The Hammers put on a defensive masterclass to shoot down the Gunners at Emirates Stadium, where they denied Mikel Arteta’s side the chance to finish the year in top spot.

Instead, it was West Ham United who ended a tremendous 2023 on a high with a victory that leaves David Moyes men in sixth place at the halfway point of the season.

Tomáš Souček gave the East Enders a controversial 13th-minute lead with his eighth goal of the season and, with Alphonse Areola boarding up his goal behind the makeshift central-defensive pairing of Angelo Ogbonna and Konstantinos Mavropanos, the Hammers doubled their advantage after the break.

And, ironically, it was 24-cap Greek international Mavropanos who struck against his former club 10 minutes after the break with his first goal for West Ham since his £18million summer arrival from VfB Stuttgart.

There was also time for substitute Saïd Benrahma to see his stoppage-time penalty – conceded by much-maligned former Hammer Declan Rice - saved by David Raya on a night when Moyes would enjoy his first-ever victory as a manager at Emirates Stadium.

The Scot had already gained three prestigious points against former club Manchester United on Saturday and following the 2-0 win he made just one enforced change with skipper for the night Ogbonna coming in for injured captain Kurt Zouma.

Struggling in the warm-up with a knee problem, Lucas Paquetá had also looked set to miss out but he subsequently emerged from the tunnel for the kick-off and duly lasted for the opening half-an-hour of a London derby that showed absolutely no signs of any Christmas Day over-indulgence by either side.

Indeed, James Ward-Prowse soon sent a rising 18-yarder inches over Raya’s crossbar before Bukayo Saka curled the Gunners’ first salvo of the evening into Alphonse Areola’s gloves – that would prove to be one of 30 attempts launched towards the French keeper by Arteta’s team.

Setting the tone for the evening, Saka and Martin Ødegaard then chipped byline crosses too deep for Gabriel Martinelli marooned at the far post and, when Vladimír Coufal was crudely upended by Oleksandr Zinchenko on a rare run forward, Souček could only head Ward-Prowse’s subsequent free-kick wide of Raya’s right-hand upright.

But on 13 minutes – with no sign of the breath-taking start subsiding - the 66-cap Czech Republic midfielder produced a far more accurate finish to break the deadlock.

Escaping down the left flank, Emerson whipped over a low cross that neither Gabriel nor Zinchenko could control and, with the ball seemingly about to ricochet out for a corner, the quick-witted Jarrod Bowen arrived at the far post to cut back into the six-yard box, where Souček lashed home with the home defence in total disarray.

Predictably, a lengthy Video Assistant Referee Review was called to see if the ball had gone out of play before Bowen had rescued the situation, but with a lack of suitable camera angles and no ability to x-ray through the lone striker’s shin-pads, the goal was eventually given to the uncontained joy of the travelling Claret and Blue army.

‘Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that!’ they chanted while also wasting absolutely no time telling former favourite and the Gunners record £105million summer signing, Rice, that, indeed, he ‘should've signed for a big club'.

Arsenal had gone into Christmas Day in second spot– five places and 10 points ahead of the Hammers – and after drawing at Liverpool (1-1) at the weekend, Arteta had also made just one forced switch with Leandro Trossard replacing the suspended Kai Havertz.

The Gunners may have found themselves a goal adrift to Souček’s opener but on the half-hour mark, they looked all set to draw level, when Gabriel Jesus chipped a tantalising ball into the danger-zone, where the acrobatic Areola produced a sensational save to divert Saka’s point-blank header over the crossbar.

Having seen playmaker Paquetá get through the opening third of this frenetic derby, Moyes took preventative, precautionary action by duly retiring the Brazilian as Benrahma stepped from the bench.

Desperate to restore parity by the break, Arsenal held the upper hand territorially and, although Martinelli clipped a 12-yarder just inches over the angle, Arteta’s men were over-elaborating in and around the Hammers area, where that hungry central-defensive duo of Ogbonna and Mavropanos were simply gobbling up those superfluous extra passes.

Four minutes before the interval, though, Saka opted for a more direct route to goal and having unleashed a low, angled 10-yarder that crashed back off the base of Areola’s left-hand upright, the England wide-boy could only look high into the north London skies as the stumbling Martinelli somehow bundled the rebound wide of the opposite upright.

That miss was typical of Arsenal’s festive finishing and it left Moyes boys with the advantage during an interval that saw Storm Gerrit deposit a dreaded December downpour on Emirates Stadium.

Rice also deposited a dipping 22-yarder onto the roof of Areola’s net, while at the other end, more trademark intelligent hold-up play by Mohammed Kudus on 55 minutes eventually enabled Bowen to cut into the Arsenal area, where Ben White was grateful to cut out the attempted cross at the expense of a corner.

Arsenal relief was shortlived, however, for when Ward-Prowse floated the consequent flag kick towards the near post, Mavropanos – who made eight appearances during his three-and-a-half seasons with the Gunners - outjumped Gabriel to glance his six-yard header in off the far angle to double the West Ham lead with his first-ever goal for the club.

Now, those Hammers fans packed behind Raya’s goal really were in full voice taunting Rice with shouts of ‘What a waste of money’ while Arteta readied Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson to replace Martinelli and Zinchenko.

Midway through the half, Jesus was again denied by more Areola agility when the French keeper dived low to save the Brazilian’s downward header and, moments later, there were more groans from the home supporters when the striker nodded high over the bar from eight yards.

Frustration levels were also rising in Arsenal’s playing ranks, too, with Nelson seeing yellow for scything Souček, while Trossard was denied by the outstretched legs of Areola before Coufal nodded William Saliba’s back-header off the line and Ødegaard speculatively scooped high and wide.

With Arsenal enjoying nearly 75 per cent possession, Areola remained defiant repelling attempt after attempt and, seconds from time, the sliding Rice’s night of torment continued when – right in front of the mocking Hammers fans - he upended Emerson on a rare foray forward.

But facing his former Brentford team-mate, Benrahma saw the resulting penalty clawed away by Raya and, although that went just a little way towards sparing Rice’s blushes, this remained a night that the former Hammers skipper and Arsenal will want to forget, while – going into 2024 - West Ham departed in sixth-spot having achieved their best-ever Premier League tally of 33 points for the halfway point of the season.

Arsenal: Raya, White, Zinchenko (Nelson 64), Saliba, Gabriel Magalhães, Rice, Ødegaard, Trossard (Smith Rowe 79), Saka, Martinelli (Nketiah 64), Jesus. Unused subs: Ramsdale, Kiwior, Cédric, Jorginho, Elneny, Nwaneri.

West Ham United: Areola, Coufal, Emerson, Mavropanos, Ogbonna, Álvarez, Ward-Prowse, Souček, Paquetá (Benrahma 32), Kudus, Bowen. Unused subs: Fabiański, Johnson, Cresswell, Fornals, Cornet, Ings, Kehrer, Mubama.

Booked: Nelson (72), Jesus (90+1).

Referee: Michael Oliver.