By Matt Fortune
Four goals in the second half of Tuesday night's enthralling second-string London derby meant the points were eventually, and perhaps deservedly, shared.
After an opening period of few chances, Arsenal's 17-year-old midfielder Nacer Barazite crashed home the game's first goal five minutes after the interval.
The visitors though were the creators of their own downfall and may have been pegged back on several occasions before Jordon Spence equalised for West Ham after some slack defending.
Neil Banfield's young side restored their advantage through substitute Mark Randall but Tony Stokes, who also emerged from the bench, levelled four minutes later.
It was Arsenal's fourth game on the road this season after two wins and a draw in their previous away games. To extend that run against the Hammers was no mean feat - their hosts have not lost on home soil since the first day of the season.
Manager Banfield was able to name all six of the players who had joined up with the first-team for last Wednesday's Carling Cup win over Sheffield United. He also named two 16-year-olds on his bench - Tom Cruise and Luke Ayling.
The only name of note in the West Ham squad was Scottish international Nigel Quashie - the 29-year-old continuing his return from injury. Kyel Reid, James Walker and Stokes were the only other players with first-team experience, but their tally of appearances amounted to just 18, 16 of which were from Walker.
A tepid atmosphere seemed to mirror the early tempo of the game, as both sides opted for a cautious approach.
The game's first attack of consequence almost created an opening for Kieran Gibbs. On 10 minutes Spaniard Fran Merida played a delightful right-to-left pass with the outside of his boot, splitting the Hammers rearguard open. Gibbs, under pressure and with the angle narrowing, was unable to direct his shot goalwards.
It seemed to spark the game into life. The hosts twice created openings but Vito Mannone remained untroubled.
Quashie cut a menacing figure in the heart of the West Ham midfield. The Scot has clearly not lost any of his bite in the challenge, and after a few nibbles he was eventually booked for a lunge on Henri Lansbury. The youngster was substituted six minutes later as a result.
His replacement, Randall, was grabbing his first taste of reserve-team action since mid-September. The talented youngster has been tipped for great things this season, but has been dogged by injury.
Lansbury's injury wasn't the only stoppage that befell the opening period. After the early niceties, the match developed a more sinister side - a real London derby was unfolding.
As such four minutes were added. It was in the last of those that the hosts should have taken the lead. Arsenal failed to clear a set-piece, and when the ball fell invitingly to Zavon Hines at the back post it seemed he would score. Instead, the striker crashed the ball high over the bar.
The deadlock was broken just after the restart. Vincent van den Berg evaded the attention of his marker and raced into the box. Under pressure, the Dutchman had the presence of mind to play the ball into fellow countryman Barazite, who rifled the ball home from close range. It was the perfect start to the half, and was perhaps deserved after a cohesive Arsenal display in the initial 45 minutes.
The Hammers responded instantly, Ashley Miller stinging the palms of Mannone from distance, before Paul Rodgers and Gavin Hoyte were both called upon to make vital interventions.
The equaliser though was not far away.
Just before the hour and as Arsenal again failed to deal with a ball into the box, Spence poked home from close range. It was only the second goal Banfield's team have conceded on the road this season.
The goal rattled the young Gunners and it took them several minutes to regain composure. But when they did they nearly went back in front. Merida, with his less-favoured right foot, had Walker scrambling across his goal only for the ball to go narrowly wide.
With the momentum having swung back in Arsenal's favour, they took the lead with a quarter of an hour remaining. Van den Berg and Barazite again combined with Randall the beneficiary. The Englishman's close-range strike was fine reward for his performance.
Stokes then produced a stunning volley to pull the Hammers back into the game once more.
A draw was in truth a fair result, but strangely, despite leaving with a point, Arsenal's performance will be seen as a step back on the defeat to Reading two weeks earlier.
- Steer 65
- Rodgers 76
- Lansbury 24
- Cruise 76
- Randall 24
- Fonte 65