|West Ham United's Alessandro Diamanti celebrates scoring his late penalty during the English Premier league football match between West ham United and Arsenal at Upton Park in east London. (AFP photo)|
LONDON (AFP) – Alessandro Diamanti stepped off the bench to inspire a superb second-half comeback by West Ham United, who recovered from a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 against Arsenal here at Upton Park on Sunday.
Gianfranco Zola's side appeared dead and buried when Robin van Persie and William Gallas fired the visitors into a commanding half-time lead.
But Diamanti transformed the game after his introduction in the 56th minute, setting up Carlton Cole's 74th minute effort before ensuring the Hammers claimed only their sixth point of the season with an 80th minute penalty.
And Zola's side, who still sit second bottom in the Premier League, held on for a draw despite the late sending off of midfielder Scott Parker for a second bookable offence.
The news of Liverpool's 2-0 victory over champions Manchester United at Anfield would have filtered through to the visitors' dressing room shortly before kick-off and Arsenal started the game knowing victory would put them hard on the heels of the second-placed title-holders.
Zola had made attempt to disguise the importance of this fixture in and the West Ham manager's message appeared to have got through to players.
As early as the third minute cracks appeared in the Arsenal defence when Valon Behrami won a header that fell temptingly for Cole.
For a brief moment, the England striker looked as though he had a clear sight on Vito Mannone?s goal but centre-back Thomas Vermaelen moved swiftly to block the effort and the ball deflected tamely wide.
Yet while Arsenal appeared more incisive, they too made only a limited impression on the West Ham goal until Robert Green and James Tomkins combined to gift van Persie his fifth goal of the league campaign in the 16th minute.
Bacary Sagna worked a nice one-two with Abou Diaby but there shouldn't have been any danger for West Ham when the Arsenal right-back floated a cross into Green's area.
But the Hammers keeper failed to communicate with team-mate Tomkins and the pair collided with each other, allowing the ball to fall to van Persie who side-footed into an empty net.
West Ham were guilty of more sloppy defending in the 37th minute when Gallas headed the Gunners into a two-goal lead.
The chance came from a van Persie corner but the Hammers should have done better, with Cole in particular guilty of allowing the Arsenal centre-back to out-jump him.
Arsenal began to stretch West Ham with typically neat passing moves, most notably to set up Emmanuel Eboue who saw a low shot saved by Green just before the interval.
The start of the second period reinforced the view that West Ham had run out of ideas, prompting Zola to make an early change and introduce Diamanti.
The Italian midfielder had an immediate impact, firing in a couple of hopeful long range shots that seemed to shake West Ham out of their shell and revive hopes they could get something out of the game.
Cole followed suit with a shot on the turn that arrowed over and the pair combined to drag West Ham back into the match when the striker headed home after Mannone parried Diamanti's free-kick.
West Ham were transformed and had a strong appeal for a penalty turned down two minutes later when Parker went down under Gallas's challenge.
But there was no doubt about the validity of their second claim when Cole was felled by a clumsy tackle from behind by Alex Song and Diamanti stepped up to level from the penalty spot.