By Richard Clarke
Robin van Persie scored two goals and made the other as Arsenal returned to Premier League action with a 3-0 win at West Ham on Saturday.
In their last two games, Arsène Wenger’s side had struggled in Cup ties against Championship opposition. This evening, back in the top flight, they dominated.
Van Persie’s snapshot put the visitors ahead in the 13th minute. He hit the post on the half-hour and, just before the break, provided the cut-back for Theo Walcott to prod home the second.
Arsenal eased off in the second half but secured the points when debutant Wayne Bridge brought down Walcott and Van Persie scored from the penalty spot.
The scoreline reflected the performance at Upton Park and frankly, after a difficult start to 2011, Wenger’s men needed both.
January will probably turn out to be Arsenal’s busiest month of the season and this result will help to put it back on track.
Wenger made four changes from the side beaten at Portman Road last Wednesday. Van Persie and Samir Nasri came back after slight “knocks”. Alex Song and Gael Clichy also returned. Nicklas Bendtner, Andrey Arshavin, Kieran Gibbs and Denilson all dropped to the bench.
For once, the gameday build-up did not centre around Arsenal. On the morning of the match, stories began circulating that Avram Grant might be in charge of his last game.
The visitors’ domination in the first half would hardly help.
Arsenal took the game by the throat early on and never let go until the break. West Ham did have a couple of golden opportunities but Wenger’s men utterly deserved to be 2-0 up at the interval.
The start was a ‘slow-burner’. Julian Faubert hooked the ball away as Cesc Fabregas stooped to nod home Van Persie’s flick at the far post.
Then Nasri’s drive deflected into the arms of Robert Green. But chances were scarce.
However Arsenal would take the lead in the 13th minute and, from there, they kicked on.
Walcott drove a low cross to the near post, Nasri dummied and Van Persie fired home first time at the near post. It was a crisp finish by the Dutchman, his 50th Premier League strike, but the Frenchman’s involvement had been crucial. He did not actually touch the ball but he deserved to be credited with an assist.
The goal started a fire under Arsenal. For the final half-hour of the game, they would be rampant.
In the 19th minute, Fabregas released Walcott through the middle. He was shadowed by James Tomkins, who buffeted the Englishman but had tumbled by the time he looked to shoot.
In the end, Walcott’s effort trickled meekly into the hands of the Green.
West Ham might have grabbed an equaliser four minutes later. Carlton Cole latched onto Johan Djourou’s weak back pass and Wojciech Szczesny thrust out his left hand to save. The rebound eventually found its way to Zavon Hines whose angled shot went over the bar.
The chance did not interrupt Arsenal’s dominance. Just before the half-hour, they nearly grabbed a second with a sumptuous counter-attack. Fabregas raced down the left and crossed for Van Persie to cushion a pass in to the path of the onrushing Song. Tomkins half-blocked his sidefooted shot and Green cleared up the ricochet.
Two minutes later. Nasri fled forward and fed Van Persie on the left of the area. The Dutchman’s ferocious drive crashed back off the base of the post. Then Fabregas put Nasri through and he drifted a shot wide.
It was all Arsenal. The only problem with their performance was they had not scored goals congruent with their dominance.
In the 41st minute, they put that right. Fabregas put Van Persie clear on the left. He reached the byline and cut the ball back toward the far post. Walcott showed a striker’s instinct to dart inside Radoslav Kovac and prod home.
Again, West Ham would fashion a clear opportunity just after Arsenal scored. This time, Freddie Sears crossed from the right and Cole miscued his header eight yards out with only Szczesny to beat. It was the home side’s clearest chance by a stretch.
But normal service was resumed in injury time when Djourou went through. The Swiss defender has never scored for Arsenal and his shot was blocked, rather fortuitously, by the face of Green.
The opening stages of the second half were as tame as the first. Van Persie cracked over and then Walcott drove at Green. Bridge fired a free-kick wide for West Ham.
On the hour, Szczesny had to adjust in midair to prevent a drifting effort from Sears finding the far corner.
By now, West Ham were getting back into the game and Arsenal had taken their foot off the pedal.
But 13 minutes from time, the visitors ended the argument. Inexplicably, Bridge scythed down Walcott as he was running away from goal. Van Persie buried the penalty.
Wilshere drew a fine save from Green at the death. But three goals and three points was a very decent haul from this trip to East London.
And it was fully deserved.
Referee: Andre Marriner
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