LONDON: Arsenal romped to a 4-0 win at Middlesbrough on Sunday, putting them level with champions Manchester United and Chelsea at the top of the English Premier League.
Arsenal, last season’s runners-up, and United have an identical goal difference of five, three better than big-spending Chelsea, the only other team to have won their first two matches of the season.
Earlier on Sunday, Aston Villa and Liverpool picked up their first points of the season in an entertaining 0-0 draw at Villa Park.
Arsenal simply outclassed Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium.
Striker Thierry Henry put them ahead in the fifth minute with a low shot after Boro keeper Mark Schwarzer had pushed away Freddie Ljungberg’s angled drive.
Brazilian midfielder Gilberto increased the lead with a crisp volley from a Robert Pires pass, and Arsenal went further ahead when Wiltord cleverly diverted in Henry’s pinpoint cross from the left.
Wiltord made it four on the hour. Defender Sol Campbell sent a fine low ball to the unmarked Ljungberg who broke through the defence on the right to square the ball for the French striker to side-foot into the roof of the net.
Middlesbrough’s Brazilian playmaker Juninho hit a sweet left-foot shot that brought a diving save from Arsenal’s German keeper Jens Lehmann midway through the second half, but the home team never threatened to get back into the match.
Boro paraded new loan signings Gaizka Mendieta of Spain and England’s Danny Mills before kickoff but neither played.
Henry said he was short of fitness having missed Arsenal’s pre-season warm-up matches after playing in the Confederations Cup.
“I’m not running like I’m used to,” he told Sky Sports. “I know it might sound strange (as) I’ve scored three goals in three games but I’m not 100 percent fit. I’m just trying to help the team.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger thought Gilberto’s was the pick of his team’s goals.
“It was a fantastic goal,” Wenger said. “He’s not a very good finisher so I’m happy he got a great goal.”
At Villa Park, the goalkeepers had plenty of work and made some outstanding saves as both sides created numerous chances, with Liverpool’s new forward Harry Kewell guilty of a glaring miss in the 10th minute.
Villa’s Danish goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen parried El Hadji Diouf’s volley from the right in the 10th minute and Kewell had only to turn the rebound into the net. The Australian, however,misdirected the ball just wide with his weaker right foot.
Villa, marginally the better side, were unlucky when Colombian forward Juan Pablo Angel’s curling free kick on the hour came back off Jerzy Dudek’s near post.
Sorensen made a brilliant flying save seven minutes later to tip Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy’s shot over the bar when it was heading for the top corner.
Villa midfielder Gareth Barry was wide of the far post with a low shot in the 73rd from Vassell’s square pass.
Liverpool might have snatched victory but Sorensen made another diving save near the foot of his left hand post five minutes from time.
The Dane parried John Arne Riise’s header from a corner and Michael Owen’s point-blank shot from the rebound went just wide.
Sorensen and midfielder Gavin McCann, both signed by Villa manager David O’Leary from relegated Sunderland for a combined fee of £4.5mil (US$7mil), stood out.
“I was given a small budget of just under four million pounds to spend on players,” O’Leary said. “I think I’m a good judge of players and that I spent the money well.” – Reuters