Fine margins. It often comes down to fine margins. It’s one of those well-worn cliches of the game – and for good reason.
I’m sure Mikel Arteta needed no reminder, but the Spanish coach and his impressive, young Arsenal team were dealt a cruel one at West Ham on Sunday where they saw a two-goal lead vanish. Three points became one, a turn-around that just might cost them the big prize.
And it all turned on one of those fine-margins. One fine margin to decide a game. One fine margin to define a season. Maybe. No, it’s not what you think; Bukayo Saka’s missed penalty kick in the 52nd minute was crucial – but that is not what ultimately cost the Gunners two vital points at the London Stadium.
The clincher came exactly two minutes after that, when Jarrod Bowen fired past Aaron Ramsdale to tie the game. And it’s the sequence leading up to that goal that provides the true pivotal moment of the game.
As the clock ticks into the 53rd minute, Vladimir Coufal hurls a long throw down the West Ham right flank for Mikhail Antonio to chase down. It’s too long though and it’s clear that Antonio won’t be able to do much with the ball even as he catches up to it.
It would have been easier to give up earlier, conserve energy and let the ball run over the goal line for an Arsenal goal kick. No harm no foul. Ball to Arsenal, and West Ham regroup. But Antonio perseveres, much to his credit, sprinting full tilt to reach the ball – just before it crosses the goal line – and hooks it, left-footed over the sideline for an Arsenal throw-right at the corner flag.
A throw in for a goal kick, and that’s where the game turns away from the Gunners. West Ham step up and Arsenal can’t get out. Arsenal’s throw in becomes a West Ham throw in. Coufal hurls long into the box this time; Gabriel heads clear, but Thilo Kehrer sends the ball back, with interest, for Bowen to finish crisply.
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West Ham inch one point closer to survival while Arsenal’s three points become one; the Gunners’ reasonable six-point lead over Man City is whittled down to a precarious four (City have a game in hand and host Arsenal at the Etihad next week). It’s not quite the end of the road, but the path to the title became just that much bumpier.
All because Antonio refused to give up on a nothing ball in the corner.