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LONDON -- Aaron Ramsdale smashed the ball to nowhere in particular. Ben White hurled a water bottle to the turf in his fury. The rest dropped to their feet in bafflement. The Arsenal players were a mirror image of their West Ham counterparts 80 or so minutes earlier.

Mikel Arteta's players seemed to be fearing the worst, that this was the day that their title challenge had fallen apart, that these consecutive 2-2 draws from two-goal leads would lead to them being ranked among the Premier League's bottlers. Few seemed to compute that they remain four points clear of Manchester City in second, favorites no more but still clearly in control of their destiny. They were now hanging over the precipice that they had dragged West Ham back from.

As Martin Odegaard volleyed in Arsenal's second in the opening 10 minutes, West Ham seemed a spent force. Heads dropped to examine the peculiarities of the London Stadium turf while Said Benrahma, Aaron Cresswell and Tomas Soucek engaged in a verbal battle to determine who was the most culpable for the chasm at the back post. For the time being Declan Rice's rallying cries fell on deaf ears in the stands and on the pitch. This was, as David Moyes put it, "incredibly slick" football and he insisted that there was less fault to go around for his players than praise for the Gunners. "When we went 2-0 down I thought, my goodness," said the West Ham manager.

Arsenal had hunted down their prey, delivering the blow to send them to their knees, first a rapier move through West Ham's underbelly that ended in Gabriel Jesus' tap-in before Odegaard slipped into their blind spot to double the lead. All that was left was to deliver the final stroke ... and perhaps a few more for good measure, such is Manchester City's advantage in goal difference. But then this particular apex predator has shown a proclivity for playing with its food in recent weeks. That memorably came back to bite them a week ago against Liverpool but Arsenal had been no less blasé at Anfield last week than they were against Fulham and Leeds United, conceding sloppy goals before bailing themselves out.

"We scored two beautiful goals and after that we made a huge mistake, to stop playing with the same purpose to score the third and fourth," Arteta acknowledged. "We thought we could play around them and maintain that result. We looked too easy."

And so the ball wandered around the Arsenal half of the pitch, elegantly enough but without any particular direction towards the West Ham goal. From their second goal until the halftime whistle, the visitors managed just one shot on goal. There were plenty in claret and blue who seemed eminently happy to declare at two goals down. Rice was not one of them.

He certainly does not need to convince Arsenal of his footballing qualities -- he is not a leading target for the summer window without cause -- but he showed a spirit that could serve Arteta extremely well in the years to come even if it did quite the opposite. A heavy touch from Thomas Partey was all the invitation he needed, stealing in on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area to whip possession in West Ham's favor. Gabriel scrambled but pulled out of a challenge on Lucas Paqueta too late. Benrahma delivered from the penalty spot.

Where Rice led, the rest followed. The London Stadium suddenly felt like the boisterous home of consecutive European semifinalists. Michail Antonio was no longer chasing lost causes on his own as Jarrod Bowen and Benrahma charged up with abandon. Paqueta finally looked like the player he has threatened to be in patches since leaving Lyon, a dynamic midfielder who could contribute in every third of the pitch. A defense that had looked paper thin firmed up.

Equally, Arsenal responded to what ought to have been a minor setback with perhaps the worst performance of this exceptional season. Whether memories of last week's setback at Liverpool haunted them or not, it was clear that the visitors were shook. Gabriel, so often the ice-cold heart of this Arsenal side, was pumping nervy balls towards his diminutive forwards when Ben White was open with a lane to advance into. Next to him, Rob Holding proved once more that he is overstretched when asked to do much more than the footballing equivalent of bomb disposal, getting rid as Arsenal hold on in the dying minutes. From minute one he dealt with every attack with a skittishness that only inspired West Ham to test him further. Arsenal's title hopes may well stand on fall on how soon they can get William Saliba back.

"We gave them the game they wanted, we gave them hope, and that's on us," said Odegaard. "We have to look forward now. We started to do a lot of stupid things on the ball, we allowed them to play on the long balls."

Arteta's side even wasted the lifeline that Antonio handed them as a raised arm blocked Martinelli's shot. Arsenal fans have long been awaiting the day that Bukayo Saka morphed into their Mohamed Salah, what they likely did not have in mind was him screwing an effort far and wide of the left post. Two minutes later Jarrod Bowen was volleying into the deck and above Aaron Ramsdale.

The expected goals timeline of West Ham's 2-2 draw with Arsenal. Twenty3

There was time aplenty for Arsenal to get back into the game, no sense they ever would. If anything, Arteta exacerbated their woes with his substitutions. Partey, Jesus and Odegaard all struggled to greater or lesser degrees as the game wore on but they are pillars of the Arsenal temple. Take them out and there is a distinct possibility that the entire edifice will crumble. Arsenal dominated the ball in the final five minutes of extra time but everyone seemed to be looking for someone else to take it off them, for Odegaard to take the pass or for Jesus to beat a man. The ball went to Saka, who finally seems too tired to carry this team on his back. Leandro Trossard aside, none of the substitutes had a profound impact. Instead, Arsenal slipped back into familiar bad habits, punting crosses into the box, the sort of offense West Ham love to face.

"We are here to win, when you drop your level so quickly the game is there," Arteta acknowledged. "We have to dig really deep and find the solutions. I have no idea [how significant the last week will prove to be]. I didn't have an idea seven weeks ago, 12 weeks ago, [nor do I have an idea] what is going to happen in three weeks."

One suspects Arteta might be bending the truth in that regard. In dropping four points from winning positions this month -- as many as they had in the entire season beforehand -- Arsenal have shredded nearly all of the advantage they had built up over a Manchester City side who finally look like the sort of team who could win out over the remainder of the season. If that happens the title is theirs. For a moment on Sunday, Arsenal looked like a team who could stop them doing that. But a moment is not long enough this season.