Arsenal’s chances of winning the Premier League faded further as they played out a thrilling 3-3 draw with London rival West Ham at Upton Park.
The Gunners looked to be easing to victory as they stormed into a 2-0 lead inside 35 minutes but Slaven Bilic’s resilient Hammers weren’t going to roll over on home soil.
Ten minutes either side of half-time Andy Carroll, in a devastating display, bullied the Arsenal defence into submission and grabbed a hat-trick.
But in a captivating clash, the scoring was always likely to continue and Laurent Koscielny, who endured a tough game against the intimidating Carroll, swept home a vital equaliser, leaving Arsenal’s title hopes hanging by a thread and damaging West Ham’s top four challenge, which won’t please either Arsene Wenger or opposite number Bilic.
The opening minutes set the pace of the game as an early strike from Aaron Cresswell was turned just beyond the upright by an offside Manuel Lanzini as the Hammers looked to wreak havoc on the flanks from the off.
Laurent Koscielny and Andy Carroll enjoyed a bruising early tussle with the former landing a blow to the striker’s head in an aerial duel, while the latter got revenge with a tackle which caught the Frenchman firmly on the ankle.
Francis Coquelin got stuck in too as he clumsily stepped on Lanzini’s foot in a scramble for the ball and a scrappy opening ten minutes was rounded off with a woeful corner routine from the Gunners which saw the ball back heeled out of play.
With Euro 2016 in the back of his mind, Carroll looked intent on making an impact and nearly had an acrobatic assist to his name after 14 minutes, but Lanzini’s header was incorrectly ruled out for offside when the crafty Argentine had made a smart run.
West Ham’s three-man defence had been doing well in the early stages but, in the 18th minute they were caught out by Ozil’s smart run and, when he collected Alex Iwobi’s pass, the German slotted the ball into the back of the net.
The Hammers pressed hard for a leveller but also looked fallible on the counter with Wenger’s side quick to the ball but, crucially, sloppy in possession.
Home fans fumed as they saw several appeals for fouls waved away by referee Craig Pawson, but they did delight in Hector Bellerin’s misfortune as a flick from Cheikhou Kouyate thudded into the Spaniard’s face.
Lauded for his free-kick taking abilities all week, Dimitri Payet’s earlier attempts to curl crosses into the box were easily dealt with by Arsenal, but he did then stick a well-struck corner straight onto the boot of Lanzini, after nutmegging the helpless Coquelin in the build up to its awarding.
Unfortunately, for all the Hammers’ skill and endeavour, they were 2-0 down 11 minutes before the break as Sanchez finished clinically inside the box from Iwobi’s superb lobbed pass, but this was just the start in an enthralling London derby.
Arsenal began to unpick the Bilic’s backline with ease and then moments after the Gunners almost got in on goal again, Danny Welbeck managed to charge down the lackadaisical Adrian – but his block saw the ball spin harmlessly wide.
The visitors were made to pay for not putting a further goal beyond Adrian as West Ham struck back twice before the break and started to bully those players in gold and navy shirts.
First, Carroll left David Ospina stationery with a fine headed goal from Aaron Cresswell’s whipped cross and, seconds before half-time, he made the score 2-2 as he slammed a scissor-kick home after seeing his first shot bounce back off Gabriel.
Sensing Arsenal were rattled, Bilic replaced James Tomkins with Emmanuel Emenike, switching West Ham to a more orthodox four-man defence and adding firepower further forward.
Referee Pawson then waved away another penalty appeal from the Hammers as Lanzini went tumbling to the turf with Bellerin, before ruling out a Payet goal for a Carroll foul on Koscielny.
But the Hammers fans went from jeering to cheering in just one minute as the big English striker completed his quick-fire hat-trick by thumping a header home from Michail Antonio’s exceptional cross to the back post.
Lanzini proved his worth defensively in the 68th minute as he blocked a Nacho Monreal strike on the goal-line, while Wenger threw caution to the wind by replacing Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin with Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud.
It paid off too as French defender Koscielny found himself in the right place at the right time to divert Danny Welbeck’s smart nudge into the top corner to make it 3-3.
West Ham’s resilience was telling though as they quickly went back at their opponents with Cresswell and Winston Reid going close.
Arsenal lofted two late free-kick’s forward but were repelled by the Hammers superbly to ensure the match ended with the spoils shared in east London.