Hammers must make this the turning point
West Ham 2 Arsenal 2 THEY SAY a week is a long time in politics – just ask Nick Griffin – but it seems that 45 minutes is a long time in Premier League football, writes DAVE EVANS. At half time on Sunday at Upton Park it was a miserable time to be a West
West Ham 2 Arsenal 2
THEY SAY a week is a long time in politics - just ask Nick Griffin - but it seems that 45 minutes is a long time in Premier League football, writes DAVE EVANS.
At half time on Sunday at Upton Park it was a miserable time to be a West Ham fan. Trailing 2-0 against high-flying Arsenal, the talk was of how many the Gunners would rack up by the end, with four, five and six the most likely outcomes.
Fast forward 45 minutes and the Hammers battling players were heroes once more. They had grabbed this game by the throat, panicked the Arsenal defence and with dogged determination, flashes of inspiration and most importantly, a huge slice of luck, West Ham grabbed an unlikely point.
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"It is not a victory, but it sounds like it and that is what I was looking for," claimed a delighted and no doubt relieved Gianfranco Zola after the game. "The fight back was the best thing of today's game, along with the participation and the support that the crowd gave us."
He wouldn't have been saying that at half time. The Hammers' fans had been largely quiet for the opening stanza and by the time referee Chris Foy had blown for the break, the boos had already begun to ring out.
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By then of course they were already trailing 2-0. Jack Collison and Carlton Cole had both seen shots deflected away from danger in the third minute, but it was Arsenal who were controlling matters with Robin van Persie forcing Robert Green to tip over on four minutes as they looked to grab an early advantage.
It came on 17 minutes and it was a gift from the Hammers defence. Bacary Sagna crossed from the right and James Tomkins and Green tangled in the area to allow the ball to fall at the feet of the grateful Van Persie, who did the rest.
Whether it was Tomkins or Green's fault is a matter of debate, but it seemed indicative of the lack of confidence the England goalkeeper is showing at the moment. The centre half looked like clearing the ball until Green ran into him.
Guillermo Franco, making his home debut at last, showed some nice touches and forward runs, but it was his partner Cole who was proving a real menace to the Arsenal defence.
His persistence and power set up Mark Noble for a shot that hit the side-netting, while he came so close to getting a good connection to Jonathan Spector's cross from the right.
The chances went begging though and when Van Persie's corner saw William Gallas get ahead of Herita Ilunga and head the ball into the roof of the net, the game looked all over bar the shouting.
What Zola said to his battle-scarred players at the break will remain largely a mystery, but it certainly did the trick as West Ham were a different team in the second half, a team prepared to really give it a go, instead of going down with a whimper.
"I don't want to take any credit for the comeback, it was down to the players," said the modest Zola. "What we said to each other was that we must fight to the end, that is what we are here for, we give everything and at the end of the game we see what happens.
"That is what happened. We never gave up, the subs gave us something extra and we made it happen."
The substitutions were the key. The lively Zavon Hines played his part, but it was the introduction of Alessandro Diamanti on 56 minutes that was the turning point in this match and maybe of the whole season.
One thing the Italian is not afraid to do is shoot. He thumped two efforts wide from the 25-yard range, but he despite his wayward shooting, he instilled a new urgency in the team and the Arsenal defence began to look worried.
Collison fed Hines in the box, who chested down for Cole to hook over the bar, before the breakthrough came on 74 minutes.
Scott Parker fed Hines who collided with Abou Diaby on the edge of the box. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was adamant there was no infringement, but after the initial connection, the Gunners' defender seemed to wrestle the youngster to the ground.
The angle looked all wrong for the left-footed Diamanti, but this is the Italian's forte and his powerful curling effort was only palmed out by Vito Mannone straight to Cole who headed home.
Arsenal had their chances from long range, with Cesc Fabregas shooting inches wide and Andrey Arshavin forcing a fine save from Green, but it was West Ham who had the momentum now.
Parker stormed into the penalty area - why does he not do this more often? - and seemed to be upended by Gallas, only for the referee to wave play on, but three minutes later Cole latched on to Spector's throw-in, was tripped by Alex Song and Foy was in the right place to point to the spot.
"It looked from my position that the first shout was more of a penalty than the second," confessed Zola. "But the referee has given it, and he was in a good position, so maybe it was a penalty."
Diamanti held his nerve to fire the spot kick into the corner, but any hopes West Ham had of pulling off a remarkable victory were scuppered five minutes later when Parker was given a second yellow card.
It was a dreadful decision by the referee. Parker had chased back to stop a Fabregas' break, and seemed to be fouled by the Arsenal captain, only to fall on the ball and handle it accidentally.
"I might have something to say about the sending off," said Zola. "Scott went with a header to that ball, he was pushed and then he touched the ball with his hand, so he didn't mean to do it.
"It was a pity because Scott was playing well and is an important player for us."
It could have been worse. In injury time, Arsenal poured forward looking for the winner. Sagna crossed from the right, Van Persie got in front of Spector to head goalwards from barely six yards out, but somehow Green saved with his legs to keep the Gunners out and earn West Ham a precious point.
It certainly made up for his earlier mistake. "It was an unbelievable save," said Zola. "That was the goalkeeper of the national team. It was like a goal scored for us, a really great save."
Defeat in injury time would have been too much to bear for the Hammers after they had fought back so valiantly.
It is important not to get carried away. Drawing against one of the top four sides is a good result, but it's what West Ham can manage against the teams around them that will determine how their season will pan out.
This may have been only a point, but it was a vital one for morale, and now it is up to the team to make sure this kick-starts their season and hauls them up the table.
And that starts at Sunderland on Saturday.
West Ham: Green, Spector, Ilunga, Tomkins, Upson, Behrami (Kovac 90), Parker, Collison, Noble (Diamanti 56), Franco (Hines 65), Cole. Unused subs: Kurucz, Faubert, Da Costa, Stanislas.
Att: 34,442. Referee: Chris Foy (5).