Gunners treble downs Pompey
Two-goal hero (Gallo Images)
Portsmouth - Danish international Nicklas Bendtner scored twice as Arsenal prepared for next week's Champions League semi-final with champions Manchester United by beating Portsmouth 3-0 at Fratton Park on Saturday.
Victory extended Arsenal's unbeaten league run to 21 games and they bolstered their confidence ahead of Tuesday's second leg clash at the Emirates, where they must overturn a 1-0 deficit if they are to reach the final.
Bendtner made the most of a huge error by Portsmouth goalkeeper David James to open the scoring and added another from the penalty spot four minutes before the break after Andrei Arshavin had been fouled.
As Portsmouth searched for a way back into the game Carlos Vela found space to claim a debut league goal early in the second-half and secure a comfortable victory which also guaranteed the Gunners Champions League football next term.
Clearly mindful of Tuesday's clash at the Emirates, Arsene Wenger made nine changes from the side that lost at Old Trafford in the first leg with Lukas Fabianski in goal, Vela up front and Aaron Ramsey in midfield.
The Gunners found their swagger after an uncertain start but were denied a penalty when Sol Campbell clumsily brought down Vela only for referee Lee Mason to give a corner instead.
However they did not have long to wait for a goal.
Minutes later an Arshavin corner was only half-cleared by Portsmouth and he was able to volley a cross toward Bendtner, whose weak header somehow slipped through the fingers of an embarrassed James, nicknamed 'Calamity' by some fans after a career blighted by high-profile gaffes.
Against the run of play Pompey carved Arsenal open in a rare moment of attacking endeavour as a one-two between Nadir Belhadj and Peter Crouch put the England striker clear but in trying to lift his finish over Fabianski his shot flew well wide.
Arshavin had the home defence rocking when he weaved between two players and hit the turf under pressure from Sylvain Distin only for referee Mason to once again turn down the penalty appeals.
In the 41st minute the Gunners finally had a spot-kick at the third time of asking as Arshavin feigned to shoot to draw Sean Davis into a lunge, in which the Portsmouth midfielder clearly won the ball.
But Mason pointed to the spot and Bendtner beat James.
Arsenal were cruising, forcing Portsmouth manager Paul Hart to make a double substitution at half-time, with the Nigerian duo of Kanu and John Utaka bolstering Pompey's attacking options.
The changes had an immediate impact as first Utaka burst down the right and delivered a cross for Crouch whose off-balance header flew over the crossbar although the striker clearly felt he had been fouled.
Kanu was denied by Fabianski but the home side's best chance arrived a minute later with Utaka's pace taking him around the Polish goalkeeper. However, he lost balance and was unable to finish.
Inevitably, Arsenal punished Portsmouth for the lack of a killer instinct as Arshavin's quick-fire pass into Vela saw the talented 20-year-old place a fine strike across James and into the far corner.
Portsmouth, still not yet assured of safety, saw their day get even worse when Noe Pamarot was sent-off for a crude challenge on Arshavin.