Anelka, 34, made his first appearance since October in the Premier League game at Upton Park and scored twice in a five-minute spell shortly before half-time.

After scoring his first goal, he put his left hand across his body to make the 'quenelle' salute popularised by the anti-establishment French comedian Dieudonne, who is one of Anelka's friends.

The gesture has been linked to anti-Semitism in France, with French interior minister Manuel Valls calling for Dieudonne's performances to be banned.

Anelka's celebration quickly created a buzz on social networking websites, but Downing said that the former France striker was merely showing his support for the comic.

"I'm aware of it, but it has got nothing to do what is being said," Downing told a press conference when asked about the gesture.

"It is dedicated to a French comedian he knows very, very well. He uses it in his act and I think speculation can be stopped now. It is absolute rubbish really.

"He is totally unaware of what the problems were or the speculation that has been thrown around. He is totally surprised by it."

French sports minister Valerie Fourneyron condemned Anelka's behaviour on Twitter, calling it "shocking, sickening provocation".

She added: "No place for anti-Semitism and inciting hatred on the football pitch."

Anelka has had a chequered career, having notably been sent home from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa after clashing with France coach Raymond Domenech at half-time of a group game against Mexico.

His previous clubs include Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester City and Juventus, and his brace at West Ham made him the ninth player to score for six different Premier League teams.