West Brom's Steven Reid knocks another dent in Arsenal's title tilt

Arsenal avoided another defeat, which appeared to be their fate for two-thirds of the match, but they have now won only one of their past six – and that was against Leyton Orient.

West Brom's Steven Reid knocks another dent in Arsenal's title tilt This was very much a case of two points dropped on a day when Manchester United won to extend their lead at the top of the table to five. Arsène Wenger and his team still have a game in hand, but on recent evidence it would be reckless to gamble on them taking maximum advantage.

West Bromwich Albion were left in if-only mode after blowing a 2–0 lead, but they remain impressively resurgent under Roy Hodgson's restorative management, unbeaten in their past five and in the sort of form that should edge them clear of relegation. Both goals Arsenal conceded were embarrassing, indicating their need for a more reliable goalkeeper and rock-steady centre-halves. It is a recurring weakness and one that will probably leave Wenger and company empty-handed for a sixth season. The problem is something of a blind spot for the Arsenal manager: Albion's second was horribly reminiscent of the way Birmingham were gifted the Carling Cup.

The opening goal here, after only three minutes, was not much better from a defensive viewpoint. The centre-halves in particular were found wanting both before and after Chris Brunt's corner, which was needlessly conceded and hopelessly combated. When Steven Reid rose above Aaron Ramsey to power a header into the roof of the net, one wondered why Ramsey, and not one of the big defenders, was guarding the centre of the six-yard box. The thought also occurred that Jens Lehmann, back on the bench, would have made a better fist of organising those in front of him.

Arsenal threatened equality after 26 minutes, when Andrey Arshavin crossed to Robin van Persie, whose header rebounded from the crossbar. Ramsey, following in, had his shot saved.

Unable to assemble their customary passing game on an uneven surface, the Gunners needed a more direct approach, and Wenger sent on an extra striker, Marouane Chamakh, in place of Denílson, switching to 4-4-2. The desired improvement was still a long time coming and Albion should have doubled the margin nine minutes after the interval, when Brunt wasted Marek Cech's left-wing cross by shooting wide from six yards. The second goal was not delayed long. After 58 minutes a long, lofted clearance from Youssouf Mulumbu panicked Manuel Almunia into rushing out of his penalty area to deal with a situation that was Sébastien Squillaci's responsibility. The bounce of the ball confused both of them, each looking to the other as Peter Odemwingie rolled the ball into an untenanted net. When the television cameras panned to the bench, Lehmann's face was a picture.

Arsenal were back in it after 70 minutes when Arshavin, supplied by Chamakh, scored emphatically, left to right, and nine minutes later it was 2–2, Arshavin crossing from the left for Nicklas Bendtner to head against the far post. The ball bounced into the six-yard box where Abdoulaye Méïté's maladroit intervention could not stop Van Persie from nudging it home.

Arsenal would have won it in added time had not Scott Carson plunged low to his right to repel Gaël Clichy's goalbound drive, but such a result would have been hard on West Brom, who deserved their point. Wenger played down his obvious disappointment. "Mathematically, we lost two points, but psychologically we gained one," he said. "I'm proud of the spirit we have shown, which proves we are ready for the fight. We played opponents who were very well organised, on a pitch which was very difficult for us. That meant our comeback from 2–0 down was down to character and resilience. It was important for us not to lose after what has happened to us recently."

Hodgson praised his team's "sterling effort", and singled out contributions from James Morrison, who played with a gashed forehead, Paul Scharner, who was concussed, and Brunt, who insisted on taking part despite a high temperature. The Albion manager said: "It is always disappointing to be 2–0 up and not to get a victory, but it has to be a point gained when you're in a relegation battle and playing serious contenders for the title."

RICHARD JEFFERSON, WBAunofficial.comWhile it is always disappointing to lose a two-goal lead, to be fair it was always coming. Arsenal battered us in the second half and Bendtner really should won the game for them, but it was backs to the wall for our defenders, who did well. In the end it was a fair game for us and a very valuable point won. Since Roy Hodgson has come in we have been more organised and defend far better than we did under the previous management. It's going to be ridiculously close, but I think we'll survive. There is a good determination in the side at the moment.

The fan's player ratings Carson 6; Reid 7, Olsson 8, Méïté 6, Shorey 7; Scharner 5 (Cech 46 ht 7), Mulumbu 7; Brunt 6, Morrison 6, Thomas 8; Odemwingie 7 (Fortuné 74 6)

BEN LOVER, Observer reader After the difficult week we have had, coming back from two goals down to draw isn't the end of world. I look at it positively. Coming back at the end has kept us in title race and even though draws aren't good at this stage of the season, we are still in with a shout. We were undone by horrendous errors from Almunia. It says something when fans of a relegation team are laughing at the defence and goalkeeper of a title-contending team. Almunia had an awful game. But now we have got an international break and after that we should have Cesc Fábregas and Walcott back, which is very important for us.

The fan's player ratings Almunia 3; Sagna 5, Squillaci 4, Koscielny 6, Clichy 6; Denílson 4 (Chamakh ht 6), Wilshere 7, Nasri 7, Ramsey 6 (Bendtner 57 5), Arshavin 6; Van Persie 6

To take part in the Fans' Verdict, email sport@observer.co.uk

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Joe Lovejoy at the Hawthorns, for The Observer on Saturday 19th March 2011 17.12 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

Register for ARSENAL team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch