Arsenal 2-0 Luton Town: Gunners overcome Bukayo Saka's absence to return to the top

Martin Odegaard scores for Arsenal against Luton Town in the Premier League
Martin Odegaard scored his 30th Premier League goal for Arsenal. He is the ninth player from Norway to reach the milestone [Reuters]

Arsenal overcame the absence of Bukayo Saka to move back to the top of the Premier League table with victory over struggling Luton at Emirates Stadium.

Leading scorer Saka was missing after suffering a knock against Manchester City at the weekend, but Mikel Arteta's much-changed side did enough to defeat their hard-working opponents and move back above Liverpool at the summit.

Captain Martin Odegaard fired the hosts into the lead in the 24th minute after Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu was bundled off the ball by Emile Smith Rowe, before the Gunners doubled their advantage shortly before half-time.

Japan defender Daiki Hashioka inadvertently put past his own keeper Thomas Kaminski in the 44th minute while trying to stop Reiss Nelson after Smith Rowe was afforded too much space in the penalty area.

Luton were decimated by injuries to the extent that they had 16-year-old schoolboy defender Christian Chigozie on the substitutes bench.

They never allowed Arsenal to run away with it, while Gunners keeper David Raya was forced to keep out Ross Barkley's free-kick on the stroke of half-time.

Arsenal, however, were largely untroubled as they moved on to 68 points - one point clear of Liverpool, who play bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United at Anfield on Thursday (19:30 BST kick-off).

Manchester City are third, also on 67 points, after they defeated Aston Villa 4-1 on Wednesday.

Gunners get the job done

Having seen Arsenal at their defensive best to frustrate title rivals Manchester City in Sunday's hard-fought goalless draw at Etihad Stadium, the Gunners returned to goalscoring form against Luton.

With just three points separating the top three at the start of the day, goal difference could play a vital role in this most enthralling of title races.

Arsenal's 21st Premier League win of the season moved them on to plus-48, while Liverpool are on plus-40 and Manchester City are on plus-38.

Arteta made five changes for the visit of relegation-threatened Luton, with the likes of Declan Rice, Gabriel Jesus and Jorginho given a rest before a busy spell of games which includes two mouth-watering fixtures with Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

While Arsenal will hope Saka is back for Saturday's game at Brighton, they got the job done against Luton without too much drama and with some of their fringe players getting a first outing for some time.

Nelson was handed his first Premier League start since 2020 while Partey and Smith Rowe both made rare starts.

Yet it is Kai Havertz who continues to impress.

The German showed why he has such an important role to play at the business end of the season with another assist to add to his eight Premier League goals when he teed-up Odegaard to set Arsenal on their way.

He has now been directly involved in 12 goals in the Premier League this season (8 goals, 4 assists), the most he has contributed in a single season in the competition.

No disgrace but Luton must start winning again

Arsenal away was never going to be easy for Luton, whose ludicrous injury list left them without the services of 11 players, and a 2-0 defeat to a team chasing a Premier League and Champions League double is no disgrace.

Although the hosts were comfortable winners in the end, Rob Edwards' patched-up side arrived with a plan and made the Gunners work hard for their win.

It is a credit to Edwards and his players that the team with the smallest budget in the Premier League still have a fighting chance of staying up with seven matches left.

But the Hatters, who are three points from safety, are now without a victory in 10 Premier League games and must find a way to start winning again.

This Saturday's home match with in-form Bournemouth is crucial, as are the home games that follow against Brentford (20 April), Everton (4 May) and Fulham on the final day on 19 May.

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