Arsenal, without the suspended Dennis Bergkamp, were done no favours when Ian Wright missed a first-half penalty. Thereafter Derby seemed to sense that it might be their day. Two more goals from Paulo Wanchope, who has nine in 10 starts this season, put Arsenal in a position from which, unlike United here last month, they could not recover. Indeed, they were punished again when Dean Sturridge added Derby's third eight minutes from time.
"The missed penalty was important because I felt the first goal would be critical," the Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, said. "When Derby scored so early in the second half they were able to sit back and play a counter- attacking game and we could not cope with the speed of their attacks."
Wenger's growing concern is Arsenal's sudden lack of effectiveness in front of goal. Although they missed Bergkamp's creativity and finishing here, Wenger was at pains to point out that his side has failed to score now in three consecutive matches, including two in which Bergkamp played.
Further to Arsenal's displeasure the referee Paul Alcock added three more yellow cards to their dreadful disciplinary record, one of which will result in suspension for Steve Bould.
With David Platt restored to midfield and Derby weakened by the absence of Christian Dailly and Igor Stimac from the heart of their defence, Arsenal played with promise until Wright's penalty miss. While Nicolas Anelka was an unconvincing replacement for Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira's strength in midfield gave them the edge. It was when Vieira burst into the penalty area on the end of Wright's pass only to be brought down by Lee Carsley that the opportunity to cement their superiority arrived.
But when Wright's kick thudded against the crossbar Derby enjoyed an immediate surge of confidence and the pace of Wanchope, Sturridge and Francesco Baiano began to look more threatening.
Seeking a way in which to make them even more effective, Smith introduced a change of strategy for the second half, switching from a back four to a more positive 3-5-2 formation with Gary Rowett moving into the centre of defence. Planned or not, the immediate consequence was a goal for Derby when Rowett's robust tackle on Ian Wright set Wanchope free.
The tall Costa Rican enjoyed some luck in that, having loped to the edge of the Arsenal penalty area, his shot beat David Seaman with the aid of a deflection. However, the goal provided the chance for Derby to exploit their potency on the counter-attack.
Wanchope, having bagged his eighth goal of the season, should have added a ninth on the hour after some clever play by Baiano but this was forgotten when he scored again five minutes later.
Sturridge was the creator, breaking at speed along the left flank before delivering a low cross into the Arsenal goalmouth which Nigel Winterburnpushed straight into the path of Wanchope who scored easily.
Wanchope was looking to record his first Derby hat-trick when Sturridge escaped again eight minutes from time, outpacing Emmanuel Petit, but his team-mate chose to go it alone this time and made no mistake.Reuse content