Arsenal blew the chance to return to the top of the Premier League by losing 2-0 at home to West Ham. A controversial opener from Tomas Soucek was followed by a thumping header by Konstantinos Mavropanos.
Persistence was key for Arsenal after Soucek opened the scoring on 13 minutes. His strike was only confirmed after a typically lengthy VAR review that couldn't determined whether the ball had completely gone out before Jarrod Bowen kept play alive.
The Hammers' lead held until half-time largely because Arsenal were sluggish and clueless going forward. There wasn't enough variety in the final third, with the Gunners consistently unwilling to load the box with pacy deliveries from out wide.
Arsenal's pedestrian play was punished further when familiar face Mavropanos headed in a corner 10 minutes after the break.
It was left to a familiar source to provide the spark on the few occasions Arsenal did click into gear.
3 positives & negatives from Arsenal's 2-0 defeat to West Ham
Here are three positives and negatives from Thursday night's defeat.
Negative #1: Gunners' growing defensive frailty
The 2-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion on December 17 is the only time Arsenal have kept a clean sheet in the last seven matches. For all the talk of Arsenal's vaunted defensive axis of central defenders William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes, along with midfield enforcer Declan Rice, the numbers aren't good enough.
There were too many nerves and frantic attempts to clear before West Ham's first goal. There wasn't enough concentration and aggression to track and attack the ball when former Gunners centre-back Mavropanos netted the second.
Mikel Arteta has been given ample and time money to improve Arsenal's defensive structure. While he's succeeded to a point, there's still an underlying fragility that could wreck his team's title chances.
Positive #1: Martin Odegaard produced moments of class
At least Arteta can rely on captain Martin Odegaard to produce moments of true class in the final third. Arsenal's elegant schemer was all clever feet and fancy flicks against the Hammers.
While most of Arsenal's attacking talents appeared off the pace, Odegaard was active and effective from the start.
More twinkle-toed stuff sent Ben White free to cross in the second half and offered further proof of Odegaard's ability to do what others can't. Unfortunately, his teammates were unusually a step or two behind the Norwegian's mercurial brain and natural flair.
Continued on the next slide...