Two shots on target, two goals and one title challenge ripped apart. Arsenal were made to pay for their profligacy in front of goal as West Ham pounced on two errors to come from behind and secure an impressive 2-1 win in front of a club-record crowd.
Alessia Russo had given the Gunners a first-half lead but Steph Catley gave away a penalty, which Viviane Asseyi converted, before Hawa Cissoko pounced on the goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger’s mistake to give them the lead.
Defeat means Jonas Eidevall’s side remain three points behind the league leaders, Chelsea, who play Everton in the late kick-off. In a 22-game season every dropped point can prove terminal.
There was one silver lining for the visiting side with the England captain, Leah Williamson, named in the starting XI – 291 days since sustaining an anterior cruciate ligament injury against Manchester United in April 2023.
As the ball began to drop down near the touchline Viviane Asseyi and Williamson watched its fall and waited, Asseyi was closer, she raised her foot, but Williamson got their first, no fear, powering it forward just before the West Ham striker’s foot connected. It was the smallest of moments. One of many that will hypnotise.
To study Williamson’s movement and watch her eyes across the course of a match, or the 45 minutes she played at the Chigwell Construction Stadium, is to see a reading of the game, a reading of the movement of the ball, an understanding of the spaces that are there or will open up that is magical. It is also an acute reminder of what Arsenal and England have been missing.
Williamson was one of two changes made to the team that defeated Liverpool the previous week, with Catley also starting. Rehanne Skinner, meanwhile, made one change to the team that beat Bristol City 2-1 with the centre-back Hawa Cissoko forming part of a back three.
Arsenal dominated possession, as expected, but they struggled to carve out clear chances against a well-drilled Hammers side – whose defensive performance was epitomised by a stunning last-ditch tackle from Honoka Hayashi to deny Vivianne Miedema who was one-on-one with the goalkeeper, Mackenzie Arnold.
For the 63% of the ball Arsenal had in the first half, they had just two shots on target. The second of those yielded the opening goal, with Arnold coming out and failing to connect with a corner that Russo nodded in.
Their profligacy would prove costly though, because by the hour West Ham had carved out their first two shots on target, both from Arsenal errors, and both hit the back of the net.
First, Catley brought down Riko Ueki on the edge of the box conceding a penalty that Asseyi coolly converted. Then Zinsberger punched her clearance down into the turf and the ball bounced up for Cissoko to loft over her and in from 18 yards out. It was sloppy from the Gunners but a well-deserved lead for the home team that were clinical when it mattered and fuelled by a seemingly possessed Katrina Gorry in the middle.
Once they had the lead the Hammers banked in five at the back and Arsenal just could not find the pass or space to shoot between them, dancing the ball from left to right in front of the box.
While Arsenal’s title hopes have been heavily dented, West Ham have climbed from 11th to ninth in the table, the three points putting a five-point gap between themselves and the relegation-threatened Bristol City.