By Richard Clarke
It will be worth saving your memories of this week in a mental scrapbook. Rarely have any Arsenal side put in three performances so cultured, so comprehensive and so controlled.
This afternoon, Arsène Wenger's men followed up Saturday's superb comeback at Tottenham and Wednesday's wonderful display against Sevilla by dismantling Derby 5-0 at Emirates Stadium.
Long-range net-busters by Abou Diaby and Cesc Fabregas sandwiched a couple of goals from Emmanuel Adebayor. The tall Togolese frontman completed a deserved hat-trick 11 minutes from time.
The scoreline was not flattering in any way. Arsenal were five goals better than Derby today but then, on this form, they are able to put daylight between themselves and most sides in Europe.
At full time, Wenger's side were sitting on top of the Premier League, four points clear of their nearest rivals.
There will be tougher tests than this but, at this moment, you would not back against them staying there.
With games coming thick and fast, Wenger had promised rotation before kick-off. In the end, it was Robin van Persie who stepped off the merry-go-round so Eduardo came in for only his second Premier League start.
Wednesday's win had seen Tomas Rosicky (hamstring) and Alex Hleb (knee) join Jens Lehmann (elbow), Manu Eboue (ankle) and William Gallas (groin) on the injured list. Their replacements were Diaby and Theo Walcott.
After the three-goal heroics of the previous two matches there was a sense this game might suffer from 'After the Lord Mayor's show' syndrome. Relegation-favourites Derby arrived in their usual white and black kit but perhaps banana-skin yellow would have been a better colour. The Premiership was expecting a tonking but football is rarely that straight-forward.
Except, of course, when Arsenal hit their groove so quickly.
Wenger's men began this afternoon's clash like they had only just left the pitch from Wednesday's win over Sevilla. They were sharp, direct and their passes had a magnetic attraction to team-mates.
In the opening stages, Walcott raced down the left and presented a teasing cross on the foot of the onrushing Adebayor. Unfortunately he sliced it wide. The respite would be short.
In the 10th minute, Diaby picked up a loose ball on the corner of the Derby area, skipped around a couple of challenges and let fly. His shot arrowed into the top corner with Bywater helpless.
A couple of minutes later, the Frenchman appeared in the same place with the same opportunity. The crowd implored him to shoot again. He obliged and Bywater allowed the ball to bounce from his grasp before the Derby defence managed to clear.
The expected Derby battle-plan - hustle and tackle - was not being implemented. It meant Arsenal had ample time to play their football. That is something that Spurs and Sevilla had done to their cost over the previous seven days.
Walcott had a shout for penalty when Claude Davis bundled him over. But the cushion of the second was not far away.
In the 25th minute, Cesc Fabregas clipped a clever ball through for Adebayor. He advanced, skipped around Bywater and planted his shot into the net. This was simple, effective football.
It might have been three just before the half-hour but Eduardo miscued a shot at the near post then nearly managed to get his head on Walcott's cross. The winger had a go himself five minutes before the break but Bywater gathered at the second attempt.
To this point, Derby had offered virtually nothing. Their honest endeavour had forced a couple of corners and Kenny Miller nearly weaved his way through in the final minute of the first half but that was about it.
In injury time Eduardo met Fabregas' corner with a firm downward header only for Bywater to expertly turn the ball over the bar. Seconds later the half-time whistle went. Arsenal led by two but it could have been double that.
The visitors had little opportunity to change their situation after the interval. Diaby had already seen his shot blocked when, five minutes in, Matt Oakley tugged back Eduardo in the area. Adebayor stepped with confidence to stroke home the penalty - his fifth goal of the campaign.
Toure nearly thundered home a header from a Fabregas cross shortly afterwards. Steve Howard trundled an effort wide on the hour but, to be honest, Derby were whistling in the wind this afternoon.
Eduardo set up Fabregas for a rocket of a fourth goal with 20 minutes to go. Before the restart, the Spaniard was substituted in favour of Denilson. Emirates Stadium gave him an immense ovation.
It was now party time. The game was won, it was now a matter of whether Arsenal would have enough energy to add to their lead and enough concentration to stop Derby grabbing some consolation.
Eleven minutes from time Adebayor chested down a long ball forward, evaded his marker and stroked his hat-trick goal past Bywater.
The 23-year-old might have taken his personal tally to four in the dying minutes but Derby charged down his half-chances.
It was one of the few things that did not go right for Arsenal and Adebayor this afternoon.
- Fabregas 71 Goal!
- Walcott 71
- Flamini 78
- Diaby Goal!
- Adebayor Goal! Goal! Goal!
- Eduardo Yellow Card
- Diarra 71
- Song 78
- Denilson 71
- van Persie
- Oakley 55
- Lewis Yellow Card
- Howard 76
- Miller 86
- McEveley 86
- Barnes 76
- Feilhaber 55