Respect. Arsène Wenger's Arsenal, with 10 wins and a draw from 11 games this season, mostly achieved in glorious fashion, are worthy of it from friend and foe, though Alan Curbishley felt that West Ham accorded the Premier League leaders too much in the opening half, leaving themselves too demanding a task once Arsenal were able to counter-attack in a more even second period. Robert Green in the home goal reprised last season's heroics when he somehow kept Arsenal out at the Emirates to complete an unlikely West Ham double, but the visitors were happy enough to have beaten one of the few sides that might be described as a bogey team.
Not since Rio Ferdinand's decisive own goal seven years ago had they won on this ground. Only Blackburn Rovers, at Ewood Park, have managed to hold them in the current campaign, and the other contenders for the title are already playing catch-up. Meeting Bolton and Sunderland next offers every opportunity of extending the lead before taking on Liverpool at Anfield in four weeks' time.
The key to this game, the manager felt, was that unlike at Blackburn, they did not sit back and defend after scoring, continuing instead to threaten on the break. For once Cesc Fabregas did not run the game on his own, but there was all-round quality, from Kolo Touré at the back through to the goalscorer Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor in attack. Wenger has built up depth of talent too, with Theo Walcott or Lassana Diarra able to step into the Champions' League game against Steaua Bucharest on Tuesday following a nasty injury to Alexander Hleb inflicted by Mark Noble.
The day after Wenger expressed concerns about foreign owners diluting the "soul" of English football, the usual raucous East End atmosphere pervaded Upton Park – now under Icelandic control – but died down from Arsenal's early goal until the home side's revival after half-time.
Curbishley's team were unable to provide the "passionate start" he had called for. Arsenal, understandably, looked supremely confident from the off, producing their first smooth attacking incursion in the opening 60 seconds, Adebayor shooting wide, and taking the lead after 13 minutes. Touré found Adebayor, who waited for Hleb to overlap outside him and cross on to Van Persie's head, Green reaching the ball with one hand but unable to keep it out.
Dean Ashton, turning well on to George McCartney's long pass from left-back and driving it just over the bar, provided the home side's one dangerous moment in the first half, and in the absence of Craig Bellamy he lacked adequate support. In midfield too, where Curbishley had his former Charlton protegé Scott Parker playing a first League game for the club after starting in the dreadfully laboured Carling Cup win over Plymouth, there was more vigour than craft.
Both Noble and Lee Bowyer received yellow cards early on for heavy tackles, in Noble's case bad enough to force Hleb out of the game. "It looked very nasty," Wenger said. "If you see Hleb's leg it is unbelievable, bruised from the knee down to the toe."
Emmanuel Eboué replaced him, adding if anything more direct running in his new role as a midfielder, and Abou Diaby, although not a natural wide player, has carved out a little niche for himself on the left while Tomas Rosicky is injured and Walcott is given a rest.
The visitors were therefore good value for their half-time lead, which might have been increased by Mathieu Flamini, twice bursting through the middle, or Van Persie. After Bowyer handled just outside the penalty area, the latter hit a fierce angled drive that Green pushed behind for one of numerous Arsenal corners.
Having delivered his half-time homily about treating the opposition too reverently, Curbishley had to rearrange the team. Parker, slowed by a foul from Flamini earlier, made way for Hayden Mullins and almost immediately Anton Ferdinand suffered a hamstring injury and was replaced by the popular Danny Gabbidon. The home side might have been expected to come out with renewed passion, changes or not, but it took a while. Before that, Eboué fed Van Persie for a thunderous right-footed drive that Green finger-tipped on to a post, the rebound just eluding the unfortunate Ivorian.
At last Curbishley's team exerted some real pressure, starting with Bowyer's diagonal chip that Ashton, unattended, headed straight at Manuel Almunia. Flamini's booking soon afterwards illustrated Arsenal's temporary loss of control, which might have been compounded by an equalising goal from Freddie Ljungberg against his former club. He was in an offside position when Henri Camara's through pass reached him but West Ham claimed that the ball had come off Touré. The referee, Alan Wiley, was unmoved.
Ashton then sent a 35-yard drive just past Almunia's post. Attacking Arsenal too enthusiastically can be counter-productive, however, and there were a number of typical counter-thrusts. Green saved from Adebayor and Diaby, attempting to reprise his stunning goal against Derby last weekend, had a shot deflected over the bar. Without the safety net of a second goal, the leaders were vulnerable and when Ljungberg swung in a corner eight minutes from the end Ashton outjumped everyone, only for Van Persie to clear off the line.
"We've got the special one," chanted the visiting supporters in homage to their extraordinary manager, who said: "We had a little apprehension after losing to them last year and played a little with the handbrake on. But in the end we deserved it. There's room for improvement but I'm proud of what we're doing."
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