A Julien Faubert own goal and a late strike from Emmanuel Adebayor was enough to give Arsenal victory in an enthralling London derby on Sunday afternoon.
Faubert was unlucky to see his attempted clearance cross the line in the 75th minute, before Adebayor added a second in stoppage time. The hosts then had Carlton Cole sent off in the dying minutes of what had been a thrilling encounter that saw Robert Green turn in a heroic display, denying the visitors on several occasions.
Gianfranco Zola made four changes from the team that lost at Hull City. Lucas Neill was out with a virus so James Collins came in to make his first start since December. Lee Bowyer and Hayden Mullins started in place of the injured Mark Noble (calf) and Valon Behrami, who was rested as a precautionary measure with a groin problem. David Di Michele also returned as Matthew Etherington dropped to the bench. Arsenal welcomed back skipper William Gallas after their midweek Champions League win in Turkey.
Both sets of supporters were in good voice as the rain, which had been lashing down in east London all day, temporarily subsided in time for kick-off. The home fans were nearly quietened within 40 seconds though as Theo Walcott's effort from just inside the area was comfortably gathered by Green, who would go on to enjoy a terrific game in the Hammers goal.
Di Michele almost marked his return to the side in the tenth minute when his powerful drive was just tipped over by Manuel Almunia. Three minutes later Nicklas Bendtner came close for the visitors as he flashed a shot wide. Much of the pre-match talk had been of both teams' attractive, passing football and they seemed keen to live up to the billing as they utilised the wet surface to zip the ball around on the floor.
Walcott almost continued his superb form of late as a darting run saw him beat two defenders before clipping the top of Green's crossbar with an effort from just inside the area. The England winger then tried his luck from closer in but still could not find the net as his shot from six yards was met by a fantastic reaction save from Green.
Referee Phil Dowd took Cesc Fabregas' name in the 27th minute for blocking Craig Bellamy as he threatened a counterattack. Moments later the West Ham No10 did break through as a fantastic through-ball from Scott Parker sent him clear. He raced in to the area before trying to place his shot into the corner of thenet, but somehow Almunia stuck out a leg to send the ball looping over the bar.
As the Boleyn Ground's floodlights fought to counter the encroaching darkness it was definitely the hosts that were in the ascendancy and the home support more than contributed to an electric atmosphere. But if they needed a reminder of the danger of their opposition they got it as Bendtner sent a header just wide. The Dane tried his luck again in the 37th minute but was the second Gunners forward to be denied by West Ham United's No1 as he dived to his left to turn the shot around the post.
Bellamy fired over from 25 yards before Parker followed Fabregas' name into the book two minutes before half-time for a strong challenge on Robin van Persie. It was to be the last action of the first half as the sides went into the break level.
Gael Clichy was booked six minutes after the restart for a late challenge on Mullins on his 200th appearance in claret and blue and, from the resulting free-kick, Cole glanced a header wide. At the other end Collins had to be alert as he slid in to clear a dangerous cross from almost underneath the crossbar. The hosts then had a claim for a penalty turned down as Cole's cross appeared to catch Gallas on the arm.
The second period was carrying on in the same vein as the first as the play flowed from one end to the other. Collins, on his 100th career appearance, made another crucial intervention to block Van Persie, when the Dutchman seemed destined to give his side the lead.
In the 59th minute Alexander Song became the fourth player booked as he stopped Bellamy illegally. The forward had more joy moments later as he surged into the Arsenal area only to see his cut-back from the left-hand side elude first Cole and then Bowyer. The home support amongst the 34,802 in the Boleyn Ground again roared their side forward.
Arsene Wenger reacted by sending on Adebayor and Abou Diaby for Samir Nasri and Walcott. The Togalese striker nearly scored with his first touch as his header from a corner flew just wide. Green made it a hat-trick of outstanding saves on 71 minutes as he produced another superb one-handed stop to keep out Van Persie's 20-yard drive. The Dutchman went even closer a couple of minutes later as he smashed a free-kick against the post.
Arsenal took the lead with 15 minutes to go as Adebayor's cross was turned into his own net by the retreating Faubert. Zola responded immediately by bringing on Luis Boa Morte and Etherington for Parker and Di Michele. The lead was nearly doubled minutes later but Green stopped Adebayor's effort from the edge of the area, with the substitute firing the rebound over.
Faubert was booked with two minutes remaining and Freddie Sears came on for Bowyer as the Hammers pressed for an equaliser. The desire to get level was to cost them though. As they pushed bodies forward it inevitably left gaps at the back which the visitors exploited to claim their second. A through-ball from Bendtner sent Adebayor racing clear and he duly rounded Green and finished into an empty net.
The home side's frustration was compounded when Cole was given a straight red card for a late tackle on Song. It means the striker will miss the trip to Old Trafford on Wednesday, when the team will be looking to turn their strong form into points.