West Ham 2 (Cole 74, Diamanti 80) Arsenal 2 (Van Persie 16, Gallas 37)
Perhaps we can excuse the players for thinking the game was won at half time. I certainly did. West Ham were toothless, gutless, and quite frankly, hopeless in the opening 45 minutes. Upson cut a dispirited figure at the back, trying desperately to hold a wobbly defence together, Carlton Cole was equally alone up front. And we were 2-0 up thanks to a pair of incredibly simple goals – Van Persie tapping in after a complete mix up in the box, and then Gallas heading in a corner from six yards, with Green nowhere. Three points seemed assured.
I was already imagining what I’d be writing today, that West Ham looked a shadow of their former selves, and were truly in a relegation battle if they continued to show a lack of fight. But in the second half, they went for it. Credit must go to Zola, who threw caution to the wind, changed formation and went for it, risking a 5-0 thumping in the hope that he’d nick something.
That the goal which put them back in contention was fortuitous is irrelevant – they should never have been in a position where one lucky goal could see the game come to a tense finish. After a midweek game thrown away because of a lack of killer instinct, the last thing that should’ve happened was for the trick to be repeated. But in the second half, we cruised along, thinking the game was done and dusted. It wasn’t.
That said, the free kick that led to their first goal was exceptionally soft, but Mannone still should’ve made the routine save around the post. Instead, he was beaten in the flight, and palmed it straight back onto Cole’s head, who buried the chance.
Scott Parker then committed an outrageous dive, which the referee waved away but didn’t book him for, before picking up a yellow card just moments later. The inevitable then arrived when Cole was felled by Song – a soft spot kick but it was a foul, and a needless one at that. Diamanti scored.
Parker was then sent off, probably unfortunately, but you sensed our chance had gone. There was still time for Green to redeem himself by making a superb stop from Van Persie’s header, but in the end the draw felt like a defeat, two points thrown away that should have been sealed with ease.
It was certainly a draw that meant more than the Alkmaar one – we are cruising to qualification in the Champions League and those dropped points should be a simple and irrelevant blip. But we had a chance to go top of the Premiership by winning our two games in hand, and we messed it up.
Thinking positively, it is a timely reminder ahead of a North London derby that saw our most infamous capitulation of last season. If we’re two up this time, at least you can be sure we won’t be resting on our laurels. We owe them.
Don’t be too disheartened – we’re still looking very good. We just need to kill sides off, which is a much better situation that this time last year, when the likes of Fulham and Stoke were beating us with ease.