Arsenal are feeling the full benefit of defeating Real Madrid in the Champions' League. Confidence is soaring, belief is coursing. "When you beat Real Madrid when you are 18 you feel a bit better. It helps you feel strong," said the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, of the effect on his young team.
It also helps reawaken interest in you, however, and Madrid have long coveted Wenger. Twice before they have talked, twice before they have been rebuffed. It seems another approach has been made with the Frenchman's name alongside Milan's Carlo Ancelotti and Juventus's Fabio Capello on that shortlist now that Rafael Benitez has ruled himself out.
After this demolition of Charlton - a defeat so complete that, frankly, it asks questions about the ability of their manager, Alan Curbishley, to take on that other job that is up for grabs, with England - Wenger was asked if had been approached by Madrid.
"Well I always said I never," he responded, before checking himself and continuing with "it's difficult to find people who don't talk in football and I talk too much. So I don't talk today." If that sounded suspiciously like a yes then Wenger was also at pains to point out that "I always said I would stick to my contract and that we are going into the new stadium rebuilding a team". He has, of course, never broken a contract but the Arsenal board would do well not only to tie Thierry Henry but their manager to a longer deal before the overtures from others become too strong and too difficult to resist.
Henry's future is still in the balance. Talks have not been concluded as Barcelona wait and Madrid, again, and a host of Italian clubs, also hover. It is clear nothing will be resolved until Arsenal's season is defined. Ashley Cole appears even further out of the door. "For me it's vital that they stay here, of course," said Wenger, reminding both players that they, like him, are "under contract" while insisting that Robert Pires will definitely only be offered a one-year extension.
It is a thorny issue but it was not the only thing that was prickly on Saturday. "In the second half we forgot the basics of the game," was the post-match verdict of another combatant. No, not Curbishley, but Henry who even went so far as to say Arsenal failed to "respect the game" in their approach and were guilty of not pressing home their advantage.
He played well enough although this was the Alexander Hleb show. Henry described the midfielder as "on fire" and the Belarussian's creativity and directness and burgeoning partnership with Emmanuel Eboué reveals just why Wenger invested so heavily in the 24-year-old. It was Hleb who dispossessed Jerome Thomas, deep in the Arsenal half, to initiate the rapid passing move that led to Pires sweeping in the first goal. Adebayor added the second, pouncing after a horrendous defensive error by Hermann Hreidarsson - one of many.
The Togo striker had already fluffed two chances, after more Charlton blunders, before Hleb added a third, driving in low, when the ball broke to him from another flowing attack of his instigation. Pires struck a post. Charlton, throughout, were utterly bereft.
Afterwards and Curbishley - goaded by the home fans over his England chances, just as Sam Allardyce had been at West Ham in midweek - talked up Arsenal's prospects of winning the European Cup. "This might be their year," he said while he clung on to this week's FA Cup quarter-final against Middlesbrough. "There's a lot to play for," he said. Defender Chris Powell, meanwhile, claimed that Henry had now surpassed Eric Cantona and Gianfranco Zola with his contribution to the English game. "He would be a massive loss to this country if he left," he added. The same can be said of Wenger.
Goals: Pires (13) 1-0; Adebayor (32) 2-0; Hleb (49) 3-0.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Eboué, Touré, Senderos, Flamini; Hleb (Van Persie, 68), Fabregas (Song, 78), Gilberto, Pires; Henry, Adebayor (Bergkamp, 68). Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Djourou.
Charlton Athletic (4-5-1): Myhre; Young (Powell, 73), Hreidarsson, Perry, Spector; Rommedahl, Euell, Hughes (Bartlett, 45), Kishishev, Thomas (Holland, 65); D Bent. Substitutes not used: Andersen (gk), Sorondo.
Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).
Booked: Charlton Young.
Man of the match: Hleb.
Attendance: 38,223.Reuse content