Mikel Arteta admitted Arsenal only have themselves to blame after throwing away their second two-goal lead in a week to draw 2-2 at West Ham – in a major hit to their title credentials.
The Premier League leaders got off to the perfect start as Gabriel Jesus and Martin Odegaard put the Gunners two up after 10 minutes with clinical first-time finishes – but just like last week at Anfield, Mikel Arteta’s side could not hold on to their advantage.
They conceded just before half-time when Said Benrahma struck from the penalty spot after Gabriel fouled Lucas Paqueta – before Arsenal were awarded a spot kick themselves just after half-time for Michail Antonio’s handball, only for Bukayo Saka to uncharacteristically put his effort wide.
That proved even more costly when West Ham equalised two minutes later through Jarrod Bowen’s smart finish.
Antonio hit the bar for the Hammers in the final 10 minutes but Arteta’s Arsenal will rue another two points dropped.
“We could not control what West Ham was proposing [after the first goal],” Arteta said after the game. “If you concede two or three goals away from home, it is very difficult to win football matches.
“We have to blame ourselves with how we defended those two goals in our boxes.
“We need to have that ruthless mindset to go and kill a team. When a team is there for the taking, we have to kill the team. And when you don’t do that in the Premier League, at some stage it’s going to turn around.
“You have to fight and earn the right to play, but when we need it, you need to have more composure.”
The result means Arsenal are four points above second-placed Manchester City having played a game more. City’s FA Cup semi-final next weekend means the Gunners can extend that gap to seven points if they beat Southampton on Friday Night Football.
After that, Arsenal travel to the Etihad Stadium to take on Pep Guardiola’s side in a crucial game for the title race.
Two minutes that decided the title race?
How Arsenal slipped up again
After seeing City score three in the first half against Leicester on Saturday Night Football, Arteta’s Arsenal produced their own fast start with two goals in the opening 10 minutes.
Gabriel headed Martinelli’s cross wide early on but the opener would soon come. Some intricate play from Odegaard, Partey, Saka and Ben White, who all combined to release the latter down the right byline, before he squared to Jesus for a simple tap-in.
West Ham: Fabianski (6); Coufal (6), Kehrer (6), Zouma (7), Cresswell (8); Rice (9), Soucek (6), Paqueta (6); Bowen (7), Antonio (8), Benrahma (6)
Subs: Downes (n/a), Cornet (n/a), Fornals (n/a), Downes (n/a)
Arsenal: Ramsdale (5); White (7), Holding (6), Gabriel (5), Tierney (6); Partey (5), Xhaka (6), Odegaard (7); Saka (5), Jesus (7), Martinelli (7)
Subs: Jorginho (6), Trossard (5), Fabio Vieira (n/a), Nelson (n/a), Nketiah (n/a)
Player of the match: Declan Rice (West Ham)
Four minutes later, it was two. Another fast break saw Martinelli given the time to swish a superb ball to the unmarked Odegaard at the back post. The Arsenal captain was left with the simple task of slamming home past Lukasz Fabianski.
Arsenal accepted their two-goal advantage and sat on it – failing to create many other clear-cut chances, while enjoying over 75 per cent of the ball as the half went on. At one point, West Ham fans showed their disgruntlement by booing their own side as they gave the ball away costly.
But Arsenal invited the Hammers back into the contest as a slack Partey had his pocket pinched by Declan Rice, who feed Paqueta in the box quickly.
Arsenal defender Gabriel came across and brought the Brazilian midfielder down – leaving referee David Coote no option but to point to the spot.
Benrahma cooly slotted the penalty home as West Ham ended the half in the ascendancy. Antonio saw a header from a Bowen free-kick tipped over by Aaron Ramsdale, before White deflected Tomas Soucek’s header wide at a corner.
Both sides showed some impetus going forwards in the opening minutes of the second half and it looked like Arsenal were taking a big step towards a third goal and the three points.
Martinelli’s shot hit Antonio high on the outstretched arm in the box and Coote was once again called to award a penalty.
But Saka, who had scored all four of his Premier League penalties this season, missed the target of Fabianski’s right-hand post – and the significance of that miss was amplified two minutes later.
Thilo Kehrer lifted a long ball over Gabriel’s head and Bowen was there to slam home past Ramsdale.
A tense ending to the game saw both sides try to upgrade on the point they had. Jesus came within inches of earning Arsenal’s lead back as he failed to connect with Kieran Tierney’s cross from a few yards out.
Saka then tried to make amends for his penalty miss with a lung-bursting run on the break, but saw his shot falls gratefully into Fabianski’s gloves.
At the other end, Bowen searched for a winner on the break but his low shot was well-blocked by Tierney.
Antonio produced the best chance of the final exchanges as he hit the bar from close range from Benrahma’s cross.
But the dropped two points – to go with the two dropped at Liverpool last week – could have major implications on Arsenal’s title hunt.
Arteta: Arsenal aren’t fatigued | Moyes: We could have got the win
Arsenal manager Arteta hit back at claims that his side are feeling fatigued or feeling the pressure of a title race despite throwing away another commanding lead.
“Fatigue-wise? No,” he said in his post-match press conference. “What we produced in the first and second half against Liverpool was similar and today we put a higher input in the second half than we did in the first half.
“We were slower in everything that we did. I don’t think the team is fatigued or looked fatigued. The best way to do it is convince them how good they are and do what they have to do.
Asked if his side are feeling the pressure of the title race, Arteta replied: “I would say ‘yes’ if I see a team playing with [gestures nothing]. When I see a team playing with that flow [at the start of the game], that’s not pressure. At 2-0 we were not under pressure. We just didn’t do what the game required in that moment.
Meanwhile, David Moyes admits he expected his side to get a third goal after their equaliser – as he hailed a big result for the Hammers which moved them four points clear of the relegation zone.
Moyes said: “We tried to put Arsenal under pressure, we were quicker and got up to people faster. We did a lot of things better today than we have before. We need to get back to it. It was a big result, especially after being 2-0 down.
“At 2-0 down we didn’t deserve to be as I didn’t think Arsenal threatened much. They did look incredibly slick – I didn’t think people were saying West Ham were bad, so for us to hang in and pressure them. And we got our moment with the penalty kick. It got us back in the game.
“It’s a fine line in football. It’s so small. They get a penalty kick after half-time after we started well. We got good fortune with the missed penalty and then I fancied us to get a third one.”
Analysis: Arsenal’s shine is fading
Sky Sports’ Sam Blitz at the London Stadium:
When Bukayo Saka put his penalty at West Ham wide of goal, it was the sign of how things can move away from the norm in a title race.
Saka is normally so reliable from the spot. His four previous spot kicks – against Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea – all went in.
But the temperature is rising in the UK and so is the pressure in the title race. At West Ham, it got to Saka, it got to this young Arsenal team.
The last two Sundays are not how Arsenal have been this season. Mikel Arteta’s side have been consistent all term. Free from injuries, fast starts, managing games, good responses to setbacks, fortunate with VAR calls, dramatic finishes.
Fast starts have been there in their recent away games at Liverpool and West Ham. But the rest has not. Now there are back-to-back slip-ups emanating from similar circumstances. Two-nil up. Sloppy error before half time to make it 2-1. Equaliser in the second half. Not enough to grab the game back.
Just like in the first 30 minutes at Liverpool, Arsenal played like champions at West Ham. Their performance was the perfect response to Manchester City game with Leicester to go 2-0. But the same unfortunate themes came up.
Saka’s penalty miss two minutes before Jarrod Bowen’s equaliser for 2-2 is the flashpoint moment – but Arsenal threw it away when Thomas Partey’s lapse in concentration allowed the Hammers to get their penalty for 1-2.
Arsenal’s consistency has been something to marvel this season. They have kept the same starting team all season but got us on the edge of our seats week in, week out. They have dazzled us with late winners against Liverpool, Aston Villa, Bournemouth and Manchester United. They have bounced back when everyone expected a crumble.
Perhaps the shine of this young team is fading. They need to bounce back again in time for the Manchester City trip in under two weeks.
West Ham are back in action on Thursday when they face Gent at the London Stadium in the second leg of their Europa Conference League quarter-final; kick-off 8pm.
Their next Premier League match is on Sunday April 23 at Bournemouth; kick-off 2pm.
Next up for Arsenal is a home game at the Emirates Stadium against Southampton on Friday April 21, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 8pm.
West Ham’s remaining fixtures
April 20: Gent (H) – Europa Conference League quarter-finals, second leg, kick-off 8pm
April 23: Bournemouth (A) – Premier League, kick-off 2pm
April 26: Liverpool (H) – Premier League, kick-off 7.45pm
April 29: Crystal Palace (A) – Premier League, kick-off 12.30pm
May 3: Man City (A) – Premier League, kick-off 8pm, live on Sky Sports
May 7: Man Utd (H) – Premier League, kick-off 7pm
May 13: Brentford (A) – Premier League, kick-off 3pm
May 20: Leeds (H) – Premier League, kick-off 3pm
May 28: Leicester City (A) – Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm
Arsenal’s remaining fixtures
April 21: Southampton (H) – Premier League, kick-off 8pm, live on Sky Sports
April 26: Man City (A) – Premier League, kick-off 8pm
May 2: Chelsea (H) – Premier League, kick-off 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports
May 7: Newcastle (A) – Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports
May 13: Brighton (H) – Premier League, kick-off 3pm
May 20: Nottingham Forest (A) – Premier League, kick-off 3pm
May 28: Wolves (H) – Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm