Soccer

Title-chasing Arsenal go top after seeing off struggling Luton

The Gunners are one point clear of Liverpool.

Martin Odegaard, left, broke the deadlock
Martin Odegaard and Kai Havertz Martin Odegaard, left, broke the deadlock (Nick Potts/PA)

Arsenal launched a pivotal month in their pursuit of silverware by returning to the top of the Premier League table thanks to a routine 2-0 win over relegation-threatened Luton.

Martin Odegaard’s 10th goal of the season set the Gunners on course for a straightforward evening at Emirates Stadium.

Daiki Hashioka’s own goal completed the job before half-time as Mikel Arteta’s men backed up a battling goalless draw with title rivals Manchester City to maintain their unbeaten top-flight record in 2024.

With Liverpool scheduled to host bottom club Sheffield United on Thursday evening, Arsenal’s latest spell at the summit could prove fleeting, while plenty of sterner tests await in the coming weeks.

Martin Odegaard opened the scoring
Martin Odegaard scores Martin Odegaard opened the scoring (Nick Potts/PA)

Injury-hit Luton posed little threat in north London as they failed to score for the first time in 19 league outings but remain only three points from safety despite a winless run which now stands at 10 games.

Gunners boss Arteta began the first of eight April fixtures, which include a Champions League quarter-final with Bayern Munich, by making five changes from the dogged Easter Sunday stalemate against Pep Guardiola’s reigning champions.

Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe were handed rare opportunities to impress as part of the rotation, with Bukayo Saka absent and Declan Rice and Gabriel Jesus among those dropping to the bench.

Luton’s less illustrious list of substitutes contained two goalkeepers and four teenagers, including 16-year-old schoolboy Christian Chigozie.

Daiki Hashioka diverted a cross into his own net
Daiki Hashioka diverts a cross into his own net Daiki Hashioka diverted a cross into his own net (Nick Potts/PA)

In the face of relentless Arsenal possession, a resolute Hatters starting XI showing three alterations held out until being undone by costly defensive dithering in the 24th minute.

Smith Rowe dispossessed the dawdling Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu inside the visitors’ half before captain Odegaard exchanged passes with Kai Havertz to slam a first-time left-footed finish beyond Thomas Kaminski.

Luton dug in and looked set to go into the interval only a goal behind after goalkeeper Kaminski saved well from Smith Rowe and Havertz.

But Rob Edwards’ side suffered a major setback just a minute before the break when Japan defender Hashioka inadvertently turned Smith Rowe’s low centre into his own net under pressure from Nelson.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta had a busy night
A cardboard cut-out of Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta had a busy night (Nick Potts/PA)

The 18th-placed Hatters were back in the capital four days on from Saturday’s narrow 2-1 loss at Tottenham.

Ross Barkley’s long-range free-kick, which was comfortably collected by David Raya, was their only attempt on target in a one-sided opening period.

Arsenal required a dramatic last-gasp winner from England midfielder Rice to escape Kenilworth Road with a thrilling 4-3 victory in early December.

But no such heroics were needed here as a far more subdued second half ticked by without incident to keep their title push on track.

The Gunners return to action at Brighton on Saturday evening ahead of next week’s European first leg with Bayern, while Luton’s quest for survival continues at home to Bournemouth.