Walcott combines with Dutchman to devastating effect
A Robin van Persie brace either side of Theo Walcott's goal was enough for Arsenal to gain all three points, as the gulf between the two teams proved vast.
A terrific clearance from Julien Faubert was all that stopped Arsenal from opening the scoring in the first five minutes, as he hooked away with Cesc Fabregas waiting to head in Van Persie’s knock-down.
Samir Nasri then let fly with a free-kick from 35-yards which seemed to be heading for the corner before taking a deflection that diverted the ball straight into Rob Green’s arms.
Having already threatened to take the lead, Arsenal scored in the 13th minute. Walcott was given far too much time on the ball by Wayne Bridge, allowing him to pick out Nasri, who dummied the ball for Van Persie to sweep home from 12 yards on his right foot.
Faubert could easily have seen red only minutes later, but his lunge towards Fabregas only saw a yellow card awarded.
Walcott could then have added a second before the 20-minute mark, but having gotten the better of James Tomkins, he failed to show composure on the ball and his effort was easily saved by Green.
West Ham’s hopes of garnering anything from the match were dealt a further blow when Mark Noble was forced off through injury in the 21st minute. With Scott Parker already missing out after failing a late fitness test, the Hammers were reeling.
A seed of hope was then planted, and Arsenal’s main deficiency was exposed, as their centre-back pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou failed to deal with a long ball, a tactic which cost them dear against Ipswich earlier in the week.
Djourou’s back pass was far too weak, allowing Carlton Cole a slight chance with a one-on-one but Wojciech Szczesny did well to block, and from the rebound Zavon Hines blazed his shot over when he really should have hit the target.
Arsenal’s lightning counter-attacking threat was displayed in the 28th minute, as Fabregas broke before feeding Van Persie, who in turn found Alex Song, whose effort troubled Green due to a deflection which took the ball high to the goalkeeper’s right.
Arsenal were playing some brilliant football, and could have added a second as Van Persie elected for power in his shot which cannoned off the foot of the post, after being found by Nasri, whose ball was perfectly weighted and timed.
West Ham were struggling to keep up at times, but their tactic of playing the ball long and putting the defence under pressure was certainly effective, with Cole bullying both central defenders and right-back Emmanuel Eboue.
A Bridge too far | New West Ham left-back struggled to deal with Walcott
Arsenal were in complete control, however, and finally added a second in the 41st minute, seconds after successfully making their 200th pass of the match.
They ripped the West Ham back-line to shreds with pace as Van Persie chased a ball to the goal-line before firing the ball across goal for Walcott to slam into the roof of the net - who, in the process, reached double figures in a season for the first time in his career.
Only a minute later Cole should have made it 2-1 as he met Freddie Sears’ cross, but his header was poor, failing to make a proper connection, although the ball took a deflection off Djourou’s head and almost found the corner of the net.
Arsenal were also dwarfing West Ham in attempts at half-time, with 15 to five, and shortly into the second half Van Persie drove narrowly over in the 50th minute.
Wayne Bridge then had an effort deflected narrowly wide from a free-kick and while there was a small sense of determination about the Hammers, Arsenal soon strangled it, keeping a chokehold on possession.
The Arsenal tiki-taka style of play was in full flow, and West Ham couldn’t get close to the ball, with the Upton Park faithful struggling to find their voice.
West Ham almost found a way back into the match in the 61st minute, as Song was dispossessed far too easily by Jonathan Spector who fed Freddie Sears. The youngster attempted a cross, but it arced back round to cause Szczesny plenty of trouble as he palmed wide.
The Polish keeper was almost embarrassed straight afterwards, however, as Bridge’s cross bounced high in the air and almost looped over the 20-year-old and in.
In the 76th minute Van Persie put the result beyond doubt, planting a penalty kick inside Green’s right-hand post, following Wayne Bridge’s challenge on Walcott just inside the box.
The England winger was just too quick for Bridge, who had looked off the pace for much of the match, although the full-back had only started four Premier League matches in the previous six months and his lack of sharpness told.
Arsenal were completely dominant in every area with their midfield in control, displaying the kind of form that could see them end their five-year hunt for a trophy as West Ham look to pick themselves up ahead of Saturday's trip to Everton.