The PGMOL admitted to a VAR failure as Arsenal collapsed against West Ham in their bid to reclaim top spot. From the angles available at Stockley Park it was impossible to say whether the ball had remained in play in the build-up to Tomas Soucek’s opener, so the on-field decision to let play continue stood.
Arsenal fans were adamant that Jarrod Bowen had failed to keep the ball in, however, and their mood darkened in the second half when former Gunner Konstantinos Mavropanos headed in James Ward-Prowse’s header to secure a 2-0 win which leaves Mikel Arteta’s side in second, two points behind Liverpool.
Every time Arsene Wenger used to claim, “I did not see it”, it was hailed by the Arsenal faithful as a legitimate excuse. There was little appetite from the home fans, though, to let off VAR with the same blinkered stance.
Did the ball cross the line or not in the build-up to West Ham’s opening goal? One frame produced by the top-of-the-range technology – installed in part to solve precisely this problem – showed the ball was still slightly in play.
But by the next frame, the ball had simply disappeared. Was it over the line, or just hidden behind Jarrod Bowen’s thigh? Stockley Park lacked the evidence to say for sure, so were forced to go with the on-field decision. Tomas Soucek’s firm finish from point-blank range was allowed to stand.
So many questions, but in truth the VAR situation is the least of them for Arsenal. More long-term benefit might come from looking at why Oleksandr Zinchenko simply ran into Gabriel in the build-up to the 13th-minute strike and whether he has too many of these mistakes in him to sustain a title challenge.
A question to address next week when the transfer window opens, even. And there are others. Arsenal had 87 per cent of the possession in an exhilarating opening seven minutes, but for all the flicks, tricks and back-heeled kicks they did not manage to mount even a vague threat on the Arsenal goal.
They need somebody to put the ball into the back of the net on a regular basis. In the Champions League, Gabriel Jesus is your man – 24 in 43 games. But his tally of just three Premier League goals is part of the reason Arsenal have allowed so many of these games they have dominated slip out of their grasp.
West Ham had doubled the lead when Mavropanos flicked in Ward-Prowse’s corner off the underside of the bar in the 56th minute – his refusal to celebrate in tribute to eight forgettable games in four years on the books here. It was then that Jesus really drew the real groans from frustrated Arsenal followers.
First, he headed Bukayo Saka’s cross straight at Alphonse Areola and then moments later, even better service from Ben White was headed high over the bar from close range.
Saka, who had hit the base of the post in the first half, is under too much pressure to produce every week and there was enough desperation about his attempts to win a penalty from Angelo Ogbonna for referee Michael Oliver. This time VAR had a clearer view, but were still not going to come to Arsenal’s rescue.
Instead it endorsed a clear humiliating error in front of the away fans by former Hammer Declan Rice when his tired trip on Emerson conceded a penalty deep in injury time. Arsenal may have got away with it when David Raya saved Bowen’s kick, but now they will have to dig deep.
As during last season, manager Mikel Arteta is resolute in sticking to his best eleven whenever possible – the only change this time was Leandro Trossard for the suspended Kai Havertz. The games are coming thick and fast, though, with a trip to Fulham to squeeze in before the start of the new year. Then that transfer window opens. The temptation after this has to be to make use of it.