Arsenal 3 Charlton Athletic 0: Charlton put on canvas by Hleb's art

The Premiership: Arsenal seize on host of errors by Curbishley's men
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The Independent Football

The Alan Curbishley for England bandwagon did not so much as suffer a flat tyre as find itself with piles of bricks where the wheels should be. Less than a day after Arsène Wenger endorsed the Charlton manager's candidacy, Curbishley's credentials were shunted with the most supine, mundane of performances studded with crazy individual errors.

Arsenal scored three and further boosted their chances of securing that fourth place. They could have scored six. In the spring sunshine they ran riot. Or rather they were allowed to run riot with Alexander Hleb in wonderful, fluid form and Thierry Henry, to be blunt, taking the mickey. Few expected Charlton to win. Their poor record against Arsenal and poor away form dictated that. But they could have been expected to put up more of a fight. Or at least have a threatening shot.

In his programme notes Henry again addressed whether or not be would be staying. Or rather he didn't. "The papers write what they want," he fulminated over his contract negotiations and the prospect of his decamping to the Nou Camp. "They will speculate like they have done all season, but my position remains the same." And that position is? "Nothing has changed in the past couple of weeks." Exactly. Little wonder the talk continues. If only the Arsenal captain would come clean and say he's waiting to see whether the club qualifies for the Champions' League then it would help. Instead, a vacuum.

Henry - like Wenger - was also full in his praise of Charlton's Darren Bent. "One of the best young talents in England," said the Arsenal manager, which was some tribute. He believes, of course, that he has acquired an even greater talent in Theo Walcott and the striker, 17 this week, got to stride on the Highbury turf - if only to make a pre-match presentation. He has still to make his debut with Wenger cautious to expose him.

Walcott was acquired in January along with Emmanuel Adebayor and although the Togo striker has made an impressive start he made a poor opening to this contest. First his weak shot, after the ball ran to him from Chris Perry's clearance, was easily fielded by Thomas Myrhe and then, after a horrendous slip by Jonathan Spector, he allowed the American to challenge. Henry was unmarked and made his frustration all too clear.

It did not last long. Hleb dispossessed Jerome Thomas in his own half and charged forward, feeding Henry who instantly ferried it on to Adebayor. Henry continued his run, arcing into the area and the pass was returned. Henry burst beyond Luke Young and pulled back for Robert Pires to side-foot home. Wonderful.

It allowed Arsenal to cut loose. Soon the full repertoire was being played. Henry nestled a free-kick on to the roof of the net. Charlton, fatally, continued to stand off. Inevitably, Arsenal scored again. Another error, this time by Hermann Hreidarsson, ridiculously delaying by the penalty spot, and Adebayor whisked the ball away and instantly rolled it beyond Myhre. Soon it was extended target practice which, perversely, led to overelaboration by Arsenal.

Slow to emerge for the second half - as they been throughout the first, Charlton threw on a second striker. It made no difference. Arsenal poured forward, Hleb ran at the heart of defence and found Adebayor, who had two shots blocked before the ball ran to the Belarussian who thrashed it in. The intensity of Arsenal's attacks grew with Cesc Fabregas prominent and Hleb darting here and there while Henry decided to drop deeper and have a go at being the play-maker. One mesmeric passing move led to a Pires shot, which Myrhe pushed on to the post.

Henry then checked and checked again, toying with Perry, like a cat with a mouse, before sending a curling shot narrowly wide. On came Robin Van Persie and Dennis Bergkamp with Hleb departing to the most enthusiastic of ovations. This was cruel. Straight away the latter whistled a drive just over.

Arsenal took a breather and a gap opened for Dennis Rommedahl. He slammed his shot way over while Van Persie was twice crowded out before Gilberto Silva's goal-bound shot struck the Dutchman. There was time for another Perry blunder, but this time Hreidarsson blocked to stop Van Persie adding a fourth.

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