West Ham employed a tenor at half-time yesterday to sing "Jerusalem". There are not too many dark satanic mills near Upton Park, nor mountains of green, and the Icelandic-owned, Italian-managed club are hardly the epitome of Englishness these days.
With Arsenal two-nil up and cruising, "Abide With Me", favoured by football and funerals, seemed more appropriate. But West Ham proceeded to summon up all of William Blake's invocations from the "arrows of desire" to the "mental fight" and deservedly secured what already seems, at this early stage of the season, a significant draw.
It was certainly, in Arsène Wenger's mind, a "major missed opportunity" in the wake of Liverpool's defeat of Manchester United. While there are those among the Arsenal support who will view the result from Anfield as bad news, as they are concerned about retaining a place in the top four, Wenger has designs on the title and victory here would have put them three points off the top with a game in hand.
When Robin van Persie and William Gallas scored after 15 and 36 minutes three points seemed assured and continued to look so until 16 minutes from the end. Then West Ham, inspired by the talented, if inconsistent Alessandro Diamanti rallied remarkably. First Carlton Cole followed up after goalkeeper Vito Mannone could only parry a Diamanti free-kick, then the Italian converted a penalty awarded after Cole collapsed under a mild ankle tap by Alex Song.
The penalty was harsh and the free-kick which led to the first goal was wrongly awarded, Zavon Hines simply ran into Abou Diaby. "I don't think either should have been given," Wenger said. Chris Foy's uncharacteristic incompetence was even-handed, though. Four minutes before Diamanti's spot-kick he should have awarded a penalty when Gallas brought down Scott Parker. Even Zola admitted that the first offence "seemed more of a penalty". Foy then dismissed Parker, awarding a second yellow card for handball after Cesc Fabregas had barged the West Ham midfielder over, forcing him to slide into the ball.
He was not the only one with reason to review his performance. Robert Green was at fault for Arsenal's first goal, palming a Bacary Sagna cross straight to Van Persie six yards out. Perhaps affected by that he then stayed on his line for the second, enabling Gallas to rise above Herita Ilunga to head in from close range.
The goalkeeper went a long way to redeeming himself, however, with a stunning save from Van Persie in the 90th minute after the Dutchman met Sagna's cross from point-blank range. "That was as good as a goal,"' said Franco Zola, adding: "It is not a victory, but it feels like it. We wanted to give a signal that we are here, we are fighting. We can do important things with that spirit and the qualities we have in the team."
While Arsenal were concentrating on Anfield, of greater concern to West Ham was Bolton's defeat of Everton which left them four points adrift of safety. The much-vaunted "Project" being undertaken at the club presumably does not feature Championship football as part of the blueprint and, given the talent in West Ham's squad, it ought not come to pass. However, having been relegated six years ago despite the presence of Michael Carrick, David James, Joe Cole, Jermain Defoe, Freddie Kanouté and Paolo Di Canio, no one at Upton Park will take refuge in the old saying "too good to go down".
Wenger paid West Ham the compliment of fielding an XI unchanged from that which drew in Alkmaar in the Champions League on Wednesday. The only changes were on the bench with the injured trio Eduardo, Nicklas Bendter and, for the first time since his summer leg break, Samir Nasri, returning. If this underlined growing squad strength, West Ham's first goal highlighted the glaring weakness.
Their rivals have Edwin van der Sar, Petr Cech, Pepe Reina and Shay Given. Arsenal have Mannone and Manuel Almunia. Much to the latter's undoubted chagrin Wenger retained his faith in Mannone but paid a price as the young Italian parried Diamanti's free-kick back to the centre of the goal. "I am disappointed, but maybe the ball moved at the last second," Wenger said. "I never had the feeling the game was won even though we were in complete control because West Ham continued to try. If you do not score the third goal the game is not won."
The points Arsenal dropped when conceding late on in the Netherlands in midweek are likely to be nothing more than an irritation; those dropped yesterday could, come May, prove more serious.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Spector, Tomkins, Upson, Ilunga; Behrami (Kovac, 90), Parker (Diamanti, 55), Noble, Collison; Cole, Franco (Hines, 64). Substitutes not used: Kurucz (gk), Faubert, Da Costa, Stanislaus.
Arsenal (4-1-2-3): Mannone; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song; Fabregas, Diaby (Eduardo, 87); Eboué (Bendtner, 81), Van Persie, Arshavin. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Ramsey, Silvestre, Gibbs, Nasri.
Referee: C Foy (Lancashire)
Booked: West Ham United Hines, Parker; Arsenal Mannone, Eboué.
Sent off: Parker (85).
Man of the match: Diamanti.