Bergkamp boosts Highbury spirits

Arsenal 2 Hartson 27, Bergkamp 40 (pen) West Ham United 0 Attend ance: 38,056
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The Independent Online
After one of the most bizarre weeks in Arsenal's history, the managerless team produced a victory which their board of directors didn't deserve.

Whether it was a tribute to the departed Bruce Rioch or a showcase for the eventual arrival of Arsene Wenger, only the players know. But at the very least it was a statement of their morale and professionalism that they got on with it right from the start and in effect had the game won with two goals inside the first 40 minutes. It also said a good deal for the acting manager Stewart Houston who, despite his clearly expressed dismay at the board's engineering of Rioch's fate, went about his job with a purpose yesterday. "I believe that out of the events of this week, the players and I drew a lot of strength yesterday," he said afterwards.

There was little sign of protest from the crowd about the decision to sack Rioch, although there was some speculation that the two clowns who juggled their way around the pitch before the game were the Arsenal chairman and his deputy in disguise.

The enthusiastic welcome in the programme to the two French players - Patrick Vieira and Remi Garde - that the still unannounced new manager has apparently been able to buy over the phone from Japan, was plainly intended to placate dissent, and perhaps give a gee-up to the squad. It worked in both cases, although when the curtain went up many of the expected cast weren't on stage. The new French Gunners didn't even make the bench, Tony Adams has had knee surgery and David Platt pulled out at lunchtime.

West Ham were in a worse state, almost without an entire attack - no Florian Radicioiu, no Ilie Dumitrescu, no Tony Cottee - no chance really. Even Paulo Futre started on the bench and stayed there. No surprise, then, that Arsenal should open with fluent and purposeful football with Dennis Bergkamp at the heart of it. John Hartson and Paul Merson formed useful alliances with the Dutchman and the West Ham defence had been creaking well before Lee Dixon's smart turn and left-foot cross set up Hartson for the opener, his first shot coming back off the post for an easy tap- in.

West Ham's resistance already had a petulant edge with Slaven Bilic taking up where he left off for Croatia, decking Ray Parlour with a shoulder charge. The booking did little to dissuade him from further action and if the referee Paul Durkin had acted on the Croat's sly kick on Hartson, he would have gone off.

Durkin made up for his lapse, however, by spotting Marc Rieper's hand taking the ball off Hartson's head, and Bergkamp buried the penalty.

West Ham eventually put in an appearance in the second half albeit in the slightly clumsy shape of Steve Jones, who was unlucky with one curling shot but wastefully inept with two others. The only cloud on Arsenal's horizon is Platt's back injury which had forced him to pull out. His prospects of making the England squad for the World Cup qualifier against Moldova look bleak.

Highbury turmoil, page 30

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