By Rob Kelly at Etihad Stadium
Olivier Giroud and Alexis were on target as Arsenal drew 2-2 with Manchester City in a thrilling clash at the Etihad Stadium.
The result leaves the Gunners needing a win on the final day to seal automatic entry to next season’s Champions League - while the possibility of leapfrogging Tottenham into second remains too.
An end-to-end game got off to a ferociously fast start, with the hosts on the front foot and claiming first blood when Sergio Aguero flashed a shot into the bottom corner.
Arsene Wenger’s side were back on level terms within two minutes when Giroud showed more hunger than anyone in the City area to power a Mohmed Elneny corner into the roof of the net.
It was the France international’s first Premier League goal in close to four months, and it capped an impressive showing up front.
The pace of the game showed no signs of letting up after the restart, with City soon back in front when Kevin de Bruyne beat Petr Cech from the edge of the area.
But back Arsenal came, with Giroud’s brilliant flick finding Alexis and the Chile international equalised with a cool finish.
Both sides threw everything at it in the closing stages as they sought a winner, with Wilfried Bony coming closest with a shot that rattled the crossbar.
But in the end it could prove a useful point for the Gunners, who only need navigate one more test at the end of a marathon season.
SETTING THE SCENE
While this match did not have quite the significance that many had hoped it would when examining the fixture list, it remained important in the context of the race for the top four.
The Gunners knew that a win would secure third place - thereby securing automatic entry into next season’s Champions League - while Tottenham’s defeat earlier in the day added a fresh twist.
Could Wenger’s side even hope to overtake their biggest rivals, right at the end of a season that has supplied endless drama? A positive result at the Etihad would go a long way towards achieving that.
The Arsenal manager made two changes to the side that beat Norwich City last time out, with the matchwinner that day - Danny Welbeck - rewarded with a place in the starting XI.
The England international replaced Mesut Ozil, who missed out with a slight hip injury, while Per Mertesacker’s hamstring problem saw him replaced at the heart of the defence by Gabriel.
Manchester City, meanwhile, included former Gunners Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy in their side, as they sought an instant response after their Champions League semi-final defeat to Real Madrid.
Having had such success on the back foot in last season’s 2-0 win at the Etihad, the Gunners were forced to adopt similar tactics in the opening exchanges due to the pace and power of the hosts’ start.
Wenger’s side were struggling to get hold of the ball, and were made to pay within eight minutes when Aguero latched on to the ball in the area, took a touch and fired a left-footed drive into the bottom corner.
Arsenal wasted little time in making amends though, and within seconds they were nearly all square when Giroud chipped a ball to the far post, where Clichy headed it back across his own goal and nearly into the bottom corner.
From the resulting corner, Giroud - without a Premier League goal since January - barrelled his way through the home defence, and powered a header into the roof of the net from close range.
The relief on the France international’s face spoke volumes, and the way his team-mates ran to celebrate with him underlined his popularity within the dressing room.
The furious pace of the game showed no signs of letting up, and the home side were soon back on the front foot with Aguero seeing a fierce drive deflected just over the bar from inside the area.
Jesus Navas would also go close during a helter-skelter first half, and while the hosts continued to build the pressure they could find no way through the Arsenal backline.
City once again started on the offensive and grabbed the lead within six minutes of the restart when De Bruyne cut in from the right and raced towards goal.
There were players between him and Petr Cech, but the Belgian arrowed in and struck a firm drive that crept just past the Arsenal goalkeeper and into the bottom corner.
It was a disappointing goal to concede and gave the Gunners a headache heading into the final third, but the introduction of Walcott off the bench gave them added impetus.
The England international came close to setting up Giroud with a lovely ball across the six-yard box, and then combining with the forward again before dinking the ball past Joe Hart but wide of the far post.
The wind was suddenly in Arsenal’s sails and with 68 minutes on the clock they had their equaliser, as Giroud brilliantly laid the ball off to Alexis, who raced in and found the bottom corner.
It was no more than the visitors’ deserved for their response to going behind once more - and it was another telling impact from Giroud, who now has a goal and two assists from his past two games.
De Bruyne and then Aguero went close in quick succession as the game entered its closing stages, with neither side showing any inclination to settle for a draw.
Bony came closest to finding a winner with a volley in the 88th minute that crashed against the crossbar, but in the end both sides were left with a share of the spoils.
It leaves Arsenal needing a win on the final day against the already relegated Aston Villa to secure third place - and with second also potentially up for grabs, they should not lack motivation.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Copyright 2018 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.