By David Alexander
The ease of Arsenal's victory over Newcastle United once again underlined
the gradual return of top form from the Champions.
Forget last weekend's reverse against Sheffield Wednesday - an undeserved
blip in an otherwise comfortable start to the season.
If Newcastle call this sexy football, they certainly need some Viagra to get the excitement going again.
While some may suggest Dennis Bergkamp is back to top form - two goals
and an assist making an indelible impact on proceedings - those who saw him consistently last season know he can do much better.
But the signs of burnout are fading and he could even afford to spurn a chance for his hat-trick in the dying moments as Arsenal turned on the style.
Arsene Wenger admitted it was a relief for Bergkamp to get back on the scoresheet. He said: "Dennis looked physically sharp, his reactions are quicker and you could see in training that he has had a good week. You can never say as a striker that if you do not score goals you are happy. It must be a relief for him. He is mature enough to know he has a responsibility to the team.
"He was a bit frustrated in the end because he missed a penalty. He is a passionate guy but he does not show his feelings."
Newcastle must have realised they were in for a torrid afternoon from the first whistle, when the Gunners went on the offensive and almost snatched a quickfire lead.
Emmanuel Petit's corner was headed goalwards by and Tony Adams forced
a fine save out of Shay Given. While there have been suggestions that Newcastle are now playing the sort of flowing football that earned new manager Ruud Gullit so many admirers at Chelsea, there is in fact a long way to go before the Geordies reach a decent level of form.
For all their neat passing triangles and no lack of effort, it was indicative of Newcastle's intentions that they regularly surrounded Marc Overmars with three men whenever he got the ball.
Careless challenges and niggling comments to the referee typified the
visitors' performance and it was a credit to Arsenal that they never lost their cool.
Gullit admitted the result was almost to be expected. He said: "I knew that against a team like Arsenal, it would show us where we really stand and today showed the difference between us and clubs like Arsenal. We have to improve on a lot of things and that was obvious."
Indeed, despite his admission that he can have a short fuse, Ljungberg did well to ignore the heavy challenges which scythed him down time and again. David Batty was the first to go into the book for his recklessness in the face of Ljungberg's skill.
Arsenal opened the scoring twenty minutes into the game. Nicolas Anelka threaded the ball through to Bergkamp and he skipped Stuart Pearce's challenge before shooting low into the bottom corner.
Ten minutes later the game was all but sealed when Anelka tapped the ball into an empty net after Bergkamp had beaten the offside and squared to him with Given committed.
Wenger admitted he did not think both players had scored in succession in a match before but confirmed the growing understanding between the two.
By half time, newcastle had not even mustered a shot on target, such was the
paucity of their offensive threat and Overmars and Ljungberg both went
close to extending the advantage.
Paul Dalglish came on for the second half and added some much-needed urgency to the Newcastle attack, but his determination is not matched with experience and Adams had him well marshalled.
There was nearly an hour on the clock by the time David Seaman was forced into a save and a fine one it was too. Norberto Solano's deflected shot caught Seaman wrong-footed but he still managed to palm the effort over the bar.
Nikolaos Dabizas,already booked in the first half, was sent off after 66 minutes for what many could construe as a professional foul on Overmars as
he ran through on goal.
The Dutchman was certainly ahead of any Geordie defender, but Dabizas only received a yellow, his second, for the challenge. The result was the same and Bergkamp made no mistake from the spot.
While cries of "There's only one England captain!" echoed around Highbury,
highlighting the home fans desire for Adams to recover the national armband from Alan Shearer, the Gunners started to mock their opponents with exhibition football.
Chance after chance came and went and just when it seemed there would be no more goals, Arsenal got a second penalty.
Substitute Alberto Mendez passed to Bergkamp and he was hacked down by
Phillippe Albert, referee Mike Reed pointing to the spot once more.
But this time Given was equal to it but none of the Highbury faithful seemed to mind.