Sunday 25 September 2016

Wenger left crying foul as Carroll ends Arsenal's title hopes

West Ham 3-3 Arsenal

Mark Ogden

Published 10/04/2016 | 02:30

Andy Carroll scores his second goal at Upton Park. Photo: Nick Potts
Andy Carroll scores his second goal at Upton Park. Photo: Nick Potts
Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal is fouled by Andy Carroll of West Ham United. Photo: Getty
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger looks on. Photo: Getty
West Ham United's French midfielder Dimitri Payet (L) vies with Arsenal's Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey. Photo: Getty
West Ham United striker Andy Carroll celebrates sealing his hat trick. Photo: Getty

Arsene Wenger claimed Andy Carroll was "lucky" to escape a red card before scoring a hat-trick in West Ham's remarkable draw against Arsenal.

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The former England forward returned from injury to produce his best performance for West Ham, scoring three and causing havoc against an Arsenal team which now lies 10 points adrift of Premier League leaders Leicester City with just six games left to play.

But with Carroll earning a third-minute booking for a late challenge on Laurent Koscielny before a subsequent elbowing incident with Arsenal defender Gabriel, Wenger - who admitted his surprise to see Carroll on the West Ham team-sheet - insisted he was surprised to see the former Liverpool forward end the game for the home side.

"Yes," Wenger said, when asked whether Carroll was fortunate to avoid a red card. "He could have been sent off, but even if he had, we should still have defended better against headers. We have been punished for a weakness that we have had this season.

"We've shown resilience and spirit to come back to 3-3. In the last 20 mins it could have gone either way, but I'm disappointed we didn't have an answer to Andy Carroll. I didn't expect him to start, though, because he has not played the last five or six games."

At the end of a pulsating game, players from both teams collapsed to the turf, shaking their heads at missed opportunities and dropped points, but if neither side achieve their ambitions this season, it will not be for lack of effort or commitment.

Arsenal can now forget about a late surge to the title - supporters held banners aloft at the end calling for Arsene Wenger and majority shareholder Stan Kroenke to go - and West Ham may have to focus solely on winning the FA Cup rather than ploughing energies into their pursuit of the top four.

But West Ham are a growing force under Slaven Bilic and they will be back. Who knows where Arsenal and Wenger will end up now, though?

They have undoubtedly had the title in their own hands at times this season, but too often, Wenger's players have allowed themselves to lose their momentum by dropping points at the times when champions take advantage.

Wenger insists it is still too early to abandon hope. "Do we still have an opportunity to win the title? I don't know," Wenger said. "We made it more difficult today. We are third in the league with 59 points and it is not where we want to be. It is difficult now to be champions, but we have to keep going because you never know what can happen."

Carroll, who admitted after the game that he still believes he can force his way into England's Euro 2016 squad, played in place of Diafra Sakho, who Slaven Bilic insisted was absent after reporting a "minor injury".

The former Newcastle striker is now set to face Manchester United in Wednesday's FA Cup quarter-final replay at Upton Park, but despite his impressive display, Bilic wants his player to focus on staying fit.

"Andy Carroll has everything," Bilic said. "It's impossible to stop him. His work rate, watch how many times he tried to get the ball off them. He was keeping the ball, laying it off.

"And with his heading, he's maybe the best in the world, but he has to stay away from those injuries. He's professional but he's got to be totally dedicated to his career and football."

With each passing fixture, as the end of Upton Park draws closer, every game appears to hold a greater significance and with this being the final London derby at the stadium, there was clearly a greater edge from the home team.

And Bilic's team should have been rewarded for their tenacious start with the opener on 14 minutes, but Manuel Lanzini's goal from Carroll's overhead kick was incorrectly ruled out for offside, despite the Argentinian midfielder being played on by Hector Bellerin.

It proved a costly decision for West Ham with Ozil putting Arsenal ahead four minutes later after being released by Iwobi's pass, which enabled the German to calmly guide the ball past goalkeeper Adrian.

West Ham responded well, going close when Lanzini struck a volley narrowly wide from Dimitri Payet's 31st-minute corner, but Arsenal's pace on the counter-attack cause the home side countless problems and they doubled their lead on 35 minutes when Alexis Sanchez converted another Iwobi pass to put Wenger's team into a commanding lead. But it proved to be anything but as Wenger's players, seemingly coasting, took their foot off the pedal. Momentum lost once again.

They simply could not cope with Carroll, who, after testing Ospina from 20 yards, finally drew blood on 44 minutes when he rose above Nacho Monreal to direct a powerful header past Ospina from Aaron Cresswell's cross.

Arsenal should simply have regrouped and held firm until half-time, but in typical fashion, they could not even manage that, with Carroll left unmarked in stoppage-time to score again, at the second attempt, after his initial shot was blocked by Gabriel.

Carroll completed his hat-trick on 52 minutes, with a far-post header from Michail Antonio's cross.

Koscielny's equaliser set up a grand-stand finish, but despite the fight and commitment displayed by both teams, a point apiece was little reward and will ultimately benefit neither.

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