Generation game works for stylish champions

Everton 1 - Arsenal 4
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The Independent Online

Now they are at the shoulders of men who must once have thought themselves untouchable: Shilton, McGovern, Burns, O'Neill, Gemmill and Francis stand above them.

Now they are at the shoulders of men who must once have thought themselves untouchable: Shilton, McGovern, Burns, O'Neill, Gemmill and Francis stand above them.

Should Arsenal avoid defeat at Highbury on Saturday, they will equal the 42-match unbeaten run set by the Nottingham Forest team fashioned by Brian Clough that went from the Second Division to champions of Europe in two years. Clough's sides were rarely this lovely to watch but, like Arsène Wenger, he adhered to the principle that the ball was there to be played to feet and used inventively. That Arsenal face Middlesbrough, the town of Clough's birth, adds a particularly poignant touch.

If you wanted a typical display of Arsenal under Wenger, this was it. They won comfortably, easing off once the third had been scored, the goals were beautifully conceived and it featured a young foreign player few outside the rarified ranks of European scouts would have heard of when he was signed.

Should the organisers of the opening ceremony at the Athens Olympics have wanted someone other than Brad Pitt to represent Achilles, Francesc Fabregas looks exactly like a young Greek hero (despite his Spanish birth), right down to the slightly questionable haircut. He was signed from Barcelona in much the same way the teenage Nicolas Anelka was taken from Paris St Germain. As he made beautifully-timed passes from the centre of midfield, it was sobering to think that Kevin Campbell was playing for Arsenal in 1987, the year Fabregas was born.

Wenger argued that he could allow Sylvain Wiltord, Nwankwo Kanu and Ray Parlour to leave Highbury because he wanted to allow the likes of Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Gael Clichy, all of whom are under 21, space to develop. "You saw today that age is not so important," he reflected. "There was a 35-year-old who was outstanding [Dennis Bergkamp] and a 17-year-old also played superbly. Players like Wayne Rooney and Fabregas come through earlier because now they are so much better prepared.

"But we have to protect him, not mentally because he is a very humble guy, but physically because in some respects he is still a boy. But, look, it was a sunny day, everything went well, but there will come a time later in the season when it is raining, the pitches are more difficult and then you will need experience." Then, he might have said, Arsenal will need Patrick Vieira, whose decision to spurn Real Madrid looked completely justified.

To detail the Arsenal goals would be like describing a victim's stab wounds at an autopsy, each inflicted with the sharpest blade. The Everton manager, David Moyes, thought his side might have stopped Thierry Henry squaring to Bergkamp for the opener, the catalyst for which was a fabulous tackle by Kolo Touré on the edge of his own area. But he had no answer to the rest - Jose Reyes' dramatic header, the low cross which Freddie Ljungberg clipped home and even the way Robert Pires drove in the shot from Ashley Cole that had cannoned off Nigel Martyn's post. Henry was involved in every move and of Moyes' back four only Joseph Yobo had the ability to frustrate him.

Given their vicious boardroom disputes and wholesale playing departures, Everton were not expected to provide any kind of opposition. Twenty seasons ago they had begun with a 4-1 defeat and won the championship - yesterday it appeared a 4-1 rout might be the prelude to relegation. Moyes' side fought to the finish and even pulled a goal back when Thomas Gravesen's chip put Lee Carsley through. In all other respects, they were hopelessly outclassed.

It was particularly appropriate that Paul Gregg, whose attempts to wrest control of the club from the chairman, Bill Kenwright, sparked the whole messy summer, should have been at Goodison to witness the shambles. It was his first appearance in the directors' box in 15 months and the players took no inspiration from it.

Moyes could only ask for sweat, which he received. However, his strike partnership of Campbell and James McFadden had scored once in 45 matches.

"You're right," said Moyes with a weary grin. "You need money to get in quality players, as a manager you sometimes need a chequebook."

The £20m of further investment Kenwright has secured may help, though with the transfer window shutting in two weeks Moyes feared it might have come too late. "I would need to be very careful as to who I spend it on. This job would be a hard one for Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson; it is the toughest job in the Premiership."

Goals: Bergkamp (23) 0-1; Reyes (39) 0-2; Ljungberg (54) 0-3; Carsley (64) 1-3; Pires (82) 1-4.

Everton (4-4-1-1): Martyn; Pistone, Yobo, Stubbs (Hibbert 45), Naysmith; Kilbane, Gravesen, Carsley, Osman (Ferguson 70); McFadden (Bent 45); Campbell. Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Watson.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Cygan, Touré, Cole; Ljungberg (Pennant 64), Gilberto Silva (Flamini 69), Fabregas, Reyes (Pires 64); Bergkamp, Henry. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Hoyte.

Referee: M Riley (Yorkshire).

Booked: Everton: Carsley, Osman. Arsenal: Henry.

Man of the match: Fabregas.

Attendance: 35,241.

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