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Arsenal’s title hopes dashed in draw which epitomizes season

In about 10 minutes of game action, Andy Carroll has absolutely crushed the spirit of Arsenal, overturning West Ham's two-goal deficit to give his side a one-goal lead.

Arsenal’s performance in their 3-3 draw at West Ham United on Saturday summed up their season in a nutshell.

The Gunners raced into a 2-0 lead but just when you thought they were going to head into half time with a healthy advantage, they crumbled.

[ VIDEO: Carroll’s 8-minute hat trick ]

Andy Carroll struck twice in the final three minutes of the first half to stun Arsenal and the towering forward scored again seven minutes into the second half to make it 3-2.

They are now 10 points behind leader Leicester and despite having a game in hand, their faint title hopes appear all but over.

Far too often this season Arsenal’s lack of leadership in defense has led to them rolling over and surrendering easily. The lack of accountability, at times, is shocking.

Petr Cech, the man who was meant to help with that, was on the bench on Saturday after returning from injury. In truth, you couldn’t blame Arsene Wenger for not selecting David Ospina who has been superb in recent games, but Arsenal’s defense looked shaky and couldn’t cope with long balls and crosses into the box. You have to think Cech’s influence and experience would’ve help Arsenal grind out a win which would’ve kept them in the title race.

Speaking after the game, Wenger admitted their title hopes aren’t looking good and was upset with their defending.

“We’ve shown resilience and spirit to come back to 3-3. In the last 20 mins it could have gone both ways. I’m disappointed we didn’t (have an answer to Andy Carroll),” Wenger said. “I’m not here after the game to blame the players. We are disappointed to concede three goals. Particularly after 2-1. Overall it’s a shame.

“Do we still have an opportunity to win the title? I don’t know. We made it more difficult today.”

Wenger isn’t there to blame the players?

Well, at some point somebody has to take responsibility for these defensive displays. Arsenal have now conceded two or more goals against Swansea City, Manchester United, Tottenham and West Ham in their last six Premier League games and against the more potent offenses they just can’t seem to grind out results.

Laurent Koscielny (who scored Arsenal’s 70th-minute equalizer) was trying to hold things together, while full back Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal were more focused on going forward than defending and their distribution could be questioned.

Then, we come to Gabriel. He’s inconsistency throughout a 90 minute game is indicative of Arsenal. The Brazilian center back was bullied by Carroll, despite starting the game well, and Wenger’s failure to buy a top class central defender over the past few seasons must be infuriating for fans of the Gunners. Per Mertesacker’s days appear to be numbered at the Emirates and I don’t think Wenger really believes Gabriel is the answer.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The most annoying thing is, Arsenal isn’t a million miles away from winning the PL. That’s been the case for the last 10 years as they finished in either third or fourth in each of those campaigns.

With Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin adding some steel and balance to central midfield plus Jack Wilshere almost ready to return, that area of the pitch seems to be locked down. Improving the center of his defense must be the offseason priority for Wenger, as he’s adamant he’ll still be in charge next season.

Make no mistake about it, there will be an almighty inquest into how Arsenal didn’t win the title this season. Wenger’s men have all but conceded failure in their bid to secure the PL and only two teams in the top eight, West Ham and Stoke, have conceded more goals than Arsenal’s 33 this season. It all started so well at the back this season as they conceded just three times in their opening five PL games and optimism levels at the beginning of the campaign were sky high after signing Cech in the offseason.

Going forward, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez continue to deliver the goods and the vast array of attacking talents at Wenger’s disposal isn’t the problem. The real issue is his failure to add a top class center back.

Until that happens, it will be the same old story for the Gunners. Close, but not quite good enough.

Follow @JPW_NBCSports