LONDON — Arsenal handed the initiative to Manchester City in the Premier League title race after allowing a 2-0 lead to slip against West Ham United to draw 2-2 at the London Stadium.
The Gunners’ lead at the top of the table is four points, but City closed the gap with their 3-1 win over Leicester City on Saturday and crucially have a game in hand while Arsenal must visit the Etihad on April 26.
Mikel Arteta’s side were pegged back in similar fashion against Liverpool seven days earlier and will once again rue their failure to put the game out of sight when in the ascendancy. Arsenal raced into a two-goal lead inside the opening 10 minutes as Gabriel Jesus turned in Ben White‘s driven cross before Martin Odegaard volleyed home Gabriel Martinelli‘s raking pass.
– Report: West Ham 2-2 Arsenal | Premier League table
The visitors were in total control but on 33 minutes, Thomas Partey lost the ball cheaply in midfield, allowing Declan Rice to find Lucas Paqueta in the box. Gabriel tried to avoid making a tackle but caught Paqueta and Said Benrahma converted the resulting spot kick.
Bukayo Saka was unable to do the same seven minutes into the second half after Michail Antonio handled in the penalty area. The 21-year-old sent his effort wide of Lukasz Fabianski‘s right-hand post and West Ham made him pay in brutal fashion. Arsenal cleared a long throw only for Thilo Kehrer to lift a hopeful ball back into the box; Bowen timed his run superbly before steering a shot past Aaron Ramsdale via his left-hand post.
1. Arsenal lose a 2-0 lead twice in eight days
Once could be forgiven, twice hints at something deeper. For the second consecutive Sunday, Arsenal raced into a 2-0 lead at the home of potentially tricky opponents only to fail to kill the game off when in the ascendancy.
It is difficult to overstate the gulf between these two sides in the opening 30 minutes as an air of resignation permeated London Stadium. Jesus and Odegaard scored with embarrassing ease, evoking memories of West Ham’s 5-1 mauling at home to Newcastle United earlier this month. Yet it says everything about how much this game turned that by half-time, with the score at 1-2, Arsenal had faced more shots (nine) in the first half than in any other Premier League game this season.
If drawing at Liverpool can be explained by Liverpool’s quality and the idiosyncrasies of playing at Anfield, then this asks tougher questions of the Gunners. This game was there for the taking against beleaguered opponents. The atmosphere here was nothing like as hostile as on Merseyside, given the concerns many in these parts have about their team, and yet Arsenal stopped playing their best football, allowed mistakes to creep into their game and could even have lost it at the end. They extended their lead at the top of the table to four points but there is no doubt Man City have the initiative now given Pep Guardiola’s side have a game in hand and host the Gunners in 10 days’ time.
2. Midfield moment costs Arsenal again
Against Liverpool, Granit Xhaka made a needless tackle on Trent Alexander-Arnold which riled the home crowd and roused Liverpool into life. Here, Partey lost possession cheaply in the middle of the pitch to Rice, a moment not without a deeper subtext given Arsenal are expected to pursue a deal for the latter in this summer’s transfer window.
That moment suddenly enabled West Ham to break as Rice found Paqueta, who was brought down in the box by Gabriel. Partey has been a consistent presence in Arsenal’s midfield this season but his loss of composure in midfield mirrored the visitors’ loss of control.
Rice ended up registering 11 ball recoveries — more than any other player on the pitch — as West Ham forced their way back into the contest. By contrast, Odegaard, who was magnificent for half an hour, and Xhaka gradually receded in influence. It is an area Arsenal will have to improve upon to maintain their title push.
3. Saka slips up from the spot
Saka has shown tremendous courage in recovering from his miss in England’s Euro 2020 final penalty shootout defeat to Italy, and the online racist abuse that followed, to become Arsenal’s regular penalty taker. The 21-year-old scored all four of his spot kicks prior to Sunday, all against top opposition: Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United. During that run, he also became the youngest player to score consecutive penalties in back-to-back Premier League games (then aged 20 years and 230 days.) Yet on Sunday he stepped up with a chance to reassert control of the game and side-footed badly off target.
The fact West Ham scored almost immediately afterwards will only multiply the disappointment for a player who has been at the vanguard of Arsenal’s improbable title push to this point. Anybody can miss in such pressurised circumstances but it will enhance the notion that Saka has been showing the odd sign of fatigue in recent matches after such a gruelling campaign. He has already shown the character to bounce back from this type of disappointment but the need to do so again is another element to the test of mental and physical durability Arsenal face over the coming weeks.
Best and worst performers
Michail Antonio (West Ham): Bullied Arsenal’s centre-backs more as the game wore on and almost won it with a header which hit the woodwork in the 82nd minute.
Lucas Paqueta (West Ham): Showed touches of class which helped spark signs of life in the home side and won the penalty which started their comeback.
Declan Rice (West Ham): Overcame a slow start to play a captain’s role in dragging the home side back into the contest.
Thomas Partey (Arsenal): Sloppy period of play triggered Arsenal’s loss of control in the first half.
Bukayo Saka (Arsenal): One of his more subdued outings now infamous for a penalty miss that would have sent the Gunners 3-1 up early in the second half.
Gabriel (Arsenal): Looked shaky without William Saliba alongside him and struggled to cope with Antonio, winning 63.6% of his aerial challenges.
Highlights and notable moments
London Stadium is ROCKING! 🤩
📺: @USANetwork | #WHUARS pic.twitter.com/6mRPGnlmUS
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) April 16, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
Will appear here shortly…
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Just 2 min, 20 seconds separated Saka’s penalty miss (51:19) and Bowen’s point-earning goal (53:39).
Prior to last Sunday vs. Liverpool, Arsenal had won 50 straight Premier League games when leading by two goals, dating back to December 2019.
FiveThirtyEight’s SPI projection to win Premier League title: Man City 66%, Arsenal 34%
West Ham: The Hammers are in Europa Conference League action on Thursday when they host Gent in the second leg of the quarterfinal; the first leg finished 1-1. They return to Premier League action on Sunday, April 23 with a trip to fellow strugglers AFC Bournemouth.
Arsenal: The Gunners are back at home on Friday when bottom-of-the-table Southampton go to the Emirates, before the huge title showdown at Manchester City on Wednesday, April 26.