By Richard Clarke
Sylvain Wiltord helped himself to two goals as Arsenal ran riot at the Riverside on Sunday.
Thierry Henry gave the Gunners the lead after just five minutes and Gilberto added another soon afterwards. Wiltord made it three midway through the first half and swept home a fourth on hour as Arsenal grabbed a victory that puts them joint top of the fledgling Premiership table. Like Manchester United, they have won their opening two games by scores of 4-0 and 2-1.
Arsène Wenger named the same XI as the one that beat Everton on the opening day of the season. The only change in the entire 16 saw Edu come in for the suspended Francis Jeffers. That meant Sol Campbell had recovered from his shoulder injury in time to keep his place in the Arsenal line-up and, in the process, rack up 100 appearances for the club.
Middlesbrough did not include new loan signing Gaizka Mendieta. Instead the home fans' first sight of the Spanish playmaker came when he was paraded, along with fellow new boy Danny Mills, on the pitch before kick-off.
It was a bright, sunny day on Teesside and a passionate home crowd had something to shout about in the opening minute when Szilard Nemeth latched on to a ricochet and escaped inside the area on the right hand side. Jens Lehmann, fit to start after recovering from a slight thigh problem, came out to narrow the angle and the Boro striker fired high over the bar.
In fact, Arsenal had barely warmed to their task when Henry put them ahead. Patrick Vieira picked out Freddie Ljungberg on the right with slide-rule pass, he scuttled into the area and sent a low shot across Boro keeper Mark Schwarzer. The Australian got a hand to the ball but could only palm it into the path of Henry, who does not miss from that range. It was his third goal in his last three games.
Eight minutes later it was two. Ashley Cole fed Pires on the right, he reached the byline and had time to clip a cross to any one of three yellow-shirted players on the far side of the penalty area. In the end, Gilberto emerged to thump home his first Premiership goal for the club on the volley.
It was no more than Arsenal deserved. Just before that goal, Ljungberg arrowed a shot just over the bar. Just afterwards, Campbell nodded narrowly wide from Pires' corner.
The Frenchman started the move for Arsenal's third. A Boro attack came to nothing and Pires picked out Henry on the left. He sped into the area and the home defence again were guilty of allowing the visiting attackers too much time. Henry clipped a ball to Wiltord who cleverly opened his shoulders to sidefoot the ball into the opposite corner.
Boro battled back to make it a more even contest. Nemeth saw deflected shot drift over the bar and then forced Lehmann to rush out and smother the ball.
However in between those efforts, Henry might have made it four, turning his defender at the near post to give him a clear sight of goal. However for once, his shot was poor.
Seven minutes from the break, Juninho just failed to touch home Nemeth's deflected cross. But Henry seemed in the mood for goals. Late in the half he saw a long-range strike and near-post header drift wide of the woodwork.
Play was held up for a couple of minutes just after the restart when Ashley Cole and George Boateng clashed header going for a header.
Arsenal were playing "keep ball", perhaps mindful that a Boro goal might take away some of their momentum.
Any lingering doubts were swept aside on the hour when Campbell's raking pass from inside the centre circle picked out Ljungberg on the right side and the area. The well-placed Swede played an unselfish pass across the face of goal for the tumbling Wiltord to hit high into the Boro net. Game, set and match.
Juninho forced Lehmann into a fine one-handed save on 73 minutes. But the German keeper was looking to preserve Arsenal's defensive record at the Riverside. Before kick-off, they had not let in a goal in their last five hours of Premiership football on this ground.
A minute later, Wenger swapped Edu, Dennis Bergkamp and Ray Parlour for Pires, Wiltord and Ljungberg.
Henry threatened more goals in the final few minutes but nothing materialised. No matter, the job was done.
|Thierry nets our opener|
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|1-0 to the Arsenal!|
|Gilberto scores a spectacular second|
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|Our Brazilian volleys it home|
|...and celebrates!||Wiltord nets his first, and Arsenal's third|
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|Wiltord slides in..||..and makes it 4-0|
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