It was truly a game of two halves — and no one could have seen either of them coming.
When Arsenal came on against the Hammers on Sunday afternoon only to give away two goals within the span 17 minutes, their form didn’t inspire confidence, let alone fear. Amateurish, clumsy and asleep at the wheel, the Gunners looked more like a team warming up than playing the real thing. If they were any kind of threat, it was only to themselves.
Which is why what happened next could only be described as bonkers. Arsenal came back from 3-1 behind to draw against the Hammers in the second half. A result that frankly, didn’t seem plausible.
So why couldn’t they have done it from the start? Ostensibly they could have won the game, had they been the same Arsenal both sides of the whistle.
As Mikel Arteta put it: “We have two faces. The first face is about giving goals to the opponent and not doing what we have to do and it is not good enough. That keeps me awake.”
The Hammers were by far the better team in the first half — alert, poised and in control. Their football was clever, quick and cut-throat.
Jesse Lingard, on loan from Manchester United — known to quite fancy a nice goal against the Gunners, calling the Emirates his dance floor — opened up scoring at London Stadium with a screamer that could only be characterised as a thing of beauty.
After Michail Antonio flew down the left and sent it back to the top of the penalty box — where Lingard was waiting with his arm shot in the air — Lingard managed to keep steady in the face of approaching defenceman Callum Chambers, only to send the ball scorching straight into the back of the net as Bernd Leno soared into a mid-air backflip in an attempt to save it.
Lingard was also the reason the Hammers got their second goal two minutes later. While Arsenal were standing around, hips cocked and bemoaning a free-kick given, Lingard swooped in and played it to Jarrod Bowen, who scored from a tight angle before the Gunners could even rearrange themselves on the pitch.
Tomas Soucek made it three before the whistle, and then tragically made it 3-1 as he scored an own goal at the other end of the pitch — a deflection from a superb shot by Alexandre Lacazette that put Arsenal up on the scoreboard ahead of half-time.
Arsenal knew what had to be done after a visit to the dressing room and the Hammers struggled to cope with their opponents’ renewed vigour. The Gunners almost immediately ring fenced the penalty box for minutes on end and didn’t let up.
They played like a cohesive team, but individual performances nonetheless stood out. Lacazette was determined and undeterred. Bukayo Saka’s pace packed plenty of peril. Chambers was fantastic after returning from an ACL injury. Martin Odegaard was a sight for sore eyes as he faked out players and danced around the ball, seeming to have all the time in the world to decide where he’d like to take it.
Sadly for the Hammers, Craig Dawson made it 3-2 with another own goal at 61 minutes and West Ham became the first team to score two goals at the wrong end of the pitch in a single EPL fixture since Swansea did the same in 2017, also against Arsenal.
Both teams made desperate attempts after that as keepers Leno and Lukasz Marek Fabianski worked overtime in each goal. But it was Lacazette’s final number of the night, assisted by substitute winger Nicolas Pepe, that sealed the game’s fate in the end.
It was a cracker of a match that provided plenty of adrenaline spikes. Despite escaping the potential for a hugeley embarassing thrashing, Arteta seemed to be troubled by bad habits within his team.
“I have faith in the boys they are not going to give the game away. We had the belief we could do something,” said Arteta. “This game is going to give me a few nightmares because it is really difficult to stop some of the things we have been doing to hurt ourselves.”
Meanwhile, a win would have pushed West Ham closer to their dreams of a Champions League qualification; with three points instead of one, they would have equalled fourth-place Chelsea’s 51. As it stands, the Hammers are in fifth place, above Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Everton and Arsenal, the last of which are now in ninth.
“It has been a long time since we finished above Arsenal, we have done our best to make sure they can’t catch us,” said West Ham boss David Moyes. “Now we want more, I’m greedy and they are devastated in the dressing room at not taking three points.”
West Ham face the Wolves next on April 5, but first, Arsenal get ready to take on Liverpool on April 3.