Arsenal beat Hull City 3-0 in a bad-tempered encounter at the Emirates Stadium to go third in the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger’s side made light of captain Cesc Fabregas’s injury-enforced absence, as goals from Denilson, Eduardo da Silva and Abou Diaby – and a Manuel Almunia penalty save – saw them to victory.
Last time Hull visited the Emirates Stadium, for an FA Cup tie in the spring, the match ended amid an unseemly on-pitch bust-up.
The non-playing Fabregas was a leading protagonist on that occasion, although he was cleared of spitting accusations. The Arsenal skipper was in the crowd again on this occasion but this time was nowhere to be seen when the bad blood resurfaced.
Things started to turn nasty just before half-time, when Arsenal were awarded a free-kick for a foul on Andrei Arshavin.
Apropos of nothing, Samir Nasri trod on the foot of Richard Garcia, who threw himself to the ground, while Nick Barmby steamed in with a push to Nasri’s face. Players from both sides squared up to each other, although the result of the incident was yellow cards to Nasri and – curiously – Stephen Hunt.
Five minutes later, deep in first-half stoppage time, there was more dissent from Hull when referee Steve Bennett awarded a questionable Arsenal free-kick 25 yards from goal after Diaby appeared to slip over.
Their frustration turned to rage when the unlikely figure of Denilson curled a majestic free-kick into the left corner beyond the diving Boaz Myhill.
The half-time whistle blew almost immediately and prompted yet more shoving, while the visitors surrounded Bennett. Amazingly, the conflict did not appear to continue in the tunnel.
At least it livened up what had previously been a dull encounter played in a sterile atmosphere.
Hull started brightly, without threatening Manuel Almunia’s goal, before Arsenal gradually seized control of possession – although they barely mustered a shot worthy of the description before Denilson’s peach of a free-kick.
The result was effectively settled in four minutes early in the second half. First Hull were offered a lifeline when Bennett awarded them a soft penalty for a bit of tugging on Craig Fagan by Mikael Silvestre.
Geovanni stepped up confidently, but saw Almunia save his shot, and Hunt headed the rebound well wide.
Arsenal then killed the game off, scoring a goal of classic intricacy that proved you really can walk the ball in.
After lengthy interplay, Diaby received the ball on the left byline and slid a low cross in front of goal for Eduardo to tap in from a yard out.
Thereafter Arsenal took the Brazilian approach to killing the game off; by hogging possession on the grounds that it is hard to score when you cannot get a kick.
Diaby made it three, getting deserved reward for an energetic and influential performance, playing a give-and-go to Arshavin, receiving the return pass and crashing the ball past Myhill.
Wenger and Hull boss Phil Brown attempted to draw a line under the conflict with a handshake on the final whistle, but there should be fireworks when Arsenal visit the KC Stadium later this season.
Arsenal go third, ahead of Aston Villa on goal difference, and will leapfrog Manchester United in second if they win their game in hand.