Arsenal ended a sequence of three successive defeats against West Ham United with a well-deserved point at the Boleyn Ground on Friday night.
Conor Henderson gave Steve Gatting’s side the lead with a clinical finish after 20 minutes before West Ham drew level just after the half hour.
A second-half floodlight failure forced the teams from the field 10 minutes after the restart and led to a disjointed second half, although Arsenal nearly grabbed a winner when Serge Gnabry’s effort in stoppage time hit the post.
In the end though, they would have to settle for a point.
Gatting made six changes to the side that had secured their first win of the elite group stage against Southampton on Monday evening.
Thomas Eisfeld made his first appearance in over a month after returning from injury, while France international Sebastien Squillaci was at centre half.
Eisfeld cushioned a long ball into the path of Henderson, who advanced into the box before driving a shot between the legs of Spiegel
Nigel Neita was recalled up front, where he was supported by the trio of Zak Ansah, Henderson and Eisfeld.
Jordan Wynter, who had featured at right back in his last appearance, was deployed in midfield alongside Nico Yennaris.
Arsenal had been beaten in the three prior meetings between the sides this season and they started like a team determined to avoid a fourth straight defeat against their London rivals.
They pressed high up the field, enabling them to dictate the play by forcing the hosts into their own half.
Henderson had the first effort of the game after five minutes, striding forward before unleashing a typically fierce left-footed effort from just outside the area. Home goalkeeper Raphael Spiegel unconvincingly pushed the ball back into the danger zone and was fortunate to see the midfielder’s follow-up shot blocked to safety.
Just two minutes later, it was Eisfeld’s turn to find a pocket of space between the defence and the midfield. With defenders backing off, the German elected to have a go but dragged his shot narrowly off target.
The early exchanges continued in a similar fashion. Arsenal pushed and probed in the West Ham half when on the ball, and were disciplined and organised when not in possession.
They took a deserved lead after 20 minutes.
Eisfeld cushioned a long ball into the path of Henderson, who advanced into the box before driving a shot between the legs of Spiegel.
Five minutes later, they almost doubled the lead.
Again Eisfeld was involved, whipping in a free kick that Elton Monteiro headed into the path of Wynter, whose effort clipped the post on its way wide.
But having struggled to get into the game for the first 25 minutes, suddenly the home side burst to life.
Elliot Lee was only denied by the impressive Monteiro’s timely intervention, before Eisfeld chased back to block George Moncur’s effort away a minute later.
Despite a shift in momentum, Arsenal still looked comfortable at the back, with the hosts struggling to create a real chance of note.
But just after the half hour, Nick Haycock’s side were level, thanks largely to a sizeable amount of luck.
Pelly Ruddock advanced to the byline before whipping in a vicious cross that hit the unfortunate Yennaris and left Damian Martinez with no chance.
The goal seemed to increase West Ham’s belief, and only a fine last-ditch tackle by Monteiro prevented Lee going through.
Winger Blair Turgott had tormented Arsenal at Rush Green in September and, while on loan at Bradford City, had also featured in the League Two side’s shock Capital One Cup win over the Gunners.
He came close to giving the hosts the advantage before the break, turning sharply before seeing a shot deflected just off target, but the teams were to go in level at half time.
Eisfeld had looked sharp on his return to action, and almost gave Gatting’s team the lead just after the break.
Chasing onto Wynter’s chipped pass, the 20-year-old beat Spiegel to the ball but was poleaxed in the art of shooting. As a result, his effort lacked power and was hacked away. More worryingly, he stayed down and required treatment.
With the second half only 10 minutes old, the ground was plunged into darkness. The teams were ordered off the pitch by the referee but returned after a short delay.
While the floodlight failure had temporarily entertained the fans, it led to both sides struggling to create any real rhythm once the action got started again.
Wellington twice headed over for the home team, while at the other end, lively substitute Gnabry was at the heart of Arsenal’s most promising forward forays.
And it was the German youth international that nearly set up a late, late winner.
The 17-year-old superbly cushioned Henderson’s cross into the path of Miquel, whose rasping volley was tipped over by Spiegel.
West Ham raced up the other end but, after escaping the clutches of Wynter, substitute Sean Maguire was denied by an equally good save from Martinez.
And at the death, Arsenal would go even closer. Eisfeld’s superb pass fed Gnabry whose crisp effort beat Spiegel but not the post.
- Monteiro 78
- Hajrovic Yellow Card
- Henderson Goal!
- Yennaris Goal!
- Neita 61
- Gnabry 61
- Ebecilio 78
West Ham U21
- McCartney 46
- Dan Potts
- Pelly Ruddock
- Amos Nasha 72
- Lee 78
- Frazer Shaw 46
- Maguire 78
- Kieran Bywater
- Ben Marlow 72