The Gunners open up their account with a cracking strike from Denilson
By Mark Ashenden
Arsenal survived defender Thomas Vermaelen's first-half sending off to beat West Ham and climb to the top of the Premier League table.
Denilson put the Gunners ahead on four minutes after Nicklas Bendtner's pass.
Vermaelen saw red just before the break for bringing down Guillermo Franco, but Alessandro Diamanti saw his spot-kick well saved by Manuel Almunia.
West Ham substitute Carlton Cole hit a post, before Cesc Fabregas scored a penalty after a Matthew Upson handball.
A second period of hard graft and three points at the Emirates ensured a sixth successive league win and, with Manchester United and Chelsea both playing on Sunday, guaranteed the Gunners top spot for at least 24 hours.
For their London opponents, though, the struggle for Premier League survival shows no sign of receding with Gianfranco Zola's side now without a point in four matches and hovering perilously three points above the drop zone.
After hearing they had been drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League midweek, the Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger remarked that "your next game makes your life".
And with a six-year gap since becoming champions in England, Arsenal looked in no mood to take anybody lightly at the start of Saturday's tea-time clash and were celebrating the opening goal on just four minutes.
Denilson played a one-two with Bendtner and although there was a hint of a use of arm when getting past Valon Behrami, the Brazilian was soon dancing the samba after striking the ball low into the net for his sixth of the season.
West Ham, looking for a first win on their travels since the opening day of the campaign, were not totally devoid of attacking ideas despite missing their injured skipper Scott Parker.
Wenger and players believe in title
Italian Diamanti fired a free-kick over the bar, while Mido, starting up front in place of Cole, slid in at the back post and narrowly missed out on converting a devilishly low cross from the recalled Junior Stanislas.
The hosts were playing their typically free-flowing game and Samir Nasri and skipper Fabregas, back from injury, both wasted good chances inside the box.
However, within one minute of the break, the script for Wenger's high-fliers took an unexpected turn for the worse when they were reduced to 10 men.
After a long punt into the box from Diamanti, Franco clashed with Vermaelen and referee Martin Atkinson was soon reaching for the red card after getting the nod from his assistant.
Boos turned to loud cheers inside the stadium when Almunia dived left to keep out Diamanti's kick and preserve their lead, but it did not discourage Wenger from expressing his opinion to the man in black as the teams walked off at half-time.
Despite their numerical inferiority, Arsenal continued to press forward as the effervescent Emmanuel Eboue curled a fine cross for Andrei Arshavin to nod over.
As the rain dumped on to the Emirates pitch, Wenger opted to sacrifice his attacking options and bring on Abou Diaby for the impressive Bendtner, while Zola, desperate for an equaliser, introduced Cole for Franco.
Arsenal remained comfortable in possession and Fabregas delivered a pin-point free-kick towards the charging Sol Campbell but the veteran defender could only parry the ball back to Rob Green with his shoulder.
Zola rues lack of staying power
Striker Cole came within a few inches of an equaliser after blasting a 20-yard shot against the left post, but with five minutes remaining the points were made safe with another penalty.
Fabregas burst into the box and as the ball bobbled up against Upson's arm, referee Atkinson pointed to the spot for a decision that few contested.
The Spaniard showed no nerves as he struck the ball past Green to cap a magnificent display.
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