Football: Brilliant Bergkamp humbles Hammers

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The Independent Online
Arsenal 4 West Ham United 0

They came to praise Ian Wright. They ended up praising Dennis Bergkamp - who ended up burying West Ham.

Arsenal's followers in a 38,012 crowd witnessed yet another absurdly good performance by the blond Dutchman which gave their side the Premiership lead as they capitalised upon Manchester United's failure to beat Chelsea at home.

Wright's achievement in breaking Cliff Bastin's club record of 178 goals was marked in a pre-match presentation ceremony. Both teams formed a guard of honour for him as he took to the pitch and posed for pictures with 40 children dressed in the colours of the 40 teams against whom he has scored for Arsenal.

But the England forward, withdrawn early to conserve his energy, gave a relatively muted performance on a night illuminated by Bergkamp's virtuosity.

It was Arsenal's biggest margin of victory over West Ham since their 6-1 win here in season 1975-76, and their manager, Arsene Wenger, accepted that their performance in the first half, in which they scored all their goals, was their most impressive period of play since he arrived here a year ago.

"Maybe it was the most fluent one, where we showed the most speed in our ball circulation," he said, "but I still think we can improve."

He even submitted that Bergkamp could improve, although he did concede that there was little likelihood of the Dutchman being rested after his performance.

Bergkamp, who scored one and made two of the other goals, was a persistent question West Ham were unable to answer. His goal came in the 10th minute as he held off Ian Pearce's challenge to turn Emmanuel Petit's long ball past the oncoming keeper with the outside of his right foot.

Three further goals arrived in the final six minutes of the half. After 39 minutes, Bergkamp's long ball sent his fellow Dutchman Overmars down the left wing, and he cut in past two defenders to rifle home his first goal at Highbury since his pounds 5m transfer from Ajax. Two minutes later Wright collected his 181st Arsenal goal from the spot after Pearce had needlessly handled a lob from Tony Adams. Shortly before half-time, another through ball from Bergkamp saw Overmars run through a poor West Ham attempt to play him offside and score Arsenal's fourth.

From all around the ground came the ironic chant: "Boring, boring Arsenal." Anything but.

"No one has dominated us like that for a very long time," said West Ham's manager, Harry Redknapp, whose side have now lost four on the trot. "Arsenal are a very, very good team." His will not be the only side to discover that this season.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon (Grimandi, 15), Adams, Bould, Winterburn (Platt, h-t); Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars; Bergkamp, Wright (Anelka, 67). Substitutes not used: Boa Morte, Manninger (gk).

West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Breacker, Pearce, Ferdinand (Potts, 80), Unsworth; Lomas, Bishop, Lampard, Lazaridis; Dowie, Hartson. Substitutes not used: Rowland, Hodges, Coyne, Forrest (gk).

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).