Gunner Thoughts

Arsenal Title Hopes Shine and Then Flicker After Second Blown Lead

A day of frustration starts with two sublime goals but ends with title doubts.

If Arsenal’s draw to Liverpool left me nauseous with nerves and a feeling of regret, after a game that was uncomfortable to watch for ninety minutes, yesterday’s blown 2-0 lead to West Ham left me without words and ill with frustration.

The draw to Liverpool at least provided a comfort for confidence in it occurring at Anfield. Right or wrong, people could find solace in Arsenal collecting a point that, if collected at most junctures in a season, we would be very pleased with. The fashion in which it was claimed, and the internal, sinking feeling that given the season’s context Arsenal needed all three points provided the biggest displeasure.

Yesterday’s match offered none of that. Instead, Arsenal dropped their second straight match from a two-goal lead and have walked away from four additional points in the process. It hurt, it stung, it was infuriating, frustrating, and provided the foreign feelings of “inexperienced team” that has struck so few times this season.

Before the game, I tweeted my belief that there was nothing wise or deep to this match. Arsenal needed to come out and deliver a response to City’s win, do the job, and dispatch a struggling side away from home. They did not.

All season, Arteta has continued to trot out the line about “earning the right to win”. A phrase that reminds us that little in sport comes down to “deserving” things, it comes down to what you “earn”. Hard to suggest Arsenal earned much more than their draw, even with a Saka penalty miss that could have pushed them across the line.

What’s worse is they looked absolutely incredible in the opening 10 minutes, collected two superb goals, and then evaporated into the wind. All semblance of their identity seemingly forgotten in the heat of pressure.

It’s the type of game that City kill in the first half with a third or fourth goal. The type of game you’d like to think champions do that. But it’s a trait this young Arsenal side have yet to consistently demonstrate. They get away with it often enough but a few too many times they get to two goals and leave their opposition alive and lingering. Or worse, Arsenal throw their drowning opponent a life ring, as they did with West Ham yesterday.

It’s a moment filled with controversy in the eyes of many fans, and maybe my frustration with Arsenal is clouding my judgement, but its two 50/50 calls and VAR intervening on neither is not a surprise to me one bit. Rice’s “handball” steal that leads to the penalty is reminiscent to Gabriel’s handball versus Liverpool earlier this season. Theres a camera angle from behind doing the rounds of it hitting Rice’s hand, but few accounts willing to show the front angle in which it looks like it hits Rice’s chest/body first. We all used that to justify Gabriel’s no call earlier this season, and were right to. Gabriel’s hand to defend Jota is arguably in more unusual a position than Rice’s, for me it’s a call that stays on the field.

What follows makes the controversy all the more infuriating. From Rice’s body-to-hand steal, it’s swiftly converted to a Paqueta chance and penalty decision. It’s a really soft penalty and it’s incredibly opportunistic from Paqueta looking to ensure contact as he is going over the whole way. Having said that, Gabriel makes a horrible lunge, a desperate attempt to get across and even if a defender is pulling out of a tackle, it’s asking for trouble. It looks horrible, the contact with Paqueta is there — as limited and manufactured as it is — and it puts the call in the ref’s hands. If we placed Jesus in Paqueta’s shoes, I would want the penalty called, despite its soft nature. Again, I wasn’t surprised VAR opted to keep the call on the field. Perhaps it goes the other way if the referee doesn’t point to the spot on the field.

It’s a mistimed tackle, born out of the need for a desperate tackle, which is born out of a foolish attempt from Partey to flick it up over Rice in the midfield. It’s a calamity of errors and controversy, and it feels self-inflicted in many ways.

West Ham were thrown their lifeline and it was on Arsenal to try and reset themselves. An easy opportunity arose when Arsenal win a penalty, but Saka puts it wide.

Lot’s a people looking to dig into Saka, piling on with his miss at the Euro’s but I have to say, I find it just awful of them. Penalty takers miss. Saka has a good record from the spot, it’s much better than Jesus — a name I’ve seen many people throw out — but he’s put together a phenomenal season for us. Hurts he couldn’t come through on this one and had a quiet day when Arsenal needed him, but he’s in line for Arsenal’s Player of the Year for reasons that won’t be undone by this.

The more painful aspect of this game was how Arsenal seemed to hamstring themselves at critical moments of opportunity and that lead to losing their identity further and further.

Just two minutes after Saka’s miss, Bowen levels it with a good finish, but one that Arsenal fans will have plenty to groan about. The defense switches off and loses him at the back post and I, personally, would like to see Ramsdale more solid in that moment. He doesn’t quite settle his feet and it leads to his push on the ball lacking the strength needed to push it beyond a post. It’s a reflex save, it’s not an easy one, but again Arsenal are undone and left pointing fingers in blame.

It’s two-two, Arsenal need to throw the kitchen sink at this thing to win, and Arteta decides to take of Jesus and Partey for Trossard and Jorginho. Bad subs for me, I think he got it wrong a second game in a row here. I want our star striker on the field in a game Arsenal need a goal and it seemed clear that Saka was off the mark. For the first time this season, I would have preferred to see Saka removed.

The irony was not lost on me that at Arsenal’s most crucial juncture — to this point — Arsenal were without Jesus and Partey, two players that most fans at the start of the season would have considered as necessary to have on the field in the clutch moments.

Trossard looked good, but Arsenal failed to create many chances and swing the tide. Instead, for the second game in a row, the feel that developed was end-to-end as both teams looked to try and counter or push the pace. The problem is, as it was versus Liverpool, that is not Arsenal’s game and it felt like a slog. Not even throwing on Vieira or Reiss Nelson could tip the balance.

The final whistle blew and a point, really calls things into question.

This young Arsenal side will have to learn how they develop that killer instinct expected from the best teams in the world, but unfortunately they have little time left for this season. They tend to play as if they have finished opponents off when they are only up 2-0.

It’s cost them dearly this month. Arsenal have doubled their whole season’s “points dropped from winning positions” tally in the month of April alone.

Has Arsenal’s title-challenge ended not with a bang but with a whimper?

At the moment, it’s tainted some of the feelings and goodwill this season has brought us toward this team, rightly or unfairly. I even believe if Arsenal had dropped these points early in the season, came up short of the title by a point or two but finished impeccably, most fans would at least applaud the attempt. Instead, it’s leaving the worst taste for the end and threatening extreme overreactions.

It’s fair to say that some seem intent on mistaking disappointment for failure.

It’s not over when theres a game versus your direct competitor but yesterday was an awful watch and it’s impossible not to recognize the inverse trajectories Arsenal and City find themselves on at the moment. There’s seven games left, but the breathing room for Arsenal is now non-existent AND they will have to get a result at the Ethiad if they want to retain any sort of control over their future.

In the end, it would appear that if Arsenal want to BE the best, they may need to BEAT the best… or at least draw with them.

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