This may not be the Arsenal side of two years ago, but it certainly is not the same Portsmouth that Harry Redknapp brought to Highbury in the first flush of Premiership life either. Then they were competitive, creative and only denied victory by a fraudulent penalty. Last night they were destroyed. Utterly destroyed. Arsenal failed to beat the seven goals they put past Everton last May simply because they eased up against a team that included none - not one - of the 16 Redknapp selected for that encounter in September 2003.
Instead, Arsenal settled for four in the first half and a continuation of the restoration of their confidence with Thierry Henry edging to within three strikes of Cliff Bastin's Arsenal record of 150 League goals. In the crowd was the man the French striker succeeded as captain, Patrick Vieira, on his winter break from Juventus.
Last night was not an occasion when Vieira's on-field presence was missed although Wenger professed ignorance that he was even in the stadium. "He was here?" he said. "They pay well that he can afford a box." He himself could afford to joke because of the ease of the victory which, Wenger said, "brought confidence back" and an encouraging performance from Mathieu Flamini, one of those who has struggled to fill the midfield void.
Not that the 22-year-old faced much competition as Redknapp confirmed the pre-match suspicion that he had left out players - Dejan Stefanovic and Gary O'Neil in particular - for the more winnable games to come. "You only have to look at the two teams," he said. "I came here two years ago and we should have beaten them." He listed those who had since left, adding "Arsenal are on a different level to us. We are hanging on there at 4-0. I would have settled for that at half-time."
Indeed, he would have settled for that after 15 minutes in which his team were torn apart by Arsenal's efficiency and their own woeful defending. The centre-halves Andy O'Brien and Robert Priske were woefully culpable, while, in midfield, Aliou Cissé was a lumbering liability.
For the first Flamini whipped the ball away from the latter, released Jose Antonio Reyes, whose pace took him away from Andy Griffin. The Spaniard crossed and Dennis Bergkamp side-footed in his first in the Premiership this season and the 200th League goal of his career.
Bergkamp was making his first start since November and there were pointed comments in the programme from Henry about his dislike of the recent changes in formation which have seen him play as a lone striker. It was, he said, "not really my type of game", but Wenger's response was immediate. "What suits us," he said, "is to win the game."
That was achieved with Henry running on to Kolo Touré's routine lofted pass, dumping O'Brien on the turf and squaring for Reyes to shoot crisply into the roof of the net. It was the strike of a player whose confidence had been restored by that winning goal at Charlton on Boxing Day.
Flamini strode forward again. Once more Portsmouth capitulated. A pass was slid to Henry, he easily beat Jamie Ashdown to it, pushing the ball away from the Portsmouth goalkeeper and clipping it coolly beyond O'Brien as he tried to clear. Just before the break Henry completed the scoring, chipping into the centre of the goal, with Ashdown diving to his right.
That came from the penalty spot after Griffin bundled into Reyes as he shaped to turn in a low cross from Robert Pires. Both players had found themselves behind the Portsmouth defence. "We were as open as a barn door," lamented Redknapp. "They had four shots on goal and scored four times."
Portsmouth tightened up but, even more, Arsenal eased off. A groin injury to Gilberto Silva was their only concern, although Lomana LuaLua was unfortunate when his curling shot, from the corner of the penalty area, beat Jens Lehmann only to strike the crossbar.
Reinforcements are coming, Redknapp promised. "Wait until you see the transfer window," he said. Portsmouth have made a first move, proposing a pay-as-you-play deal for the Panathinaikos striker Emmanuel Olisadebe. He, and others, are desperately needed.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Campbell, Touré, Cygan; Pires, Flamini, Gilberto (Fabregas, 72), Reyes (Eboue, 67); Bergkamp, Henry. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Ljungberg, Senderos.
Portsmouth (4-4-1-1): Ashdown; Griffin, Priske, O'Brien, Vignal; Viafara, Hughes (Skopelitis, 90), Cissé, Taylor; Vukic (Todorov, h-t); LuaLua (Mornar, 83). Substitutes not used: Westerveld (gk), Karadas.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).Reuse content