Some inspired changes by West Ham manager, Gianfranco Zola, seemed to have the desired effect as the Hammers managed to salvage not only a very important point but some much-needed confidence too. The Gunners will be walking away from this match wondering how they failed to get the three points and where it all went wrong. After controlling the play for the best part of an hour Arsenal seemed to be cruising to a simple win in east London, but it was not to be their night when two quick goals from West Ham brought the hosts back into the game.
Arsenal were on top throughout the first half and West Ham struggled to threaten Mannone’s goal. The first goal came from a poor goalkeeping decision by Robert Green. Deciding to come off his line to clear a cross, Green struggled to get much on the ball and ended up getting more of his own player, James Tomkins, while the ball fell perfectly for Robin van Persie to slot into an empty net. The second goal came just after the half-hour mark from a William Gallas header, courtesy of a van Persie corner. Two goals to the good, Arsenal were playing with the flair and quick-touch football that we have become used to seeing them play. The north London side continued to dominate the second half with Cesc Fabregas and Andrey Arshavin both going close with long range efforts.
West Ham’s Alessandro Diamanti stole the show after coming off the bench to change the flow of play and got the crucial equaliser from the spot after Song had clipped Carlton Cole’s right leg. The equaliser came after Cole himself had given the home side a fighting chance on 74 minutes. Scott Parker was sent off late on for a second yellow card which was harshly given after he slid in for the ball with Fabregas.
Gianfranco Zola: “Never say never. The reaction surprised me because it was looking pretty bad for us. But at half-time we had a chat and said the only way to react is to fight to the end. They did and it turned out to be a great point for us – it feels like a victory.” When asked about Diamanti We know he is capable of those things. We need everyone’s best performance now and to come off the bench and do that makes a big difference.”
Arsene Wenger: “We played very well in the first half and we have to keep the positives of our game. There is no lethargy, the team wants to win and it focused, there is no lack of concentration. We need to learn from our mistakes and the quicker the better.”
Arsenal will have rued missing the opportunity to have gone two points clear of local rivals Tottenham Hotspur, and with a game in hand over the top two they had the chance to put the pressure on. But the Hammers produced a gutsy display in the last 20 minutes to rescue the draw. The east London club have failed to win in the Premier League since the opening day of the season but with a performance like this, against a top four club, they have gained a bit of momentum and may be back on their way up the table.
Struggling in 19th place with just five points before this game, West Ham were desperate for a result of any kind. Zola’s decision to bring on Seb Hines and Diamanti had the desired effect on the rest of the team and they began to pressurise the Arsenal back four. The beginning of the Hammers fight back came from a softly awarded free-kick just outside the Gunners area, which was palmed out by Vito Mannone, straight on to the head of Cole who nodded the ball into the goal. The equaliser came 10 minutes from time from the penalty spot after Cole was tripped in the box. Mannone went the right way but was unable to stop Diamanti’s precise kick. Arsenal tried to push for a late winner and came close but Green redeemed himself after his earlier mistake with a great save in the final minutes.
Gianfranco Zola will be delighted with the way his players performed in the second half but will want to see those performances last for the entire 90 minutes, not just for brief periods. The next few matches for the Hammers are all against beatable opposition and Zola will want to be winning those games, not drawing them. They have been playing much better football than recent results have suggested and yesterday’s result has emphasised that. The draw should help lift the team and fans who have not had much to cheer about recently.
Arsenal have only themselves to blame after the result and with an important game coming up against Spurs at the Emirates next weekend they will not want a repeat of this week’s comeback by the opposition. Wenger will be worried at how his team keep coming undone towards the end of matches and failing to see the whole game out. This was a match which Arsenal should have won comfortably after going two goals clear and perhaps emphasises that they cannot compete with the top two teams if they continue to fail to win from these positions. West Ham deserved the draw after forcing Arsenal to play gritty football for the final quarter. Sunday was not quite the 60th birthday present that Arsene Wenger was after. This was a match which his players should have seen out, and he will be hoping this result will not recur again. Zola, on the other hand will be thrilled with his players’ spirit.
West Ham 2-2 Arsenal – Cole 74, Diamante 80 (P), – van Persie 16, Gallas 36
West Ham (4-4-2): Green – Spector, Tomkins, Upson, Ilunga – Behrami (Kovac 90), Parker (sent off), Noble (Diamante 55), Collison – Cole, Franco (Hines 64)
Arsenal (4-5-1): Mannone – Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy – Eboue (Bendtner 82), Song Billong, Fabregas, Diaby (Eduardo 88), Arshavin – van Persie
West Ham – Arsenal
6 – Corners – 8
10 (3) – Shots (on target) – 12 (6)
19 – Fouls – 16
2 (1) – Yellow cards (Red) – 2 (0)
5 – Offside – 2