There was not a passenger to be seen in the red and white as Arsene Wenger’s men produced a near-perfect attacking performance to comfortably overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit into a stunning 6-2 aggregate victory.
The star men were Samir Nasri, Andrey Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner, who shrugged off an erratic weekend performance against Burnley to register his first hat-trick for the club.
The Danish striker took full advantage of some terrific Arshavin’s lead-up work to shoot our boys into a 2-0 first-half lead before completing his trio from the penalty spot after substitute Emmanuel Eboue was pulled down in the area.
In between Bendtner’s second and third goals came an amazing strike from Nasri which put the tie to bed at a time when Porto were threatening most. Picking the ball up on right-hand side of the pitch the Frenchman bobbed and weaved past four defenders before slamming his shot in from an exceptionally tight angle.
A better goal has not been scored by an Arsenal player this season.
Nasri was given a huge opportunity in the role he craves ahead of Alex Song and Abou Diaby as the advanced midfielder in Cesc Fabregas’ absence and responded with a terrific performance. At times you couldn’t tell whether it was him or the captain controlling the game, sliding passes around nonchalantly and most importantly impacting on the score with a couple of pre-assists and a majestic goal.
His performance was a reminder of what he is capable of when played in his best position and made sure that the captain’s absence was not felt. He seems to be finding form at the right time after breaking his leg in pre-season and his last two games will surely give the manager the confidence to rely more heavily on Nasri in the remaining weeks of the campaign as Cesc’s fitness is carefully nurtured.
Shortly after Nasri’s wonder goal came a terrific breakaway effort created by Arshavin and completed by Eboue. It was effectively the Russian’s third assist of the evening and he was another that shone bright, producing some dazzling dribbling to torment Porto’s right-back time and time again. He showed no ill-effects from his recent hamstring injury and linked well with Nasri and Bendtner all night.
Then there was Bendtner.
On one hand there doesn’t seem much point embellishing on a hat-trick which was completed via two open-goal tap-ins and a penalty kick. But the fact that Bendtner ended the game with the match ball tucked under his arm was testament to two of his best characteristics as a player: his unerring self-confidence and the unique ability to be in the right place at the right time.
There’s no denying that last night should have been the Dane’s second hat-trick of the week rather than the first, but the fact that we can even say that shows what he is bringing to the team at the moment.
During the difficult winter period where Arshavin was asked to play up front for several games on the trot we produced some good results but were not playing good football or creating very many chances. Now, with Bendtner back in the side, we quite simply look awesome in attack. Whether he is scoring goals or not the fact is that we are playing better as a unit and a lot of that comes down to his presence in attack.
Sol Campbell returned to the side to partner Thomas Vermaelen at the back and both defenders had strong games. They were supported well by Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna too, who should also be applauded for the quality of their crossing on the night. So often we are critical of the wing-backs inability to deliver in dangerous balls into the area but there were no such problems against Porto.
Alex Song showed we he is just as important to the side as Cesc Fabregas with another typically dominant performance in the middle of the park, aided well by Diaby who held his position well and was disciplined enough to let Nasri do most of the attacking. On the right was Rosicky whose good performance was somewhat undermined by the great displays around him.
While it’s important to keep a sense of perspective after a performance and result like this – we haven’t won anything yet, this was only Porto, there’s a long way to go etc – I don’t think that perspective should get in the way of enjoying a terrific night for the club.
As supporters of this club we are continually spoilt with astonishingly attractive and attacking football and on nights like these it is worthwhile just sitting back and enjoying the positive energy that is pinging about just now.
We’re into the last eight of the competition yet again and regardless of who draw in the next round, we’ve reiterated our standing as one of the very best clubs in Europe.
Have your say on Arsenal’s terrific 5-0 defeat of FC Porto by leaving a comment.