Dennis Bergkamp last night delivered what seemed a compelling case for Arsenal to successfully conclude his contract negotiations as Everton were given an awesome demonstration of the standards required to survive in the Champions' League.
However, even after the Dutchman had orchestrated this humiliation of the Premiership's fourth-placed team Arsène Wenger refused to confirm he would grant Bergkamp another season. Referring to the supporters' chants of "one more year" Wenger said: "If there is a referendum there would be no doubt but I have to make the decision and stand up for it. Dennis is 36. He has again shown his class tonight but you cannot base a season on his contribution. We will sit down and talk." Bergkamp himself said: "Hopefully we can sort something out as soon as possible."
Everton would love such a dilemma. If, encouraged by Liverpool's unexpected progress to the Champions' League final, they had begun to harbour dreams of similar grandeur Arsenal, perennial failures in the competition themselves, exposed them as delusions. They shredded Everton's defence for the third time this season taking their tally of goals against them this campaign to 14. In doing so they achieved Arsenal's biggest victory under Wenger and became the first team to win by such a margin in the Premiership since Manchester United drubbed Nottingham Forest 8-1 in 1999.
It was an ominous warm-up for the FA Cup final and impressively marked the last Highbury appearance of Arsenal's famous red-and-white shirts. Next season, to echo their first at the ground (and make some extra cash), they will wear maroon.
Everton, meanwhile, had not lost by a seven-goal margin since a matching defeat at then-champions Portsmouth in 1949. That season Everton were relegated, this time they have won a place in the European élite. The reaction of their manager, David Moyes, was succinct: He said: "I'm totally embarrassed," and walked out.
Bergkamp, who yesterday expressed his unhappiness at the delay over his new deal, created first-half goals for Robin van Persie, Robert Pires and Patrick Vieira. Then, after Pires had struck again, and Edu marked an emotional send-off with a penalty, Bergkamp added the sixth himself. Mathieu Flamini completed the scoring.
Arsenal's joy was capped by the return from injury of Sol Campbell and Thierry Henry. Campbell, after an uncertain start, looked good making one superb tackle on Marcus Bent; Henry regularly stretched Everton. Vieira departed at the interval but, said Wenger, that was pre-arranged. Campbell, playing his first match since February, was one of several Arsenal players seeking to cement their place for the FA Cup final. Perhaps significantly he displaced not Philippe Senderos, his understudy during that time, but Kolo Touré.
For Everton the match was not so much a question of playing for pride but respect. Having lost 4-1 at home to Arsenal on the opening day of the season, then being beaten 3-1 by an Arsenal reserve XI in the Carling Cup in November, they wanted to prove they were worthy of the Champions' League.
Had Mikel Arteta converted a second-minute chance provided by Steve Watson they may have done so. However, having glided behind Vieira he shot straight at Jens Lehmann. Five minutes later the rout began. Arteta was mugged in midfield by Jose Antonio Reyes. He fed Bergkamp who rolled a pass between Joseph Yobo and David Weir for Van Persie to stroke the ball past Richard Wright.
Four minutes later Arsenal doubled their lead. Bergkamp, again strolling unchallenged between the lines, released Reyes behind Tony Hibbert. The cross was met by Pires and, though Wright blocked his shot, the 'keeper was unable to save Pires' headed rebound. For the third, Edu, Van Persie and Bergkamp combined in a sweeping one-touch passing move finished by Vieira's delightful chip over Wright.
Half-time brought little respite as it also brought the return, after a month out with injury, of Henry. Within two minutes Bergkamp sent him away. Yobo, beaten by a stop-turn, brought him down but Alan Wiley, perhaps out of pity, refused the penalty. Everton's good fortune was temporary. Three minutes later Henry's lay-off rebounded off Lee Carsley's shins into the path of Pires: 4-0.
The fifth was came from a harsh penalty, Henry having chipped the ball on to Carsley's arm. Edu, forcibly given the ball by his team-mates, converted to cheers.
The massacre continued. Bergkamp closed down Weir's clearance before turning the ball past Wright for the sixth. Reyes then laid back Henry's cross for Flamini to hit seven. Magnificent was the right word.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Senderos, Campbell, Cole; Pires (Fabregas, 63), Vieira (Flamini, h-t), Edu, Reyes; Bergkamp; Van Persie (Henry, h-t). Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Touré.
Everton (4-1-4-1): Wright; Hibbert, Yobo, Weir, Pistone; Carsley; McFadden, Watson, Arteta, Kilbane; Beattie (Bent, h-t). Substitutes not used: Turner (gk), Stubbs, Ferguson, Plessis.
Referee: A Wiley (Essex).
- More about:
- Dennis Bergkamp