Arsene Wenger had asked his team for a result last night that was against the odds. They gave him a performance from the gods.
Nicklas Bendtner scored a hat-trick and he was not even the best Arsenal player on the pitch – it was that kind of night. The kind of night when all those grandiose promises that Wenger has made about this young team of one-touch artistes ring true and no-one at the Emirates minds that Arsenal have not acquired a tough holding midfielder or a £30m centre-forward.
If they keep playing like this Arsenal will be in danger of winning something; at the very least the rest of European football will wake up this morning and acknowledge that there is a new outside contender for the Champions League this season. Arsenal only had to beat the Portuguese champions to reach the quarter-finals but instead they chose to obliterate them, as if they were keen to make a point.
All season we have waited for a result or a performance – or both – from Arsenal that suggests they are serious contenders, perhaps even a team that is at last starting to live up to their billing. No-one expected them to do it when they were one-goal down in the second leg of a Champions League tie and missing arguably their three most important players.
There was a gem of a goal from Samir Nasri, for which he beat three players from a standing start, and there was that hat-trick from Bendtner, but the real maestro was Andrei Arshavin. He created the third and fourth goals in magnificent fashion and although he did not score himself he set the standard for Arsenal's performance. It was one with which Porto could not live.
Wenger had said beforehand that it would be "amazing" if Arsenal got through without Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and William Gallas but in the end it was the nature of their performance that was amazing. Which might have been why Wenger made the bold claim that he would like to face Chelsea or Manchester United in the next round.
It must have been an emboldening experience watching his team demolish the opposition but you do wonder if Wenger was over-reaching himself just a touch. But then after a season in which Arsenal have failed to build on good results, if ever there was a night to get carried away then it was this one.
Wenger did not start with Theo Walcott, although he did keep the faith with Bendtner whose misses against Burnley on Saturday had been something of an embarrassment. From the start this felt like a special kind of night: sharp passing, quick feet, bewildered opponents. They had brought the aggregate score back to 2-2 within 10 minutes.
Bendtner scored the first when he picked up the rebound from Arshavin's initial shot on the run. The move started with a sharp ball through the middle of Porto's defence by Nasri, after Arshavin's knockdown from Manuel Almunia's clearance. The Russian scampered after the ball on goal.
His shot was saved by Porto's goalkeeper Helton who had come right off his line and, in the subsequent collision, Arshavin's boots made contact with Helton's head. The ball broke clear and Bendtner reacted first to prod it in from close range.
Porto were unhappy about Arshavin's collision with Helton but the goalkeeper was well enough to continue after treatment. There was also a question over whether Arshavin had been fractionally offside before he won the initial header. But there was no disputing that the general flow of the game was decisively in Arsenal's favour.
The second goal began when the traumatised right-back Fucile presented Arshavin with possession on the left side. Funnily enough, Arshavin's first touch was sloppy, although he more than compensated after that. Having gathered the ball into his stride he picked his way past Fucile and Nuno Coelho, changing direction and accelerating to make space for the cross from the left that Bendtner tapped in.
Arsenal were too good for Porto and when chances for Arshavin and Bendtner came and went towards the end of the first half it had felt as if they could score whenever they pleased. If they missed a couple then so what?
There was rather less confidence in the first 15 minutes after the break when Porto finally edged back into the match and it crossed your mind that, despite all their brilliance, it would not be beyond Arsenal to cock this up. The striker Hulk got at Bacary Sagna and Falcao forced a save from Almunia. Nasri had to clear off the line from substitute Cristian Rodriguez's header.
Then in three mesmerising minutes, Wenger's side just flicked their opponents off the stage.
Nasri's goal on 63 minutes came from nothing. Abou Diaby had played him in down the right but he found himself surrounded and had to double-back. With three Porto players around him and the ball stationary at his feet, Nasri went past Bruno Alves, Rodriguez and Alvaro Pereira before smashing the ball past Helton from a tight angle.
The contest was over and the fun began. From a Porto corner on 66 minutes, Bendtner headed the ball clear and Arshavin was first to it on the left wing. He ran to the edge of the Porto area before slipping the ball inside for the substitute Emmanuel Eboué to beat Helton and score.
It was the full-back Fucile, whose whole night had been pretty futile, who brought down Eboué for the penalty in injury-time. The usual penalty takers – Fabregas, Van Persie and Eduardo da Silva – were not on the pitch and there was one Danish centre-forward who was desperate to get his hands on the ball. It was a relief for the home fans that nothing but a hat-trick was riding on his finish.
Bendtner scored his penalty but then on nights such as these, when everything goes right for Arsenal, no-one should have been surprised. They are on a roll, although this being Arsenal there is no telling where it might take them.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia; Sagna, Campbell, Vermaelen, Clichy; Rosicky (Eboué, 57), Song, Diaby; Nasri (Denilson, 72), Bendtner, Arshavin (Walcott, 76). Substitutes not used: Fabianski (gk), Eduardo, Silvestre, Traoré.
Porto (4-3-3): Helton; Fucile, Rolando, Alves, Pereira; Coelho (Rodriguez, h-t), Micael (Guarin, 76), Meireles; Hulk, Falcao, Varela (Gonzalez, 75). Substitutes not used: Nuno (gk), Belluschi, Maicon, Miguel Lopes.
Referee: F De Bleeckere (Belgium).Reuse content