West Ham Utd 0 Arsenal 0

Hammers feel at home in high society
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The Independent Football

Already missing Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp, they also suffered an injury to their important holding midfielder Gilberto Silva, who left the ground on crutches. Of that quartet, only Pires is likely to be fit for the Champions' League tie away to Ajax.

Without ever becoming the classic that optimists had hoped for, it was one of the livelier goalless draws, received with a standing ovation by an East London audience now convinced that West Ham will not be the relegation fodder even some of their own had feared. Pushed hard in the first half, but threatening in the second, they matched last season's runners-up on the back of particularly solid performances from the back-line and the young central midfielders Nigel Reo-Coker and Hayden Mullins.

The disappointment lay in the paucity of saves demanded from either goalkeeper, which meant that the afternoon's principal talking point was a strong claim for a West Ham penalty early in the second half. Jens Lehmann's handling from a corner was faulty and an Arsenal hand appeared to deflect Reo-Coker's shot, but the referee was unmoved.

"A definite penalty," claimed West Ham's manager, Alan Pardew, whose popularity transformation with the East Enders in 12 months would defy the rules of any soap opera. "But after all the publicity this week it would have been easy for us to end up with egg on our face today. I suppose with everyone saying what a great game it was going to be, it was a banker nil-nil."

There may be more of them involving Arsenal until Henry returns, for his team are now learning what life is like without their principal goalscorer. Much depends now on the unmatured - occasionally immature - talents of Jose Antonio Reyes and Robin van Persie, all the more so when Bergkamp is not available either.

Henry had scored a hat-trick in the teams' last meeting, helping to push West Ham towards the Premiership trap-door. Without him, Wenger's men combined neatly without finding the final thrust the Frenchman might have provided. In the first 10 minutes Van Persie was twice set up by Fredrik Ljungberg, hitting his first effort wide and forcing Roy Carroll to his only save with the second. Later in the half a sweet approach move finished with Alexandr Hleb playing Cesc Fabregas in to skew badly wide and Reyes sent a curler past the post. In the second half, however, when West Ham were the better side, there was not so much as an Arsenal shot on target.

The home team's best moment came as early as the 12th minute, after Gilberto fouled Matthew Etherington. The free-kick was in a perfect position, just outside the penalty area and to the left of the goal, for Teddy Sheringham, who stepped up and bent it a fraction wide with Lehmann apparently unsighted and definitely motionless.

Either a goal or a dash of controversy was required to lift the game to a higher pitch thereafter, and it was the latter that did it early in the second half. The crowd were first mystified when Lehmann clearly handled outside his area to prevent Marlon Harewood breaking through, only to discover to his great good fortune that play had been brought back for an Arsenal free-kick. Bemusement turned to fury when the appeals for a handling offence went unanswered, and to frustration as the substitute Bobby Zamora headed a glorious chance feebly wide.

Wenger removed Reyes and Van Persie, both of whom had become peripheral, and later admitted: "The gap between the teams is maybe smaller than everyone expected it to be. I don't think the title [race] is over. But I agree we are missing something up front." That something is a Frenchman who scored 30 goals last season.