They were given a standing ovation by their own fans, then they were applauded by the opposition's. No one blushed but then, as Billy Davies, whose Derby players were so feted, said: "There is no embarrassment to come here and get a lesson."
The Rams may not be sheepish, but the Premier League should be. This was exhibition football. It was like seeing a classic play at the theatre. You knew the plot; the interest was in the production. While not disputing that Arsenal played some sublime football, with Cesc Fabregas outstanding again, it was, for the neutral, a bit boring. Competitive sport is supposed to have an element of suspense. This result was utterly predictable.
Just ask Davies. "I think it is inevitable that we will lose when we come here," he said, an extraordinary admission given that Arsenal were held six times at home last season and beaten once, by West Ham.
Davies, whose team have conceded 16 goals in four away games, added: "I don't think anyone would have been surprised by a 2-0 or 3-0, or even 4-0 defeat but the disappointment at Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal is that probably we conceded two more goals than we should have. It makes the scoreline look a lot worse."
Kenny Miller was slightly more positive. "There's no point going into any game just accepting defeat," he said, "but any team will find it hard to come here and get anything at all. You don't realise how good they are until you come up against them."
Sadly for Derby, that does not just apply to Arsenal. Stephen Bywater said of facing Spurs: "It felt like we were playing the best team on the planet." This is the same Spurs team who had taken only one other point all season, prior to yesterday's match at Bolton. To be fair to Derby, they over-achieved in winning promotion and decided it would be risking bankruptcy to buy an instant Premier League squad. They are taking the long-term view. How long Davies buys into that remains to be seen, but Aidy Boothroyd, who appears a similar personality, stuck at it at Watford and now leads the Championship. In the meantime, Derby will surprise a few at home. "Do people think Derby are a soft touch?" Davies was asked. "I think Newcastle did," he responded in a reference to last Monday's victory.
Davies indicated that his focus was on the next few fixtures – Bolton, Reading, Fulham – matches Derby can, and need to, win. Arsène Wenger's problem is different. Clearly, Arsenal can beat anybody; last season they easily topped the "big four" mini-league. Their problem was in not seeing off the smaller fry. Which is why Wenger was so pleased by their ruthless dispatch of Derby.
"We dropped points against the lesser teams last season because we had to learn that winning points is difficult against everybody; if you lose focus you drop points," he said.
"We can be efficient. That is linked with how much we keep our feet on the ground and how much we continue wanting to improve. The football we want to play demands a lot of humility. As soon as you lose a little bit of that you are in trouble. "
Belief courses through Arsenal at present, exemplified in Emmanuel Adebayor's treble, the first hat-trick at the Emirates. Having missed a sitter in the fourth minute, the Togolese striker might have been forgiven rushing his shot when Fabregas sent him clear after 25 minutes. Instead he eased around Bywater to score. A soft penalty, with Matt Oakley penalised for shirt-tugging, gave him his second. After Fabregas, an improbable leading scorer, drove in his seventh of the season, Adebayor struck again, magnificently. Taking Denilson's long pass on his chest, he shrugged off defenders before passing the ball inside the far post.
The finish, said Wenger, reminded him of Thierry Henry. Wenger is media-savvy, so he knows the headlines this will lead to. Whether he is sending a message to Henry ("Thierry Who?") or Adebayor ("you can be as good as Thierry") only he knows.
The slaughter had been started by Abou Diaby, who rifled in a fierce drive after 10 minutes. "We've been encouraged to have more shots," he said afterwards, a telling admission, given previous criticism of Arsenal's tendency to pass the ball in. It was the crucial goal: concede first against Arsenal and you are finished. Adebayor noted. "The first goal is like a deliverance for us. After it our heads are much stronger."
Goals: Diaby (10) 1-0; Adebayor (25) 2-0; Adebayor pen (50) 3-0; Fabregas (70) 4-0; Adebayor (79) 5-0.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Sagna, Touré, Senderos, Clichy; Walcott (Diarra, 72), Fabregas (Denilson, 71), Flamini (Song, 77), Diaby; Eduardo, Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Fabianski (gk), Van Persie.
Derby County (4-4-2): Bywater; Mears, Leacock, Davis, Griffin; Teale, Oakley (Feilhaber, 56), Pearson, Lewis; Howard (Barnes, 75), Miller (McEveley, 84). Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Earnshaw.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire). Booked: Arsenal Eduardo; Derby Lewis.
Man of the match: Fabregas.
Henry intimidated us, admits Fabregas
Cesc Fabregas says he can see himself remaining at Arsenal for 10 more years and has admitted that a big weight was lifted from the club when Thierry Henry moved to Barcelona in the summer.
The midfielder, whose four league goals have helped to take Arsène Wenger's side to the top of the Premier League, believes that, as good as Henry was, his departure has liberated Arsenal's young players.
Fabregas said: "Henry intimidated us. He is a great player but it was not easy to play alongside him. We were a bit inhibited by him – dependent on everything that he wanted to do and by his demands. Now it is different.
"Everyone was saying that this year without Henry we would be nowhere," he added, "and that has motivated everyone," he said.
Fabregas also revealed that he would not be surprised to be at the Emirates Stadium for another decade.
"I feel valued and wanted. Above everything else, I am enjoying my football. I love everything about English football. The pace of the game, the attacking style. I feel like a kid playing in the street.
"As a footballer here they make you feel important. There is respect and admiration. That is what makes the English game great."Reuse content