Wenger rings the changes and Bendtner hits right note
Portsmouth 0 Arsenal 3
Sunday 03 May 2009
Understrength but overwhelming, Arsenal secured the top-four finish that once seemed under threat from Aston Villa – and doesn't that seem a long time ago – with this easy disposal of Portsmouth. Two goals from Nicklas Bendtner, and a third from Carlos Vela secured the points inside the hour, underlining the squad strength which ultimately enabled Arsenal to reel in Martin O'Neill's side. Portsmouth, who this time last season were looking forward to a top-eight finish and the FA Cup final, were left to seek consolation in results elsewhere.
Having won despite making eight changes from the side which lost 1-0 at Old Trafford last week, and which will form the bulk of the team that play Manchester United in their Champions' League semi-final, second leg, at the Emirates on Tuesday, Arsène Wenger was understandably happy. In an accurate summation of the game he said: "We dominated completely the first half, we were sharp and composed with a great attitude and our two-nil half-time lead was well deserved. In the second half we struggled for 10 minutes but when we scored the third the game was over."
His team was not quite a collection of kids. Andrey Arshavin, ineligible on Tuesday, had a hand in all three goals, plus the late dismissal of Noé Pamarot. Wenger made the Russian captain because, he explained, "It was such a young side. Plus I like a rotation of leadership and since he has arrived he has had a fantastic attitude with everybody and I wanted to reward that."
Bench strength is normally a decent guide to that of the respective clubs but not this time. While Portsmouth had a European Championship winner, an Olympic gold medallist and a £6 million striker who scored on his England debut on their bench, Arsenal had a youthful septet who would only be known to the most ardent Gooner.
David James is nearly twice the age of most of them and he looked it in the 13th minute when he let Bendtner's header slip through his fingers after Arshavin returned a half-cleared corner to the back post. Such an error from their most experienced player seemed to sap the confidence of a Portsmouth side that had already lost their other seven matches against Big Four teams. They stood off Arsenal, allowing them to play, and found themselves chasing the ball in the sunshine.
Vela, set up by Emmanuel Eboué, should have doubled Arsenal's lead but dallied so long Hermann Hreidarsson was able to block. Portsmouth needed a goal, but Peter Crouch, having exchanged passes with Nadir Belhadj, clipped his shot wide with only Lukasz Fabianski to beat.
It proved an expensive miss. Five minutes from the break Bacary Sagna robbed Belhadj and fed Arshavin. Sean Davis brought him down and Bendtner dispatched the spot-kick. "The players said it was not a penalty and having seen it I agree with them," said Paul Hart. Portsmouth's caretaker manager added: "Going in 1-0 down, instead of two, enables you to have a fight and we created gilt-edged chances after the break."
They did, but gilts are not as safe as they used to be. Hart had brought on Kanu and John Utaka then sent out a revved up Portsmouth side. Alas, Utaka missed two sitters and Crouch another. There were hands on heads again when Vela showed them how to do it, shooting clinically after an Arshavin shot was blocked.
James made an excellent reaction stop from Vela, Fabianski an even better one from Sylvain Distin. In between, with 12 minutes left, the quicksilver Arshavin left Pamarot trailing and was brought clumsily down. Lee Mason, somewhat reluctantly, reached for the red card.
Referee: Lee Mason
Man of the match: Arshavin
Match rating: 6/10
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