Like the first sighting of a cuckoo in spring, a first recommendation for Footballer of the Year is always worth looking out for. Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas received a mention in the wake of last week's win against Spurs and although voting does not take place for another seven months, it was a good shout.
The little midfielder was outstanding in that game and quite superb yesterday, running an utterly one-sided encounter for the Premier League leaders, setting up two of the goals and scoring a corker himself before Emmanuel Adebayor completed a hat-trick.
When Fabregas was substituted 20 minutes from the end, which looked like an act of clemency towards the opposition from Arsène Wenger, the visiting supporters joined in the applause. In the end-of-season awards, those who follow Derby away from home should be rewarded.
The record to date on their team's return to the Premier League reads four straight away defeats with no goals scored and no fewer than 16 conceded.
Any encouragement they derived from a first victory of the season at home to Newcastle last Monday soon evaporated in the face of another demanding away fixture and a hard winter beckons, but their manager, Billy Davies, a walking definition of optimism, is of the Captain Mainwaring school: "We don't want any of that talk here, Wilson. We don't get despondent at all," he insisted.
"We're going into a run of games where we've got to compete and pick up points. The first seven matches we've probably played the top sides in the League. We don't need to go to Liverpool or Arsenal again and at Pride Park we'll take anybody on."
Having surrendered three goals in the opening quarter of an hour at Tottenham on their last visit to north London, Derby's first priority was to avoid a repeat. So conceding only once in that period was an improvement of sorts, even if a second arrived little more than halfway through the first half, and a third soon after the interval.
The first blow took 10 minutes to land and a thunderous one it was. Fabregas fed Abou Diaby, who prevented three defenders from laying a boot on him as he moved inside and hit a tremendous shot into the top corner of the net off a post from 25 yards.
In the 25th minute Gaël Clichy won possession in midfield and Fabregas – who else? – sent Adebayor through to round the goalkeeper and elude the covering defender, Claude Davis. Derby had a case for claiming the striker was offside, but in their position they do not expect to receive the rub of the green. By half-time the damage could easily have been as bad as it was at White Hart Lane.
There was a standing ovation for Fabregas every time he went across to take a corner, and another one, well merited, for Arsenal as they jogged off at the interval. Derby had managed no more than one gentle looping header from Kenny Miller by that stage, and five minutes into the second half they fell foul of officialdom's welcome, if belated, campaign to clamp down on shirt-pulling.
Matt Oakley's offence was not the worst of its kind and Eduardo da Silva, in the side for Robin van Persie, fell dramatically but a tug there was and Adebayor rolled the penalty kick past Stephen Bywater's dive.
Even when 3-0 ahead, Arsenal's central defender Kolo Touré suddenly materialised in Derby's penalty area to head wide; no prizes for guessing who supplied him. With 20 minutes to play Fabregas performed his final act before being replaced. It was a glorious one too, as he collected a short pass from Eduardo, veered to the right and fizzed a drive past Bywater from 20 yards.
Just to prove they could do it without him, Arsenal added a fifth goal, Adebayor scoring his third after adroitly chesting down Denilson's cross under pressure.
Wenger believes that his striker has become physically stronger and calmer in his finishing at the same time. He declined to make the obvious comparison with Chelsea's style of play, but agreed: "It was really enjoyable to watch. That's not linked to Chelsea's situation but it's what we aspire to."Reuse content