Saka penalty miss proves costly as Arsenal blow lead again in West Ham draw

AFP , Sunday 16 Apr 2023

Arsenal blew a two-goal lead for the second game in a row as Bukayo Saka's penalty miss proved crucial in the Premier League leaders' damaging 2-2 draw against West Ham on Sunday.

Arsenal s Bukayo Saka fails to score from penalty kick during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham United and Arsenal at the London stadium in London, Sunday, April 16, 2023. AP


Mikel Arteta's side struck twice in the first 10 minutes at the London Stadium thanks to goals from Gabriel Jesus and Martin Odegaard.

But just seven days after squandering a 2-0 advantage in their 2-2 draw at Liverpool, the Gunners again cracked under the pressure of the title race.

Said Benrahma's penalty reduced the deficit for West Ham before the interval and after Saka fired his spot-kick wide early in the second half, Jarrod Bowen volleyed in an equaliser for the struggling hosts.

It was a hammer blow for Arsenal, who sit four points clear of second-placed Manchester City but have ceded the title race momentum to Pep Guardiola's team.

City had closed within three points of the Gunners after beating Leicester 3-1 on Saturday and it is the champions who have the destiny of the title in their hands despite trailing Arsenal for much of the season.

City, who have won their last 10 matches in all competitions, have a game in hand on Arsenal.

With a home game against Arsenal looming on April 26, City know they will lift a fifth title in six seasons if they win their remaining eight matches.

By the time Arsenal travel to the Emirates Stadium they will be seven points clear of City if they beat bottom-of-the-table Southampton on Friday.

Yet that gap would still look uncomfortably small to Arsenal fans fearing their team are in the process of wasting a golden opportunity to win a first title since 2004.

While City are battle-tested in handling the tension of the title race, Arsenal's young squad look to be suffering an ill-timed attack of nerves.

- Arsenal anxiety -

It could have been so different for Arsenal after they needed just seven minutes to take the lead as Odegaard's deft pass found Ben White, who delivered a low cross that Jesus slotted home at the far post.

Jesus's fourth goal in his last three games was followed by the Gunners' second three minutes later as they ruthlessly punished West Ham's woeful marking.

Gabriel Martinelli's pin-point cross found Odegaard in acres of space and the midfielder blasted a volley past Lukasz Fabianski from an acute angle six yards out.

The turning point came in the 33rd minute when Arsenal, looking a little over-confident after such a swaggering start, needlessly conceded a penalty.

Thomas Partey surrendered possession to Declan Rice and when the West Ham midfielder picked out Lucas Paqueta's run, Gabriel Magalhaes' mistimed sliding tackle was correctly ruled a penalty despite Arsenal appeals for handball.

Mohamed Salah had missed a penalty against Arsenal last weekend, but they were out of luck this time as Benrahma sent Aaron Ramsdale the wrong way from the spot.

Michail Antonio's header was tipped over by Ramsdale moments later as Arsenal started to creak.

Saka should have eased Arsenal's mounting anxiety when Antonio conceded a 50th minute penalty with an outstretched arm that blocked Martinelli's flick.

But instead Saka spiked the tension level even higher with a woeful spot-kick that completely missed hit the target, a costly blunder that recalled the England forward's Euro 2020 final penalty shoot-out failure against Italy.

Saka held his head in his hands and with Arsenal clearly rattled, David Moyes' side snatched an equaliser in the 54th minute.

Thilo Kehrer guided the ball into the Arsenal area and Bowen was just onside as his volley ricocheted off the turf and skidded past Ramsdale's despairing dive.

Antonio nearly won it for West Ham in the closing stages, rising to head Benrahma's cross against the bar.

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