LONDON — Wednesday’s result didn’t really matter for Arsenal but the performance did. The Carabao Cup was never going to define the Gunners’ season, yet a horrendous 3-1 defeat to West Ham raised questions that would linger after their fourth-round exit.
Ahead of this game, Mikel Arteta tasked his players with showing the mentality needed to maintain a high level of impenetrability in changing competitions. It was a challenge they failed unequivocally, turning in arguably their worst performance of the season and raising doubts about the competition they value.
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“What it shows you is that the day is important in football,” said Arteta. “What you did three days ago is relevant, what is going to happen tomorrow is most important.
“We have to use this defeat, this pain, to go to Newcastle on Saturday and prepare the best way to win.”
Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdell Pulled off goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdell’s jersey when Ben White headed Jarrod Bowen’s corner into his own net in the 16th minute.
Arsenal argued their case but their protests fell on deaf ears as VAR was not used in the Carabao Cup until the semi-final stage.
“With VAR there is definitely no goal,” said Arteta. “I understand it’s difficult for the referees because of the angle and the number of people there but I don’t want to use that as an excuse.
“We can still compete for the ball a lot better than we did and in that position. Of course it takes. [away] Something that is very important in the game: momentum.”
Arsenal lost the fight soon after. Bowen almost doubled the lead after the restart as Ramsdale saved well but West Ham did not have to wait long as Mohamed Qudus produced a superb control and finished to double their lead on 50 minutes.
Bowen fired a third after 10 minutes which Ramsdale could arguably have done better, even if it deflected just wide of Jakub Kivio. Ramsdale has had to wait since the previous round at Brentford in September. David Raya usurped him in goal for a chance to impress on 27 but he did little here to push his case.
Arteta believes Raya is more adept at playing out-back. Ramsdale had the worst pass completion rate (74.1%) of any Arsenal player here and West Ham had five shots throughout the match, scoring three times.
Kai Havertz spent the evening on the perimeter after a bright early start, Oleksandr Zinchenko was dropped after another shaky defensive performance while Fabio Vieira stepped back after several promising displays as a substitute.
But it wasn’t a night about individuals for Arsenal. It is a collective failure to take charge that will infuriate Arteta, a throwback to the darkest days of his early reign when he battled for dressing room wins.
Arteta later denied it but a 3-0 introduction to Bucayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli seemed like a subtle message to his weaker players, having doubled down 10 minutes from the end when Martin Odegaard was introduced despite resting him last weekend. A hip problem.
Odegaard scored a smart consolation goal deep into stoppage-time but it did little to cover up the mess that had gone before.
“I’m very disappointed,” Arteta said. “I’m responsible for that. We came out of the cup and we wanted to play a very different game. Especially we wanted to compete in a very different way, the way we discussed for 48 hours, a very different way. That’s what we did.”
Declan Rice made his first appearance at the London Stadium since leaving the Hammers for £105m in the summer, before Odegaard, Saka and Martinelli arrived. A mixture of boos and applause greeted his return, and those who despised their former captain were delighted by the lack of influence of Rice and his more indomitable colleagues.
“Maybe we’re becoming a pretty good cup team,” West Ham boss David Moyes said. “I want to be a really good league team if I can be. But, if I can’t do that, I have to do well in the cup.”
Arsenal have proven themselves to be a “really good league team” under Arteta. But if that reputation is to be maintained and improved, such nights must be quickly left behind.