Arsenal 7 Middlesbrough 0: Henry the history maker lifts bad vibes

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The Independent Football

By Jason Burt

The air was thick with memories - so Thierry Henry decided to make a few more. It was deemed 1913 day at Highbury, a celebration of Arsenal's first season on the patch of north London that they will leave this summer.

Children dressed in period costume, a book of the stadium's history was presented to nonagenarian supporter Norman Duncan and the match programme included a retrospective. There, on page 42, was the account of Arsenal's 8-0 win over Middlesbrough in 1935.

Then the home side was rampant, the visitors relegation threatened. Nothing, it seems, has changed. Then Ted Drake bagged four, on Saturday Henry hit three and could have had five. Also on the score-sheet on that afternoon 71 years ago was Cliff Bastin. With 150 league goals he held an Arsenal record. Now he shares it with Henry.

But enough of the past. Arsenal are thinking of the future. Abou Diaby, 19, and Emmanuel Adebayor, 22, have been signed up. Today Theo Walcott, just 16, should also arrive. Henry said that he wanted Arsenal to match his ambitions. The manager Arsène Wenger will reply that that is exactly what they are doing.

It, and Henry's declaration that he intends to sign a new contract - and talks have now started - has had an effect. "It has cut inhibitions inside the team and for him as well," Wenger said. "You can clearly feel that. There was always a negative vibe. It was always Thierry will go." Instead, Wenger feels, the "vibe", which has been there since Patrick Vieira's departure, has itself gone.

Diaby is regarded as Vieira's successor with Walcott seen as Henry's. It's some billing. The 28-year-old French striker now has 13 goals in 15 Premiership games this season. His record for Arsenal stands at 196 goals in just 290 starts. Phenomenal.

Did Wenger foresee this when he signed a then short-of-confidence left-winger for £10.5m from Juventus in 1999? "No," he readily admitted. "I believed that he would be a good player for us but who could predict he would score so many goals?"

The player disputed having felt under pressure. "I've never had any weight on my shoulders," he claimed. "None whatsoever." But he appears to be running more freely.

But what of desperate Middlesbrough? The manager Steve McClaren threw on the kids, with half-a-dozen teenagers, and hid behind the excuse of their inexperience and the dismissal of Doriva. But his side were six goals down when the Brazilian departed and there's clearly something more rotten at the Riverside than an injury crisis.

The goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer is eager to leave, the injured captain Gareth Southgate is talking cryptically about things being not quite right while his stand-in, Chris Riggott - who hit the crossbar with his side's only chance late on - said that he was simply embarrassed.

McClaren declared this his darkest day and, having now won just three matches more than he has lost, and given the scale of investment granted, he is frankly fortunate to have a chairman such as Steve Gibson.

"Of course it puts a doubt in your head," McClaren said. "All of a sudden, what looked an easy game isn't,"he added. The crisis "is a test for myself, my staff... the players we have available, everybody to stick together".

They didn't do that here. Disorganised and lacking in spirit, they were humiliated. The goals rattled in at a pace. Henry got three - volleying in from Freddie Ljungberg's cut-back and then waiting as the goalkeeper Brad Jones rashly committed himself before rolling the ball into the net. That was before half-time. Also in that period Philippe Senderos powered in a header from Jose Antonio Reyes' corner - the Spaniard set up four goals - and Robert Pires bent the ball around Jones as the Middlesbrough defence stood off.

After the interval and Pires, wrongly, had a header disallowed. Gilberto then headed home - both efforts were from Henry free-kicks - before the Arsenal captain scored his hat-trick after running on to Reyes' pass. Alexander Hleb then turned the ball in after it broke to him from another Henry foray. It was that easy.

Goals: Henry (20) 1-0; Senderos (22) 2-0; Henry (30) 3-0; Pires (45) 4-0; Gilberto (59) 5-0; Henry (68) 6-0; Hleb (84) 7-0.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Djourou, Senderos, Cygan (Cole, 35); Ljungberg, Fabregas, Gilberto (Hleb, 69), Pires (Flamini, 69); Reyes, Henry. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Lupoli.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Jones; Parnaby, Riggott, Bates, Taylor (Wheater, 62); Morrison, Doriva, Rochemback (Johnson, 70), Mendieta; Yakubu, Viduka (Catermole, 70). Substitutes not used: Schwarzer (gk), Hasselbaink.

Bookings: Arsenal Lauren. Middlesbrough Doriva, Cattermole.

Sent off: Doriva.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

Man of the match: Henry.

Attendance: 38,186.