Hammers pay the penalty

West Ham United head back to the Boleyn Ground this week for two vital home matches knowing they need a speedy return to winning ways after a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal.

For the second successive Saturday, Gianfranco Zola's men lost out to London rivals heading to the top of the Barclays Premier League. Denilson scored as early as the fifth minute and a missed Alessandro Diamanti penalty just before half-time suggested it was not going to be the visitors' day, even though Thomas Vermaelen was sent off in the process. Cesc Fabregas's late second proved the cruel, killer blow.


Zola had made four changes to his starting lineup from that defeated 4-1 at Chelsea last time out, with Scott Parker the most notable absentee. There was also a switch to 4-4-2 with Junior Stanislas and Diamanti earning starting berths in the wide positions at the expense of Ilan and Kieron Dyer.

The back four was unchanged save for James Tomkins replacing Danny Gabbidon and the Hammers rearguard's first real test saw Arsenal put the ball in the back of the net. Mattthew Upson had done well to clear a ball forward but a bit of fortune saw the clearance eventually teed up for Denilson to power into the corner from 15 yards.

Diamanti was given a chance to level matters three minutes later with a free-kick 20 yards out in a central position but his effort was to clear the bar with Manuel Almunia mildly concerned. Denilson could have doubled his and Arsenal's tally on ten minutes after incisive play through midfield but the chance went begging.

That move characterised much of Arsenal's play but as the half wore on, the Hammers began to find their stride and started to string a pass or two together themselves. That was summed up best when Diamanti played in Stanislas down the right wing. His cross was deep to the far post but it just eluded the on-rushing Mido.

A quick exchange of yellow cards preceded a thrilling end to the first half. Diamanti was cautioned first for a clumsy foul before Sol Campbell was lucky only to see yellow for a late tackle on Stanislas. The Hammers youngster's next involvement was a tame shot at the other end before a quick counter saw Clichy find Fabregas who nearly supplied Samir Nasri just in front of goal.

Tomkins then produced a terrific block to deny Fabregas a clear opportunity from eight yards. That was not to be the last of the action though, Vermaelen seeing red for tugging back Guille Franco after he had got goalside of the Belgian defender. Diamanti stepped up looking to convert from the spot but Almunia dived to his left to save.

There was still time for Kovac to pick up a caution for simulation before Martin Atkinson blew for half-time, with the home fans finally finding their voice to let the referee know what they thought of the dismissal. West Ham were lively in the second half's opening stages, with Fabio Daprela especially showing ambition with a driving run that took him as far as the area.

Both sides made early changes with Carlton Cole on for Franco and Abou Diaby entering for Nicklas Bendtner. The yellow cards continued to come as freely as the driving rain with Upson notably booked for a foul on Emmanuel Eboue. Arsenal were still the most likely though with Fabregas and Nasri keeping the visitors on the toes with their precise passing.

Stanislas and Mido combined midway through the half but again the final shot was not forthcoming. There was one from Diamanti a minute later though but Song deflected it wide for a corner. Noble entered the fray for the final 20 minutes for Radoslav Kovac, just before Green produced a smart stop to save a Campbell header.

Benni McCarthy was the Hammers' final change for Mido as Zola went for broke in the closing stages. The South Africa striker quickly connected with a header from Jonathan Spector's right-wing cross but could not direct it on target. Arshavin then had a go at the other end but never troubled Green.

It was end to end stuff and only the width of a post denied Cole after he cut inside and fired low to Almunia's right. The Hammers were to pay for that profligacy when Upson instinctively handled after Diamanti had conceded possession and Fabregas stepped up and stroked the ball into the net. Thankfully, the referee resisted Arsenal calls for a second yellow and the captain's dismissal.

Some half-hearted half-chances followed at both ends after that, but in truth, Hammers hopes were by now focused on the Tuesday visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers and the Saturday showdown with Stoke City. Zola will hope it is a case of home sweet home in east London after two disappointing awaydays in the capital.