Arsenal overpower Hammers to stay top
( AFP ) - Arsenal began the new year in the same ominous fashion as they finished the old one as they cruised to a 2-0 win over West Ham at the Emirates Stadium here on Tuesday.
The north London club cemented their two-point lead over Manchester United at the top of the English Premier League thanks to first-half goals from Eduardo and Emmanuel Adebayor.
Arsene Wenger's team were well short of their polished best against their near-neighbours in this New Year's Day clash but their new-found ruthlessness - integral to their 4-1 win at Everton on Saturday - was evident again as they showed no mercy to West Ham's poor first-half defending.
Victory ensured the Gunners entered the Premier League's break for the FA Cup third round in suitably bubbly spirits, especially as their January fixture list has a decidedly gentle look.
Wenger had warned his side against complacency in the build-up to their final game of the festive season, and with good reason.
West Ham have developed a happy habit of upsetting the Premier League's aristocracy: they were the only side to have won at the Emirates prior to this latest visit and, three days previously, they had given the title race an unexpected twist by beating Manchester United at Upton Park.
In the end, Wenger had no reason to be concerned, although he will not have been entirely convinced by this victory, despite the comfortable scoreline. An injury-ravaged West Ham posed Arsenal enough problems in the opening 20 minutes for the Gunners manager to be at his twitchiest on the touchline, although his fears were eased by the visitors' hapless defending.
It took just 90 seconds for West Ham to crumble.
Cesc Fabregas passed to Eduardo and the Croatian, granted swathes of space by the dozing Anton Ferdinand, was able to chest down and volley in at leisure.
That should have been Arsenal's cue to seize control, but forging ahead so easily seemed to breed complacency.
Instead, it was West Ham who grasped the initiative: Mark Noble saw a shot swirl just wide of the right-hand post, while Carlton Cole might have celebrated an equaliser had his shot not deflected off Kolo Toure.
And when, from the resulting corner, Gael Clichy was forced to hack Ferdinand's shot off his own goal-line, waves of frustration rippled around this vast stadium.
The angst was short-lived. In the 18th minute, Ferdinand and Upson allowed Clichy's long ball to dissect them and Adebayor nipped into the space. The Togoese nodded around Robert Green and hooked a shot back across goal. The ball evaded the back-pedalling Upson, bounced off the right-hand post and over the line just before Ferdinand could clear.
That gave Arsenal the cushion they craved. West Ham's initial perkiness petered out - a situation not helped by Freddie Ljungberg limping off after 37 minutes of his return to his old club with a recurrence of his niggling hamstring injury - and the contest gradually developed into an elaborate training exercise.
The second half hardly generated a chance of note, although Tomas Rosicky might have added a third when he burst into the penalty area. His low shot was well saved by Green but it hardly mattered - Arsenal were already safe.