Sunday 28 May 2017

Bendtner hits treble as Gunners march on

Arsenal win 6-2 aggregate

Nicklas Bendtner celebrates after opening the scoring at the Emirates against Porto last night Photo: Getty Images
Nicklas Bendtner celebrates after opening the scoring at the Emirates against Porto last night Photo: Getty Images

Henry Winter

By the end of this demolition of Porto that was both brutal and beautiful, Arsenal supporters were chanting "ole'', their thoughts perhaps racing forward to a European climax in that Spanish footballing bull-ring called the Bernabeu.

After a display as effervescent as this, Arsenal can certainly dare to dream.

From start to finish, Arsene Wenger's side were terrific, playing with pace, intelligence and imagination, particularly when the ball was in the magical sway of Andrei Arshavin, small of frame but large of stature in possession.

The regal Russian did not score but his creative class was stamped all over this five-goal, five-star performance. Arshavin made both first-half goals for the superb Nicklas Bendtner, who utterly vindicated Wenger's decision to continue him at centre-forward.

The full range of Arsenal's available weaponry destroyed Porto. Samir Nasri danced through the visitors' defence to score a sublime third, Emmanuel Eboue raced away for a fourth before Bendtner completed his hat-trick with a penalty. Not since 1978 had Arsenal overturned a first-leg deficit in Europe but such was the quality of their mood and movement that victory was never in doubt.

Taking their lead from the 'Keep The Faith' banner fluttering from the top tier, Arsenal had brimmed with belief, ignoring the absence of Cesc Fabregas, William Gallas and Robin van Persie, and soon taking control with two first-half goals from Bendtner before Nasri's magical strike and Eboue's breakaway stunned Porto.

If the goals from Nasri and Eboue were particularly special, the catalyst for this display was Bendtner. He scored twice and constantly troubled Porto's defence with his touch and movement.

Bendtner has not always been to everybody's tastes at the Emirates, with some fans questioning his occasionally arrogantly expressed faith in his own abilities, but he certainly delivered here, finishing with all the dexterity missing in his profligate showing against Burnley.

After 10 minutes spiced with some meandering moves, Arsenal suddenly went Route One. Manuel Almunia drilled the ball down the centre, completely cutting out midfield. Arshavin showed real strength in the air to win the ball.

Elegant

Arshavin redirected the ball to Nasri, who was assuming the creative responsibility usually belonging to the elegant Fabregas. The Frenchman's control was instant, his subsequent pass inspired. Nasri stroked the ball down the middle, inviting Arshavin towards Helton's goal.

Porto's keeper dashed out, strangely electing to slide in on Arshavin feet first. Jorge Fucile dived in wildly, knocking the ball away from Helton and Arshavin but towards Bendtner, who had anticipated the possibility of the ball arriving quicker than Rolando, his marker. Pouncing with all the conviction of a latter-day Preben Elkjaer, Bendtner gave Arsenal a deserved lead.

Bendtner's new fan club only had 15 minutes to reprise an old favourite, "One-nil to the Arsenal'' until the No 52 struck again. Porto had only themselves to blame.

Tracked by Abou Diaby, Fucile seemed to be ushering the ball out for a throw but suddenly decided to play on, gifting possession to Arshavin. Big mistake. Arshavin could have put the ball out, allowing the medical men to attend to Nasri, who was lying near the centre-circle. Arshavin played on, embarking on a wonderful dribble that Porto simply could not deal with.

The man from St Petersburg enjoyed a touch of fortune when Fucile's failed interception fell kindly. Arshavin accelerated, his low centre of gravity carrying him past Nuno Coelho. As he neared the byeline, Arshavin crossed low and hard to the unmarked Bendtner, who was as unerring in his finish as he had been profligate against Burnley.

As Arsenal celebrated, a few Porto players half-heartedly appealed for an offside against Bendtner but Frank de Bleeckere ignored their brief entreaties. The half was going beautifully for Arsenal and it could have gone even more sweetly.

The visitors attempted to raise their tempo after the break. The Colombian Falcao began to impose himself more on an Arsenal back-line containing Sol Campbell, who can probably remember the Brazilian Falcao. Campbell brought all his experience to bear, trying to blot out Falcao. Yet Porto's No 9 almost struck early in the second period when meeting Hulk's cross but directing his shot too close to Almunia.

Porto were threatening more, particularly Hulk who was beginning to force his way behind Arsenal's back-line. Any dream of a comeback was soon blown away. Nasri wriggled in from the right, skipping past Raul Meireles, then Cristian Rodriguez and then Alvaro Pereira before smashing the ball past Helton.

Arsenal then disappeared over the horizon with a magnificent counter-attacking fourth. Arshavin advanced confidently before playing Eboue through the ragged ranks of Porto's defence. There was still plenty to do but Eboue's pace carried him around and his low finish found the net.

Arsenal then sent on Walcott who was immediately involved, cutting in from the right and letting fly with his left foot, his shot catching Alvaro Pereira and deflecting away for a corner. The England winger kept racing at the visitors, kept worrying them, deepening the depression they took back to Portugal.

Eboue was having an even greater impact. When Fucile brought down the Ivorian, Bendtner calmly stroked in the penalty. Arsenal glide on. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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