Arsenal are on the brink of blowing their Premier League title challenge after letting a two-goal lead slip for the second straight game, this time drawing at West Ham United.
A month ago, the Gunners looked an unstoppable force, fast becoming known as the comeback kings. Now, the opposite: as the pressure ramps up and the margin for error decreases, these players are starting like a house on fire and ending hosed down.
It was a collision of master and apprentice as Mikel Arteta faced his former Everton boss in David Moyes, with the Arsenal manager looking to re-open a six-point lead over another of his mentors in Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola.
“We scored two beautiful goals and after that we made a huge mistake, to stop playing with the same purpose to score the third and fourth,” Arteta acknowledged. “We thought we could play around them and maintain that result. We looked too easy.”
And so the ball wandered around the Arsenal half of the pitch, elegantly enough but without any particular direction towards the West Ham goal. From their second goal until the halftime whistle, the visitors managed just one shot on goal. There were plenty in claret and blue who seemed eminently happy to declare at two goals down. Rice was not one of them.
Arteta’s side even wasted the lifeline that Antonio handed them as a raised arm blocked Martinelli’s shot. Arsenal fans have long been awaiting the day that Bukayo Saka morphed into their Mohamed Salah, what they likely did not have in mind was him screwing an effort far and wide of the left post. Two minutes later Jarrod Bowen was volleying into the deck and above Aaron Ramsdale.
One suspects Arteta might be bending the truth in that regard. In dropping four points from winning positions this month as many as they had in the entire season beforehand Arsenal have shredded nearly all of the advantage they had built up over a Manchester City side who finally look like the sort of team who could win out over the remainder of the season. If that happens the title is theirs. For a moment on Sunday, Arsenal looked like a team who could stop them doing that. But a moment is not long enough this season.
Arteta’s boys didn’t need to get out of second gear for the next 20 minutes. They could pick and choose when to slightly raise the tempo, but it was pure domination of the ball. Partey in particular was in control, positionally excellent and picking his passes perfectly. Everything was going through him, before eventually arriving at the likes of Martinelli or Odegaard, who were purring and bringing out the party pieces.
As with much of this season, it seemed barely believable that this was largely the same team that impressed so greatly a year ago en route to a seventh-placed finish and a Europa League semifinal run. The heartbeat of the team, Mr. Reliable and captain fantastic Declan Rice, was being made to look ordinary on a day in which he’d have been hoping to impress his reported summer suitors.
The Irons ended the half the better team, with some concerted pressure and a real increase in aggression. Kurt Zouma, who had been penned back for so much of the half, was suddenly pushing Martinelli and Jesus back at the halfway line. Kieran Tierney, in for the injured Oleksandr Zinchenko, was culpable in giving away possession multiple times.
Four minutes into the second half, Arsenal were gifted a chance to restore their two-goal advantage, with Michail Antonio being called for handball on a shot from Martinelli — slightly harsh, given how close he was to the effort.
Saka couldn’t capitalise, though. The England international blazed his penalty wide to his left, missing from the spot for the first time since the Euro 2020 final. Stratford erupted — and then did again three minutes later.
A clearance from a West Ham throw seemed to have the Gunners well out of danger, with Thilo Kehrer lofting a hopeful ball over the visiting defence and back into the penalty area. It fell to Jarrod Bowen, running in from the right, who put it past Aaron Ramsdale to draw level. For the second time in a week, Arsenal had thrown away a 2-0 lead on the road.
Pure boredom behind Gunners blowing 2-0 leads
Arsenal were so dominant in the first half it was scary. They went 2-0 up inside 10 minutes and looked like they would score with every attack. But a pattern is emerging. All season long they’ve scored early in games and rode that euphoria to victories. But now they’re stuttering when they go 2-0 up. Why? Boredom. Plain and simple. Thomas Partey was getting bored with having so much of the ball and so much space that he switched off and allowed Declan Rice to win it back. That led to Gabriel making a poor challenge to give West Ham the penalty for their first goal. They then allowed one long ball over the top to find a completely unmarked Jarrod Bowen to make it 2-2. How does that happen?
These sloppy defensive mistakes are creeping back in to Arsenal’s game and they have been there all season. Perhaps missing William Saliba and Oleksandr Zinchenko is having a bigger impact than we thought? After all, Arsenal have a small squad and Arteta has run them into the ground this season, focusing on keeping them together while the chemistry has been so good. Perhaps he is now paying the price for Arsenal being so good for so much of the season that he didn’t feel the need to rotate his team? Fatigue mixed with boredom is why they are crumbling in games to hand Man City the initiative in the title race.
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