A Happy New Year to everybody out there, I hope your respective 2008s are successful, joyous and trophy laiden. I opined last week of my fondness for the Boxing Day fixture, however, the New Year's Day fixture is one that I look upon less favourably. Especially when my match day begins through bleary eyes, awaking on a mate's living room floor, still in last night's threads with the remnants of an ill advised vodka and orange juice sitting precariously next to my head. Of course, New Year is the time for resolutions, a time we all pledge to improve ailing health and trim bulging waistlines. So I began my New Year with a fry up in Addiscombe; followed by several nerve settling Guinnesses before the visit of West Ham.
With my brain still slightly functioning with the effectiveness of an inflatable dartboard, it did not take the Gunners long to blow away some cobwebs. Rosicky solicitously sought out the ball in central midfield, playing a beautiful ball down the line to Fabregas. The diminutive Spaniard looked up and swung in a precise cross, which Eduardo chested down and consummately volleyed past Green to maintain his record of scoring with every single touch he has ever had on a football pitch ever. A goal after 72 seconds was just the tonic, Arsenal rarely drop points from such positions, particularly at home, and we all settled in for an easy afternoon. However, the Hammers had other ideas as Arsenal appeared to to lose themselves in mid afternoon reverie. Firstly, Carlton Cole cut inside a rusty looking Justin Hoyte, Toure deflected Cole's shot inches wide of the far post. West Ham came forward again, as Noble's original strike was charged down, Arsenal did not clear their lines and Mark Noble's cute dink dropped just wide. After April's debacle in the same fixture last season, it was time for the Hammers to taste a small portion of our bad fortune.
West Ham would go even closer a few minutes later, Noble's right wing corner was headed on by Anton Ferdinand, only to see the ball bounce gleefully away from the goal line via Gael Clichy's stationary boot. While we are not generally used to watching an away side dominate in terms of chances, Arsenal fans were treated to a more familiar sight when Freddie Ljungberg hobbled off injured to a rousing reception. Though on this occasion, the fact that he had contributed precisely zero to the match was more infinitely more pleasing. One Premiership goal in two and a half years for Freddie now. West Ham still carried a threat, particularly on set pieces. Another Noble corner was only half cleared by Toure and Matthew Upson blazed wildly over the bar from close range. So when Arsenal made a rare forray forward on 18 minutes, the result was perhaps inevitable. Gael Clichy curled yet another sumptuous arcing ball from left back, which defeated Ferdinand and Upson, Adebayor gratefully raced onto it, nodded the ball last the advancing Green and then somehow contrived to hook the ball in via the post from the touchline. Quite a finish which had the home crowd collectively exhaling in approval. It's a measure of how greatly his finishing has improved since he arrived two years ago.
A John Pantsil bicycle kick whistled just wide, but one could sense that the wind had been unceremoniously removed from their sails. This did not deter the travelling Hammers faithful, who were good value throughout. Not content with singing John Pantsil's name to every tune going, a rather witty chorus of 'we hate Tottenham more than you.' Was followed by, 'sit down, if you love Tottenham.' When the Arsenal fans rose dutifully, the Hammers response was a cruelly brilliant retort of, 'you do what we tell you to.' The sedcond half was played out at virtual testimonial pace. West Ham had neither the desire, nor the imagination to circumnavigate their fatigue and find a way back into the game. Arsenal, playing their tenth fixture in a month, were happy to sit on their lead and resume the match in second gear. This left the fans to really find their own entertainment, a moribund home support did offer one gentle witticism at the introduction of Theo Walcott, 'we need more foreigners!' Whilst Dean Ashton felt the cruel mockery of the home crowd, having chased the ball across Arsenal's backline for what seemed an eternity, he desperately lunged at a Toure pass to Hoyte but missed by inches, leaving home prone on the floor to the general amusement of all except Ashton.
With the Gunners in cruise control, only two real chances of note arrived in the second half. Eduardo disgraced his Arsenal record by heading an Eboue cross wide from close range, when Upson appeared to be pulling him back. Wenger simply must punish Eduardo for this indiscretion, where does he get off missing the goal? I think he should be locked in a dark room for a week and be made to listen to James Blunt on repeat for a week. Or something. A smart move between the lively Rosicky and Adebayor on the left culminated in Adebayor bending a shot just wide from inside the area. Rosicky nearly added a third in injury time when he was played in by Hleb, but he took a heavy touch and Green rushed out to block Tommy Gun's attempt. But in the end it was a routine win and exactly the type of game we needed at the end of a hectic period. I would describe the performance as professional without ever being sensational, basically we did exactly what was required and nothing more. The game lacked intensity and was really all over at the interval, which was just as well. Given the hush of the home support, it was probably about all we could handle.LD.