By Barnaby de Hoedt
Arsenal returned home on Saturday for the first time in a month but were on the end of a result that defied all logic as West Ham became the first visitors to win at Emirates Stadium.
No one needed reminding that the Hammers went down in history as the last side to defeat the Gunners at Highbury. This time, Bobby Zamora's strike in first-half injury time provided an even more memorable day for the travelling fans and an unlikely boost to their fight against relegation.
The real irony was that Arsenal haven't been so relentlessly dominant since the move across Islington. Time and again the home side have fallen behind but managed to salvage a point or even a win. More often than not teams have come here with a 10-man buffer to protect their goal and deny Arsenal space to exploit.
That was certainly the plan for Alan Curbishley's men but this was different. West Ham were on the end of a backlash from an Arsenal side reeling from last week's slump at Anfield. The inspired Robert Green was like a target for a blunderbuss but, remarkably, he walked away with a clean sheet.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Gunners could have reached double figures but the former Norwich goalkeeper pulled off a number of heroic saves. Every Arsenal player made a beeline for West Ham's goal but all saw chances go begging.
A third consecutive league defeat throws the door for Champions League football wide open and next week's game at home to Bolton now takes on added significance.
Arsène Wenger kept the same defence that conceded four to Liverpool last weekend but there were changes throughout the rest of the side. Gilberto and Tomas Rosicky came in for Denilson and Abou Diaby in midfield. Freddie Ljungberg replaced Julio Baptista in the supporting role behind Emmanuel Adebayor up front.
It was intelligent shuffling from the manager, who has had to deal with so many injury problems, and he had the players fired up for this London derby as well. In an incredible opening, Arsenal's creativity was ceaseless.
After 80 seconds a superb interchange between Ljungberg and Alex Hleb plus a weighted pass from Rosicky sent Cesc Fabregas charging through. Green quickly narrowed the angle and touched the low shot wide of the post to deny the Spaniard.
There was more to come as Adebayor forced his way down the left and tested Green again from a tight angle. The Togolese international's next shot was blocked by George McCartney and Emmanual Eboue lashed the rebound into row Z.
Adebayor met a Rosicky corner with a weak header and then lifted a more difficult chance over the bar. In the 11th minute, Rosicky bisected the West Ham defence with another weighted through-ball to send Ljungberg clear. The Swede was under pressure but got his shot away only to be denied by Green's sharp sense of positioning again.
This was an impressive response after those Merseyside defeats but Arsenal still lacked that crucial cutting edge. Frustration began to set in as Rosicky sliced Hleb's cut-back wide of goal.
Arsenal's link-up play was outstanding but there was still uneasiness in the crowd when West Ham broke. The home fans have obviously seen too many away goals against the run of play this season.
Carlos Tevez was kept quiet but Nigel Reo-Coker's strong runs suggested there was more to this team than the world-class Argentinean. Lee Bowyer had a chance blocked and Tevez shot tamely at Jens Lehmann having escaped the shackles of Gilberto for the first time. Eboue made a crucial headed clearance with Zamora skulking ominously at the far post.
On half an hour Rosicky unleashed the fiercest of drives from 25 yards and this time Green fumbled his save, but the ball was cleared before anyone could react.
One of two things was going to happen. Arsenal would break the deadlock and the floodgates would open. Or the visitors would nick the unlikeliest of leads. To Arsenal's dismay, the latter scenario unfolded in first-half stoppage time. Lucas Neill delivered a hopeful chip over Arsenal's back line and Zamora, finding a moment's space on the end of the bouncing ball, executed a fine lob over the advanced Lehmann. Arsenal were stunned. Even West Ham's fans recognised their fortune: "We've only had one shot," they sang.
The Gunners redoubled their efforts after the interval. Hleb and Adebayor traded intricate passes before Ljungberg shot straight at Green. Then Adebayor met another Rosicky cross with a header and Neill hacked the ball away from under his own crossbar.
As Arsenal pushed men forward gaps appeared in their back line. Kolo Toure and Clichy both made vital interceptions at full stretch but West Ham looked capable of wrapping the game up if the chance presented itself.
Arsenal focused on levelling the scores though, and had a little luck in the 54th minute when the ball broke kindly for Gilberto on the edge of the area. The captain's strike seemed destined for the bottom corner but Green plummeted to his right and tipped the ball round the post.
That outstanding save was followed by another when Adebayor found acres of space from Fabregas's free kick but his header was pawed away from point-blank range. West Ham have been notorious for their poor marking at set pieces this season but Arsenal have been equally guilty of failing to convert from innumerable dead-ball situations.
The chances showed no sign of drying up but, with Green playing like a man possessed, hope was fading fast. When the keeper was beaten by a venomous Fabregas strike on the hour, the crossbar relieved him of his duty. The ball simply wouldn't go in, but it wasn't for the want of trying or lack of performance.
Gilberto timed a run perfectly to meet Eboue's teasing cross but his gilt-edged header spun wide. Undeterred, the Brazilian came back for more. He chested down a lofted pass from Rosicky and tucked the ball past Green only to see it clip the goalkeeper's left upright.
Aliadiere came on and looked menacing but he too missed a couple of opportunities. Arsenal tried everything but West Ham's commitment to throw bodies in the way continued to complement Green's excellence in goal.
The drama continued into the dying minutes but this time it was West Ham who spurned a great chance. The impressive Mark Noble put former Gunner Luis Boa Morte through but, despite chipping the ball over Lehmann, his effort drifted wide.
Four minutes were added but it only extended the home fans' agony. Even Lehmann ventured forward for the last corner but his opposite number Green clung onto the ball one final time and the game concluded as it began.
- Hleb 65
- Silva 85
- Ljungberg 75
- Baptista 75
- Diaby 85
- Aliadiere 65
West Ham United
- McCartney 46
- Collins Yellow Card
- Tevez 82
- Zamora 65 Goal!
- Spector 46
- Morte 65
- Blanco 82