There can’t be many teams in Premier League history who have both won and lost four consecutive games in one season. There might be even fewer who have earned 34.8% of their overall points in December. And there is just one visiting side to have scored at Tottenham’s new stadium. West Ham are a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma encased in a puzzle locked in a conundrum.
Then again, they have been here before: no club relishes spoiling a north London party quite like the Hammers. They inflicted upon Arsenal a first defeat at the Emirates Stadium in April 2007 before repeating the trick against a tired and surely distracted Tottenham 12 years later here.
But the official Arsenal website’s report from that 1-0 defeat is testament to just how different these games were. If that truly was ‘a result that defied all logic’ all those years ago, this was anything but. West Ham deserved to beat a tired Tottenham side distracted by a looming Champions League semi-final.
Michail Antonio scored the winner from a sumptuous Marko Arnautovic assist, but it could have been Felipe Anderson who opened the scoring from a pulsating counter-attack, the excellent Ryan Fredericks breaking the deadlock with chances early in either half, or Issa Diop separating the two sides at the end of a rampaging run from central defence. West Ham had more shots against Tottenham than Manchester City managed in two instalments of their recent trilogy against Mauricio Pochettino’s side, and exerted more control over their hosts than in any of them.
There are mitigating circumstances. Spurs were shorn not only of Harry Kane but also of Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Sissoko and Harry Winks, with centre-half Juan Foyth playing at right-back and left-back Danny Rose used in central midfield. This was their eighth game in 27 days and fatigue is inevitable.
That is not to completely excuse a disjointed, prosaic performance, but there should be more credit for the visitors than criticism of the hosts. West Ham made it difficult for Spurs to settle and for their supporters to inspire.
That Tottenham were missing much of their spine – at least one of their first-choice defence, midfield and attack was unavailable – was compounded by the fact that West Ham’s was close to full-strength.
Lukasz Fabianski was excellent once again, making four saves. Diop only continues to live up to Jose Mourinho’s praise. Fabian Balbuena has been quietly effective alongside him all season. Declan Rice guarded them diligently and brilliantly. Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass formed the most unlikely success as a hard-working central-midfield partnership. Marko Arnautovic pried one of those nails out of that coffin.
After a familiarly ordinary and disappointing first half, the Austrian came to life in the second. One sumptuous touch to pluck a Fabianski clearance out of the sky deserved a better subsequent effort, before his wonderful pass evaded the head of Toby Alderweireld and left Davinson Sanchez chasing Antonio’s shadow. The finish was just as sublime.
It means little in the wider picture of this season. West Ham are now four points clear of Crystal Palace in 12th, with an almost unassailable five-point gap to 7th. The relegation battles under Slaven Bilic and David Moyes feel like a lifetime ago in comparison to the serene safety of Manuel Pellegrini: they already have more points this season than in either of the last two.
But while West Ham will always retain that essence of ridiculousness, a first away win at a ‘Big Six’ side since September 2015 is a certain sign of sustainable progress. They finally have solid, reliable foundations in terms of both manager and personnel; quiet construction must continue this summer.