Arsenal 7 Middlesbrough 0

Last updated : 14 January 2006 By Footymad Previewer
Hat-trick hero Thierry Henry equalled Cliff Bastin's Arsenal league goalscoring record, as the Gunners thrashed struggling Middlesbrough.

Henry's treble took him level with Bastin on 150 league goals and his finishing was exemplary.

Arsenal were brilliant. Middlesbrough - full of youngsters at the back - were awful.

Both teams are in transition. Steve McClaren is in the process of re-organising Middlesbrough and he had to include three of his 2004 FA Youth Cup-winning squad.

Boro have won just one Premiership match since the end of October, amid talk of unrest in the dressing room and restructuring within the club.

Arsene Wenger has already begun reorganising Arsenal, with the signings of Vassikri Abou Diaby and Emmanuel Adebayor and the impending arrival of Theo Walcott. They are still desperate to overhaul bitter rivals Spurs and gain their usual Champions League place again.

Swiss youth international Johan Djorou got another chance in the Gunners defence. He had an easy afternoon. Boro hardly ever found Yakubu and Mark Viduka. Viduka was a peripheral figure throughout.

Ashley Cole returned to the squad for the first time since his foot injury in October. He made a hugely popular appearance as a 34th-minute substitute. That must have pleased the watching Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Freddie Lungberg had Arsenal's first chance, a 25-yard shot after three minutes, held by Brad Jones, replacing want-away keeper Mark Schwarzer. Chris Riggott came scrambling to block Ljungberg after a swift passing move. Henry's curling free-kick hit the outside of an upright.

In the 20th minute, Arsenal made their pressure pay. Gilberto started the move. Cesc Fabregas continued it, Ljungberg whipped the ball in and Henry aimed a right-footed sidefoot volley beyond Boro keeper Jones.

Two minutes later, the Gunners added a second, with the sort of goal they rarely score. Jose Antonio Reyes swung in the corner and Philippe Senderos headed home.

Henry added the third. Fabregas aimed a precise through ball and Henry ran on to the pass, kept his cool and shot past Jones again.

Robert Pires has not been at his best this season. He was today. His goal just before half time proved that. Henry's deceptive run stretched the Boro defence. Pires applied a clinical finish.

It could have been worse. Fabregas, Reyes and Henry all had chances to increase Arsenal's lead.

The procession continued after half-time. Henry blazed over after a run and cross by Ljungberg. Pires had another goal disallowed. When Henry hit another curling free-kick. Jones reached it, but Gilberto tucked in the rebound. It was the 58th minute and Arsenal led 5-0.

The sixth came soon after. Henry burst past onto the pass from Reyes, his control was impeccable and he lashed another shot past Jones.

When Doriva was sent off for a second yellow card, Boro's horrible day was almost complete.

Riggott hit the bar in a breakaway and Yakubu forced a save from Jens Lehmann as the rebound broke, but they were rare moments of hope for the visitors.

Jones made a near-post save from Fabregas as Arsenal countered in a quick break. When Aleksandr Hleb hit the seventh after clever build-up by Henry and Reyes, Arsenal may have dreamed of repeating their 8-0 win over Boro in April 1935.

Jones saved from Hleb and Ljujngberg to prevent a repeat.

The Gunners will rarely enjoy a more comfortable afternoon. Middlesbrough have only won once at Highbury in more than 50 years.