Football: Bergkamp's imperious majesty

West Ham United 0 Arsenal 4
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The Independent Online
WHILE SOME teams trumpeted their championship-winning credentials with ostentatious excess, Arsenal were understated and efficient in brushing aside West Ham. Two goals in the last 10 minutes of each half showed much about the character of either team: the ruthlessness of the north Londoners compared with the lack of application of their hosts, a trait which is contributing to the home side's fast- evaporating Uefa Cup ambition.

Arsenal were not going to be distracted by such weak opponents. Julian Dicks snarled on the boundaries of his familiar territory - raising the occasional elbow, snapping at a stray heel - but Arsenal have enough big, bad wolves of their own to be afraid of the grizzled defender.

The match marked the home debuts of the rehabilitated Italian Paolo Di Canio and Marc-Vivien Foe, West Ham's pounds 4m signing from Lens. The Cameroon international showed his potential within the first five minutes, keeping pace with Marc Overmars and dumping Patrick Vieira on his backside. Thereafter he faded, but the 23-year-old is undoubtedly one of Harry Redknapp's shrewder overseas purchases.

In the Boxing Day fixture, Overmars was West Ham's bete noire. Given the Hammers' profligacy in midfield on Saturday, it was predictable that Dennis Bergkamp would dominate. He threaded a perfectly weighted ball through to Nicolas Anelka on 20 minutes which the Frenchman might have done more with than shoot wide.

Bergkamp opened the scoring after Trevor Sinclair's careless back-heel ran to Vieira. Bergkamp took up the slack in midfield and ran on to score with an imperious curl of his right instep from the edge of the area. Overmars added a more pedestrian second on the half-time whistle, finishing at the second attempt after an intelligent far-post cross by Ray Parlour.

West Ham started the second half brightly, initially showing more wit and insight than in the first period thanks to the substitute Eyal Berkovic. The home team pushed forward, their opening move culminating with the ironic sight of Di Canio extravagantly falling to the turf inside the Arsenal penalty area. Referee Winter, unsurprisingly, was unimpressed.

Arsenal eased their way through the second period, containing West Ham in all areas. When Di Canio lost out in the tackle to Martin Keown, Anelka made light work of beating both centre-halves and the goalkeeper. Parlour's contribution was a late tap-in.

Arsene Wenger was circumspect on the subject of his team's form compared with the same stage last season. "It's quite similar, but I don't know if we are going to be as consistent as we were last year. Manchester United will be a huge test for us," he said. One, rather dauntingly, to be taken without Emmanuel Petit and Bergkamp, who are both suspended.

It is more than nine Premiership hours since Arsenal conceded a goal. The title may rest on whether they can achieve double figures after their visit to Old Trafford a week on Wednesday. As for West Ham it was their second successive 4-0 home defeat, after a loss to Sheffield Wednesday. If they lose at home next Saturday by the same margin, Harry Redknapp really will have cause for concern. The visitors: Nottingham Forest.

Goals: Bergkamp (35) 0-1; Overmars (45) 0-2; Anelka (83) 0-3; Parlour (87) 0-4.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Hislop; Breacker (Berkovic, 46), Ferdinand, Pearce, Dicks; Sinclair, Lampard, Minto, Foe; Kitson, Di Canio. Substitutes not used: Lazaridis, Cole, Moncur, Forrest (gk).

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Keown, Winterburn; Vieira, Parlour, Petit, Overmars; Bergkamp, Anelka. Substitutes not used: Hughes, Garde, Upson, Diawara, Manninger (gk).

Bookings: West Ham: Dicks, Foe; Arsenal: Winterburn.

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).

Man of the match: Bergkamp.

Attendance: 26,042.