Laurent Koscielny rescued a point, but a stunning quick-fire hat-trick from Andy Carroll has still left Arsenal’s Premier League title hopes in tatters after an action-packed 3-3 draw with West Ham at Upton Park. Koscielny produced a close-range finish to give Arsenal parity with 20 minutes remaining, but, having failed to go on and get the winner, the damage to their already faint championship aspirations had arguably already been done. A victory for Leicester City against relegation-threatened Sunderland on Sunday and Arsenal will be 13 points adrift, and even their solitary game in hand will count for little.
The failure to lift the title in this most open of Premier League seasons will be of understandably huge disappointment to Arsenal supporters. And there was so much in their final visit to Upton Park that encapsulated the frustration they have suffered during much of a title drought that now looks almost certain to extend into a 13th year.
Arsenal can hardly complain that they didn’t have fortune going their way. After getting the benefit of a West Ham goal wrongly disallowed, they scored a goal of their own that saw the referee’s assistant give Mesut Ozil the benefit of the doubt with his offside flag. When Alexis Sanchez made it 2-0 after 35 minutes, courtesy of a second Alex Iwobi assist, Arsenal appeared in control.
But by halftime the scores were improbably level. And, not for the first time, it was Arsenal’s inability to deal with the more physical elements of the game that proved their undoing. Carroll, in his first Premier League start for more than three months, first headed home a superb Aaron Cresswell cross, before volleying home at the second attempt as Arsenal proved wholly incapable of stopping the former Liverpool striker in the penalty box.
Still reeling from the sudden turn of events, it took West Ham just seven minutes into the second half to complete the turnaround. Again it was Carroll, and again it was a cross into the box that found Arsenal wanting. This time the striker rising to power a Michail Antonio cross past David Ospina for his first hat-trick in a West Ham shirt.
Desperate not just for a point but for all three, Arsene Wenger threw caution to the wind, taking off his two sitting midfielders and putting on the returning Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud. And Arsenal rediscovered their own attacking impetus to draw level, when Koscielny side-footed into the roof of the net after Danny Welbeck bundled the ball into his path.
In another scenario, the recovery would be something that Wenger could point to as encouraging. But with perfection required until the end of the season, it is scant consolation. Perhaps all that can be said is that a share of the points aids Arsenal’s chances of finishing in the top four, which is now surely the only battle they face in their remaining six matches of the season.
With a win, West Ham would have moved into fifth place and within four points of Arsenal to threaten to turn the Gunners’ season from major disappointment to disaster. As it is, the failure to take the three points leaves West Ham in sixth place and two points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, who have a game in hand.