is Arsenal, Tottenham’s traditional rivals, who will now be having sleepless nights after this game.

Son might have them too, but it is Arsenal’s nightmare rather than his.

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