Leaders dash Hammers hopes
West Ham United found leaders Arsenal too hot to handle on New Year's Day going down to first-half goals from Eduardo and Emmanuel Adebayor.
The scoreline from north London did not tell the whole story, however. Alan Curbishley's side had a succession of chances to equalise after Eduardo had adroitly opened the scoring inside two minutes and were anything but outclassed by their hosts. They were made to pay for their profligacy when Adebayor was able to latch on to a long ball forward to double the advantage in the 18th minute. From there, in truth, Arsenal were always in control.
As they attempted to replicate their achievement of being the only away club to win at the Emirates Stadium in the 17 months since its inception, West Ham United were forced to make two changes from Saturday's 2-1 win that saw Manchester United toppled from the league summit with Anton Ferdinand and John Pantsil coming in for Nolberto Solano and Scott Parker. Ferdinand's return meant Jonathan Spector moved into a five-man midfield behind lone striker Carlton Cole.
The game roared into life through Eduardo, with the Croatia forward given too much time and space to control a cross from Cesc Fabregas before firing beyond Robert Green. It took six minutes before the Hammers made their first real foray forward, an incisive pass by Lucas Neill finding Cole, who laid off for Mark Noble to shoot but home goalkeeper Manuel Almunia was untroubled.
Cole nearly found an equaliser in the 13th minute, capitalising on a Justin Hoyte mistake to fire in a shot that looked likely to beat Almunia, were it not for a deflection off Kolo Toure. From the resulting corner, Ferdinand met Mark Noble's set-piece with a sweet volley that had Gael Clichy scrabbling to clear off the line.
Within five minutes, Freddie Ljungberg and Matthew Upson both went close. Ljungberg firing in a low shot that Almunia pushed away for a corner before Upson swivelled to shoot for goal but could not direct it on target. Arsenal went on the counterattack instantly with Clichy clearing upfield for Adebayor to chase. He nodded the ball past Green and slotted in off the post from a tight angle.
The visitors kept going, with a booking for Cole at least summing up the commitment. Upson went close with a header and a spectacular overhead kick from John Pantsil, on his first league start since October 2006, just missed as Almunia dived to his left. The noisy travelling support were liking what they saw and tongue-in-cheek chants of 'we're going to win 3-2' filled the air.
However, Arsenal weathered the storm and when Ljungberg limped out clutching his hamstring in the 37th minute, hopes seemed to diminish. Reserve-team captain Jack Collison entered the fray for his first-team debut and the 19-year-old battled gamely up to half-time and beyond.
George McCartney flashed a header wide just after the interval but the early stages were noticeable only for a few hefty challenges and the continuous singing from the away end. Green had relatively little to do, watching an Eduardo header at the back post drift wide before safely catching a looping, deflected, shot from Mathieu Flamini on the hour mark.
McCartney was getting closer. A stinging left-foot half-volley just flashed wide before Arsenal replaced Eduardo with 18-year-old Theo Walcott. Cole had a half-chance with a snapshot but a third goal of the afternoon seemed a distant prospect with both teams noticeably tiring at the end of a busy Christmas period.
Dean Ashton and then Henri Camara entered but it was at the other end where a goal seemed more likely - Adebayor working space on the left before just curling a shot wide. Green then had to be alert to deny Rosicky from close range before Noble was booked for a foul on Fabregas. The final whistle ended a disappointing afternoon but, with the club secure in tenth spot and more than holding their own against the league leaders, the signs are positive for 2008.
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