Arsenal squandered a two-goal lead at Upton Park in a game that ended in a pulsating 3-3 draw.
Needing a win in order to keep their faint hopes of winning the Premier League title alive, Arsenal made a scintillating start and went to two up thanks to goals from Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez.
But the Hammers hit back through Andy Carroll who netted twice in five first-half minutes, before adding a third shortly after the break to hand the hosts an unlikely lead.
Laurent Koscielny struck with 20 minutes to go to give the Gunners hope but it wasn’t to be, with the game ending in a draw, and Arsenal’s hopes of winning the league were dashed for another season.
How different it could – and should – have been for Arsene Wenger’s men after they took advantage of a West Ham side struggling with a new system to dominate the opening half-hour.
Yes, they enjoyed more than one slice of luck – particularly so with Lanzini’s ‘goal’ which was ruled out for offside – but luck is all part and parcel of challenging for the league title and no side makes it to the top without more than their fair share.
Iwobi continued in his rich vein of form with a neat little assist for Mesut Ozil’s opening goal. Nothing spectacular but the weighting and timing was exactly what was required.
Ozil’s finish was typical of him – very precise and considered, a great goal for a man enjoying his best season in an Arsenal shirt.
The second goal really was a superb piece of play all round. Iwobi with a delightful lofted pass over the defence, allowing Samchez to collect the ball, balance himself and slot past a hopelessly exposed Adrian.
At that stage, Arsenal were superb. They had the measure of a West Ham side who were truly struggling to adapt to a system that including three lumbering centre backs.
The thinking behind going three at the back and putting Andy Carroll up top was obvious to everyone on all corners of the globe. Slaven Bilic wanted to push his wing backs up high and pepper the Arsenal defence with corners, crosses, and free-kicks.
And when the great, lumbering oaf’s two goals came, they were both as sadly predictable as they were infuriating.
Carroll is only good for one thing. He is only capable of playing a certain way. You have to bully him, you have to isolate him, and you have to – above all else – stop crosses coming in to him.
An Arsenal side that was so in control for 30 minutes had already gone in to half-time and, as a result, the same old predictable follies came creeping back into their play.
A careless, feckless pass left the defence horribly exposed and West Ham exploited it ruthlessly, with an excellent cross leaving Carroll the easiest of tasks to score his first.
The second was more of the same. Slack defending allowing Carroll time enough to turn and volley home from barely eight yards. In the space of a few minutes, all the hard work was undone – as it has been so often.
When the second Arsenal goal went in, I was genuinely filled with hope that this may be the beginning of something special. When West Ham’s second went in, I was filled with the same old dread that takes me whenever this side take the pitch in a big match.
When the second half started you could see it coming, everyone could see it coming, because we’ve seen it so often these last few years. And, surprise, surprise, it happened. Andy Carroll did exactly the same as he did late on in the first half.
To be clear, no team should ever concede three goals to Andy Carroll. He’s a terrible footballer, a battering ram with little or no guile. And yet he is just the sort of player that has proved the scourge to Arsenal for many years.
When West Ham went two goals down, you never thought they were out of it. When Arsenal fell behind for the first time, they went into meltdown. They were giving the ball away, they looked feeble, they looked crestfallen – there was a total lack of fight.
And that is, ultimately, what has cost them the league title this season. When really, really needed, they have lacked the fight and the bottle.
They restored a measure of pride with Koscielny’s equaliser, but they seldom really threatened after that. When Monreal’s volley was cleared off the line by Lanzini, it was clear that what luck they had enjoyed before the break had well and truly left them.
This season, West Ham have been strong, especially at home, and getting a win at Upton Park was going to be a tall order. But this is an Arsenal side pushing for the Premier League, and no side doing that should ever, ever, let slip a two-goal lead.
I’m sure Arsene will look to put a brave face on this but I think he knows that his side’s race is now run.
Close, but not close enough.