Boro battered at Highbury
By Alex Dunn
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
An exhilarating Arsenal display saw Middlesbrough put to the sword 7-0.An exhilarating Arsenal display saw Middlesbrough put to the sword 7-0 at Highbury in a performance that exposed all the frailties of a Steve McClaren side in freefall.
Thierry Henry grabbed a majestic hat-trick to equal Cliff Bastin's record of league goals, while Boro's diabolical afternoon was worsened by a second half red card for Doriva.
Alexander Hleb grabbed his first goal for Arsenal, while Philippe Senderos, Robert Pires and Gilberto all chalked their names on a lengthy scoresheet.
At times the first half looked cruel but then it would be difficult to draw too much sympathy for a Middlesbrough side that responded to being thoroughly outplayed in a manner that can best be described as insipid.
As each goal was walked in Boro's efforts became more laboured, tackles looked brittle and at one point, Henry will have been surprised not to have had his tummy tickled by a youthful defensive unit clearly not ready for such a test.
Arsenal's stall was set from the first kick as Freddie Ljungberg persistently exposed Boro debutant Andrew Taylor down the home side's right. The Swede fired in a tester easily gathered by Brad Jones in the first minute, before the same player saw an effort blocked after another effervescent counter-attack.
Henry eased in to the contest with a curling free kick that clipped the outside of Jones' far post before Jose Antonio Reyes pulled an effort a yard wide after capitalising on a misguided Matthew Bates header.
With Arsenal playing with Boro as a cat plays with a frightened mouse, a goal was inevitable and when it arrived it was also no surprise that it was Henry with the widest smile in North London.
Ljungberg went down the right and from the by-line he clipped a perfect cross into the path of Henry. The Frenchman's volley from 15 yards was a model of power and precision as it passed Jones in the 22nd minute.
Just two minutes later, with Jones having already made a decent stop from Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal doubled their advantage in a fashion that will have embarrassed McClaren.
Senderos ghosted into Boro's box with all the subtlety of a double decker bus but nevertheless he was undetected and with the simplest of headers, powered past an exposed Jones.
The Clock End showed just half-an-hour on the clock when Arsenal grabbed their third. Reyes' sumptuous pass pickpocketed a snoozing Boro defence and as Jones stormed from his goal in a somewhat kamikaze fashion, Henry was always favourite and as ever, his finish was cool and calculated as he rolled the ball home.
The next cheer would not be in celebration but rather relief as Ashley Cole was summoned from the bench to make a long-awaited comeback from a broken ankle, as he replaced Pascal Cygan - who had pulled up with a hamstring injury of his own.
On the stroke of half time Boro's woes turned to full-scale depression, as Henry played in Pires on the left corner of Boro's box and with another delightful finish, the ball was clipped beyond the despairing dive of Jones.
After the break and precious little improved for McClaren's side as Arsenal showed a hunger for more that has not always been evident when they have taken a commanding lead.
Henry missed a gift to grab a hat-trick when he blazed Ljungberg's cut-back over before Jones' afternoon went from bad to worse, as Gilberto's header from a set-piece was spilled into his goal for Arsenal's fifth and a rare one for their Brazilian.
On 68 minutes it was record time as Henry drew level with Bastin, as he produced another sublime finish from what was a first rate diagonal pass from Reyes.
A previously peripheral Doriva was then shown his second yellow card for a pull back on Henry, in the 74th minute, before on a rare foray Chris Riggott hit Arsenal's bar with a stabbed finish and Yakubu Aiyegbeni saw his effort on the rebound well saved by Jens Lehmann.
Henry, ever the team player, even had time six minutes from the end to play in substitute Hleb for his first goal - via Reyes - for Arsenal's seventh.
For Arsenal it was a glorious masterclass in the art of pass-and-move but for Boro and McClaren, it was a dark afternoon that was nothing short of shambolic.
Arsenal v Middlesbrough player ratings
|12||Shots on target ( Inc Goals )||2|
|7||Shots off Target (inc woodwork)||3|
|12||Total Fouls Conceded||14|