Like the New Year's guests who turn up two minutes after midnight, this party was over for West Ham before it had even begun. With just 70 seconds gone, a goal for Eduardo da Silva left Matthew Upson and Anton Ferdinand like the latecomers on the doorstep proffering apologies and a bottle of warm Cava.
Blink and it is over at Arsenal. The Premier League leaders took 70 seconds to embarrass West Ham's blundering centre-halves and just another 17 minutes to finish them off with a goal from Emmanuel Adebayor. In four games over Christmas, Arsne Wenger's side have dropped just two points, away at Portsmouth on Boxing Day. Manchester United and Chelsea will have to hope that their blip this season turns out to be rather more serious than that.
This was a clinical dispatching of the West Ham team who beat Manchester United on Saturday and, in defence in particular, looked much the worse for it yesterday. "This Christmas period has been absolutely great for us," Wenger said. "I definitely prefer to lead from the front because all you have to do is rely on your own results. When you are behind you can say that you don't look at the others' results but you have to hope they don't perform."
It was, Wenger said, "too early to go into mind games", but just how soon they begin with Sir Alex Ferguson surely depends on how long it takes for this young Arsenal team to crack if, indeed, they ever do. The manager trotted out all the usual talk about "hunger" and being "ready to fight" but the most profound evidence of their durability was once again on the pitch.
Adebayor's goal was made by a long ball against a West Ham team that bizarrely clung to their 4-5-1 formation until the 77th minute when Alan Curbishley relented and sent on Henri Camara as a second striker. It seems that if the opposition sit back against Arsenal, they risk having the ball passed around them. If they press on, as West Ham did yesterday, the long ball over the top is a constant danger.
For his part, Curbishley seemed relieved to get away with a two-goal defeat and blamed his injuries 12 currently out, he claimed with Freddie Ljungberg departing after 37 minutes with a strained hamstring. For 85,000 a week in wages, the former Arsenal man's key contribution yesterday appeared to be milking the applause from the home fans when he trudged off. He is not exactly in the running to be bargain signing of the season.
If he chose to watch this from the comfort of his sofa, Fabio Capello will hopefully have been nudged awake in time to see Theo Walcott trot on for a brief, inconclusive cameo. The Italian could be starting officially as England manager on Friday and will not have thought it necessary to jot down the names of Hayden Mullins, Carlton Cole or Upson on this evidence. Dean Ashton played 19 minutes and still looked well off the pace.
Curbishley said that this game was "one too many over Christmas" for his team as if it had been sprung on him like some kind of surprise party. Given that last New Year's day the West Ham manager launched his exasperated attack on the "Baby Bentley" culture of his players following a six-goal thrashing from Reading, a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal must seem comparatively gentle.
He was circumspect about his prospects for the January transfer window, while Wenger said that he will play a first team on Sunday against Burnley in the FA Cup, which will be the last outing for Kolo Tour, Alex Song and Emmanuel Ebou before they leave for the African Nations Cup. Jens Lehmann might be gone before then. The Arsenal goalkeeper has a decision to make on an offer from Borussia Dortmund and he could give his answer as early as today.
Robert Green's defenders did him no favours on either goal yesterday. The first found Upson and Ferdinand hopelessly out of touch when Cesc Fabregas crossed from the left. In between the West Ham centre-backs was Eduardo, who took the ball on his chest, turned and hit a low shot past Green.
At that point, West Ham looked candidates to be butchered but, despite their comical defending, they did have chances in the first half. Cole laboured honestly up front and had a decent shot deflected wide. Gaël Clichy had to clear off the line. The embarrassment of the first-minute goal was acute but it did not scuttle the visitors completely.
Then, on 18 minutes, another aberration. Arsenal are never afraid to take the direct route, especially when on this occasion they were invited to do so by Upson and Ferdinand's lack of concentration. Clichy struck a ball over the heads of the defence that Adebayor chased down and took round Green. He had a job finishing it off, clipping the ball beautifully behind the recovering Upson. As it rolled off the post and into the net, Adebayor's momentum had already taken him behind the goal.
Upson finished the move spread-eagled in the back of his own net, which was nicely symbolic of his team's progress up until then. It was all but over for them from then on. An overhead kick from John Pantsil was about as good as it got for West Ham, who played out the second half so cautiously at times that you could have been forgiven for thinking they were defending a lead. Two goals had been getting off lightly.
Goals: Eduardo (2) 1-0; Adebayor (18) 2-0.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Hoyte, Tour, Gallas, Clichy; Ebou (Hleb, 77), Fabregas, Flamini, Rosicky (Diaby, 88); Eduardo (Walcott, 63), Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Lehmann (gk), Song.
West Ham United (4-5-1): Green; Neill, Ferdinand, Upson, McCartney; Pantsil, Spector, Noble, Mullins (Camara, 77), Ljungberg (Collison, 37); Cole (Ashton, 71). Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Tomkins.
Referee: C Foy (Kent).
Booked: West Ham Cole, McCartney, Noble.
Man of the match: Flamini.
Attendance: 60,102Reuse content