By Richard Clarke
Arsenal registered their first victory at West Ham for seven years with a hard-fought 1-0 win on Saturday afternoon.
This was the 101st League meeting between these two sides and the game ticked all the traditional boxes - fast, passionate, raucous and full of incident. The only goal came in the 13th minute when Alex Hleb's wonderful right-wing cross was nodded home by Robin van Persie at the far post.
The Dutchman also hit the woodwork at the start of the second half but West Ham were always a threat themselves. Dean Ashton caused Arsenal problems throughout the game and Freddie Ljungberg was only a matter of inches offside as he went through to beat Manuel Almunia just before the hour.
However Arsenal held on and, as at Blackburn, displayed that type of discipline and tenacity perennially shown by title-winners.
This win put Wenger's men three points clear on Saturday night. It is very early of course but their ruthlessness is encouraging for the campaign ahead.
There were two changes from the last Premiership game. Theo Walcott was rested and Hleb came back after a knee injury. Van Persie returned up front. Eduardo, who's picked up a groin injury during the midweek win over Newcastle, made way. Meanwhile Freddie Ljungberg lined-up against Arsenal for the first time in his career.
The visitors might have had the lead after only 50 seconds. Van Persie clipped the ball forward in to the area, Diaby held it up and then laid a pass back for Adebayor to thump a shot wide.
But West Ham would have the better chances in the minutes that followed. In the fifth, Ashton tapped the ball into the path of Ljungberg in the area but Almunia rushed out to smother the shot
Then Ashton controlled a long ball on the edge of the area, held off Senderos and sent a swivelling shot just over the bar.
Arsenal gradually worked their way through the gears as Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini started to exert a stranglehold on midfield. In the 13th minute they were rewarded with a well-crafted goal. Hleb put over a crisp, curling cross to the edge to the edge of the six-yard area. Van Persie nudged his way ahead of a couple of static West Ham defenders to nod the ball towards the far post and Robert Green fumbled the ball over the line.
It would Hleb's last major contribution. In the 31st minute the Belarusian came off worse from a challenge by Mark Noble. He was stretchered off and Emmanuel Eboue came on.
By now Arsenal had control. The goal has changed the game and the visitors had a measure of comfort. They cut through the West Ham defence relatively easily but could not find a second goal.
Van Persie hammered a free-kick straight at Green while Flamini's drive was smothered easily. West Ham's best chance was a curling effort over the bar from Lucas Neill.
West Ham had pressure at the start of the second half but created virtually nothing. Again Arsenal took time to settle but, 10 minutes in, should have gone further ahead when Van Persie colleted on the edge of the area, darted around Danny Gabbidon and hammered an effort against the upright. Replays suggested Green may have put a crucial fingertip on the ball.
But West Ham would not be held at bay. An unmarked Ashton nodded an inviting cross straight into the hands of Almunia. Then Ljungberg was adjudged offside just before he broke through and planted a low shot past Almunia.
However Arsenal nearly made them pay when in the 63rd minute Van Persie fed Adebayor as the Togolese striker went into the area. Green stood his ground to make another fine save.
Ashton and Diaby exchanged long-range efforts as the game started the heat up once more.
You sensed another goal but you couldn't say with any conviction who would get it.
In the 73rd minute Adebayor cut in from the left and set up Clichy to fire low towards Green's right-hand post. The keeper made another good save to turn the ball around the post. Eight minutes from time Ashton's header was kicked off the line by Van Persie.
The dying minutes was full of bluster but neither keeper was truly tested.
It was a gratifying, satisfying win for Wenger's side.
- Flamini Yellow Card
- Hleb 31
- van Persie 88 Goal!
- Adebayor 79
- Eboue 31 Yellow Card
- Silva 79
- Bendtner 88
West Ham United
- Ferdinand 46
- Noble Yellow Card
- Parker 45
- Bowyer 83 Yellow Card
- Gabbidon 46
- Mullins 45
- Boa Morte 83