Football: Now West Ham are the pushovers

Another miserable Arsenal experience for Di Canio as Bergkamp upstages the Italian on his home debut
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The Independent Online
West Ham United 0

Arsenal 4

Bergkamp 35, Overmars 45, Anelka 83,

Parlour 87

Half-time: 0-2 Attendance: 26,042

ARSENAL GO to Old Trafford on Wednesday week for their next Premiership match racing on the crest of eight wins in their last nine League matches and now in the kind of dashing form that yesterday had West Ham sadly forlorn and last season allowed them to recover lost ground to win the championship.

All that concerns them is that Dennis Bergkamp, their inspiration yesterday, and Emmanuel Petit will be missing through the team's Achilles' heel: suspensions. Arsene Wenger admitted last night that although "We are very strong when we are at full strength" the absence of Bergkamp would deprive them "of that final ball that is so important to us". It certainly was yesterday, as was his finishing.

It was a match that could easily have been derailed. All the talk had been of the day four months ago when Paolo Di Canio, then of Sheffield Wednesday, had pushed referee Paul Alcock to the ground and subsequently been suspended for 11 matches. That game having been against Arsenal and the incident having involved Martin Keown, Di Canio's home debut for West Ham had everyone waiting to hear the bell sound for the second round.

Arsenal needed to keep out of trouble. Their defiant defeat of Chelsea had revived them but Wenger had seemed pessimistic, saying that further suspensions would be tantamount to title capitulation.

Apart from Keown quickly trying to scale Di Canio's back, there was no cause for raised tempers. Di Canio roamed across the pitch with that lightness of movement and comfortable ball control that defies his reputation for fiery responses to aggravation. But his was also a shallow contribution compared with the depth of Arsenal's attacking that soon lead to Ray Parlour driving the ball solidly towards a gap at the near post, which Shaka Hislop covered with agility and safety.

West Ham's game was all unfinished improvisation; Arsenal's knowledge and familiarity. Nigel Winterburn did hammer into Di Canio, who was attempting to escape down the right edge, and was cautioned, but they exchanged "forget it" eye contact. The game was too busy for "afters".

Bergkamp was the busiest, slicing passes through almost imperceptible openings. Nicolas Anelka failed to make the best of one gem of a ball, then from another, Marc Overmars forced Tim Breacker to block on the line. That only delayed Bergkamp. After 35 minutes he took possession some 50 yards out and floated past a couple of ineffectual tackles before powering a shot beyond Hislop - coolness and revived confidence personified.

Dropping deep to take advantage of West Ham's generous habit of giving the ball away, Bergkamp then nicked it from Julian Dicks and altered the direction of an attack by releasing Parlour. The centre offered Overmars an immediate close-range shot, which Hislop did well to parry, but Overmars snapped back with the rebound to give Arsenal a lead that owed everything to an ability to punish West Ham for their carelessness and inability to win the ball.

With their faults in mind West Ham brought on Eyal Berkovic for Breacker, offering some midfield tenacity. His passing offered Di Canio and Paul Kitson better possession and a shot he set up for himself had David Seaman struggling to push the ball up and out.

Spreading their game more hopefully, West Ham briefly caused Arsenal to think more of protecting their lead than extending it. Parlour moved deeper into midfield to counter Berkovic, thus depriving Arsenal of some width of their own.

Although Keown did have to be at his most alert to clear after Seaman had handed down Ian Pearce's hopeful shot, West Ham's only hope had long since evaporated and all that was left was humiliation as Arsenal took two more late goals that emphasised the measure of their superiority.

Keown set up their third after 83 minutes with a diagonal ball that Anelka controlled beautifully inside the West Ham penalty area before easily deceiving Hislop. Then Parlour, who had been the root that allowed Bergkamp to blossom, knocked in Arsenal's fourth after Overmars' initial shot had been blocked by Pearce.