Arsenal 7 Middlesbrough 0: Hat-trick for Henry in seven heaven

Arsenal allowed to go on rampage by McClaren's misfits as Boro's alarming run continues
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The Independent Online

Show me ambition, Thierry Henry declared, and I will stay. He then showed why. With a euphoric hat-trick, this most compelling of strikers equalled Cliff Bastin's record of 150 League goals for Arsenal and led the annihilation of an utterly abject Middlesbrough who are in very real danger of being relegated.

It was seven. It could have been 10. Instead, the visitors finished with that number as Doriva was dismissed. A tug on Henry's shirt - the only time a Middlesbrough player got remotely close to him - a second yellow, and he was off. Not that it made any difference.

Steve McClaren's side were a shambles. The would-be England manager has now used 29 players in the Premiership over this season, chopping, changing and hit by injuries. But if he had deployed all 29 it still might not have stopped Henry and Co yesterday.

Middlesbrough fielded six teenagers but it was another who Arsène Wenger effectively confirmed is coming to Arsenal. "I bought three," he said in reference to his arrivals in the transfer window with Abou Diaby and Emmanuel Adebayor acquired on Friday. Three? "Two, sorry," he said with the broadest of smiles, before delivering the punch-line "two and a half". He just could not help himself.

Theo Walcott will sign from Southampton tomorrow and Wenger is genuinely excited. The £10m deal is agreed. The 16-year-old is regarded as Henry's successor - Wenger said "I love the boy" - but it is some burden to bear. "How far can he go, that is the question," Wenger said of Henry and it sounded like a threat. "Where will he stop? I would like to see the name of the next one who can beat him." Walcott? Another Wenger laugh.

It was a joyous day indeed for Arsenal with Wenger saying he expected Henry to sign a new contract "in weeks rather than months" and Ashley Cole also returning from injury after three months out with a stress fracture. The full-back felt sore but not as sore as McClaren. "We have taken a beating," he said. "It was the wrong day to come here with the team we had."

The kids, he added, were hurting, the wounds will have to heal. Next up is the FA Cup replay against Nuneaton Borough. Even that looks daunting for Middlesbrough right now. They beat Arsenal back in September. That seems a long, long time ago.

The goals came thick and fast. There were four in the first half which followed three half-chances for Fredrik Ljungberg and a Henry free-kick which brushed against a post. Ljungberg then hit the byline, looked up and chipped a cross to Henry whose side-footed volley crashed past Brad Jones, retained in goal with the transfer-seeking Mark Schwarzer on the bench alongside the equally unhappy Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. Two minutes later and Philippe Senderos, unmarked, thumped his header in from Jose Antonio Reyes's corner. Senderos did not even have to make a run. No one was close to him.

Shell-shocked Middlesbrough caved in. They invited Arsenal through. Their defence was porous; their defenders ponderous. On the half-hour Robert Pires slipped the ball to Reyes, who simply looked up and dissected the visitors' right flank for Henry to run on, draw Jones and roll the ball in. On the stroke of half-time Pires had the time to wait and curl a right-footed shot inside the far post. Quite why Chris Riggott and colleagues stood and watched is something surely McClaren enquired about at the interval.

But little changed. After that Henry steered Ljungberg's cut-back embarrassingly over before Pires, wrongly, had a headed goal ruled out for offside. He was unmarked. It came from an Henry free-kick. Minutes later he took another from the same flank. This time Gilberto Silva met it and his header squirmed through Jones.

It continued. Pires set off again and again Reyes was involved and again Henry was given the space to pick his spot and drive across Jones for his hat-trick. He took a bow. The crowd loved it.

Riggott almost pulled one back, but his volley cannoned off the crossbar. It would have been an undeserved response. Instead, after a scramble, the ball broke to the substitute Alexander Hleb, who knocked in his first goal for Arsenal. Given the results elsewhere it was, indeed, a great day for the Gunners.

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