As Arsenal guaranteed they will at least finish this season in third place in the Premier League, their manager, Arsène Wenger, conceded he had been wrong on one count in his assessment of what they might achieve at this stage of their evolution .
It was in the number of goals he predicted from Emmanuel Adebayor, whose second hat-trick against Derby – he scored three at the Emirates last September, in a 5-0 win – took his tally in all competitions to 30 for the season. "I knew he would score goals because in this team a striker will score goals," Wenger said. "I thought he might get 15. And there is more in the locker from him. How much, I don't know. But if he repeats that year-in, year-out, that is the mark of class."
To Derby's embarrassment, the Togo striker needed only half the match to give Arsenal the distinction of becoming the fourth side to put six past Paul Jewell's players in this woeful campaign. After replacing Robin van Persie at half-time – the Dutchman scored in the first half – Adebayor needed only 13 minutes to make his mark, tapping in after Theo Walcott had left Andy Todd in a heap on the right. By the time he had put away his second and third goals, sliding home Gael Clichy's pass after 85 minutes before rounding Roy Carroll to complete the treble in stoppage time, he had racked up 24 Premier League goals for the season, five more than the entire Derby team.
Wenger's team toyed with their opponents at times, although Derby were competitive for the first half-hour. Indeed, Arsenal's first strike came against the run of play, their goal having been threatened several times before a mistake by Darren Moore allowed Nicklas Bendtner to run clear, exchange passes with Van Persie, and beat Carroll with a precise low shot.
Yet the next goal was an equaliser. Jay McEveley scored it, the defender rising first to Robbie Savage's free kick, then enjoying a small slice of luck as the ball dropped at his own feet, and profiting too from a hint of hesitancy from Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski on his Premier League debut.
Another defensive error allowed Arsenal to regain the advantage six minutes before the half-time. Kolo Toure's ball into the box from a central position cleared every defender, with Moore at fault again, to find Van Persie goalside and clear. After Adebayor's first goal had made Arsenal look already comfortable, the prospect of an improbable Derby comeback flickered briefly when Rob Earnshaw broke clear to convert Andy Todd's through ball with a cool finish.But that only sparked Arsenal to score twice in two minutes, Walcott curling home their fourth before Adebayor slid home his second and then ran on to Cesc Fabregas's through ball to finish his night's work.
Derby's 11 points is still four short of Sunderland's record low, their goals tally and goal difference also set to be an all-time low.
Goals: Bendtner (25) 0-1; McEveley (30) 1-1; Van Persie (39) 1-2; Adebayor (59) 1-3; Earnshaw (77) 2-3; Walcott (79) 2-4; Adebayor (80) 2-5; Adebayor (90) 2-6.
Derby County (4-4-2): Carroll; Todd, Moore, Stubbs, McEveley; Mears, Savage, Ghaly (Feilhaber, 60), Lewis; Villa, Sterjovski (Earnshaw, 69). Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Edworthy, Beardsley.
Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Fabianski; Touré (Djourou, 78), Gallas, Song, Clichy; Eboué, Fabregas, Denilson (Gilberto Silva, 64), Walcott; Van Persie (Adebayor, h-t); Bendtner. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Senderos.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).
Man of the match: Adebayor.
Attendance: 33,003.Reuse content