Arsenal’s 10 men sink sorry West Ham to go top

Denilson 5, Fabregas (pen) 83


A performance full of elegance and character from Arsenal condemned West Ham to their fourth straight defeat yesterday.

The game started in the worst possible fashion for the visitors. Denilson played a neat one-two with Nicklas Bendtner with the Brazilian stroking home a placed shot to score his fifth goal of the season. The early goal clearly rattled the Hammers. Their makeshift midfield – desperately missing the defensive backbone provided by Scott Parker – looked helpless as Arsenal plied a scintillating brand of devastatingly quick, one-touch football. Alex Song, a revelation in the defensive midfield role this season continued his run of excellent form. The Cameroon international thwarted the best of West Ham’s moves with a performance full of strength and tenacity. The 22-year-old also showed his versatility when he slipped in to the centre-back position after Thomas Vermaelen’s sending off with little difficulty or drama.

As Arsenal sublimely stroked the ball around in search of a second, West Ham resorted to trying to arrest the onslaught with a series of niggling fouls. The home side had the openings to bury the game before the break but a final ball evaded them as they failed to turn incisive build-up in to a clear opening. The Hammers were occasionally effective on the counter, but the pace of Junior Stanislas and creativity of Alessandro Diamanti was not enough to compensate for a frontline suffering in the absence of a still not fully fit Carlton Cole. The visitors got an unlikely chance to level the score just before half-time in controversial fashion. An onrushing Guillermo Franco fell after the slightest contact on the edge of the box with Martin Atkinson subsequently pointing to the spot, quickly brandishing a red card to a shell-shocked Vermaelen. For the many that felt both decisions were harsh, justice was done when Diamanti’s effort was met the strong palm of Manuel Almunia.

The two sides’ second-half performances were poles apart. Arsenal displayed the grit and composure that has characterised their performances since the horror-injury to Aaron Ramsey at the Britannia Stadium. Despite their numerical disadvantage they continued to search for a second in the early part of the half with Emmanuel Eboue almost turning provider for Andrei Arshavin who should have done better, heading over when unmarked. Despite an improved midfield performance, West Ham continued to lack invention going forward. Gianfranco Zola replaced a disappointing Franco with Cole who almost nicked an undeserved equaliser when his 20-yard effort beat Almunia but not the woodwork.

The second dubious penalty of the game, awarded when the ball hit Matthew Upson’s arm on the edge of the box ensured the points stayed at the Emirates with Fabregas making no mistake from twelve yards. The events at Stoke have clearly galvanised an Arsenal side who have proven they possess the ability to grind out results when events conspire against them, an attribute shared by any league-winning team. As Wenger eyes his fourth title, Zola will be desperate to see a response from his side against Wolves on Tuesday night after two successive capitulations against the big boys and a dismal defeat against Bolton has left them perilously close to the bottom three.

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