Arsenal were cruising at Upton Park, 2-0 to the good after goals from Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez and keeping the ball from their opponents with the ease one has come to expect from Arsene Wenger’s flaky, if beautiful, team.
Then came the wrecking ball, ponytail swinging in the wind, to ruin the moment. Andy Carroll, the definition of a nuisance target man, planted a superb header past David Ospina, bafflingly selected ahead of Petr Cech despite the ex-Chelsea goalkeeper returning to fitness, from Aaron Cresswell’s pinpoint cross.
And then again. Carroll is equally adept at volleying the ball beyond the goalkeeper as he is at heading it and he proved that with a remarkable swinging strike after the Gunners failed to clear a corner.
From two goals up in the 44th minute to level at half-time, Arsenal had imploded. It got worse. Carroll, so abysmally marked by both Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny, rose high in the early stages of the second half to grab his hat-trick. He was Arsenal’s worst nightmares. Laurent Koscielny equalised, but the damage was done. They are now 10 points behind Leicester, and three behind Tottenham.
No matter how often Wenger talks of togetherness, or spirit, or desire the fact will always remain; he has presided over too many teams with a soft underbelly. Arsenal always fold when the going gets tough.
Can one envisage Leicester City throwing away such a lead in such comical fashion? They started the season as unfancied relegation fodder but are now careering towards the Premier League title and at the heart of their success lies a succession of 1-0 wins. Closing a game out is vital for any potential champion.