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Gunners guarantee top-four finish

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02 May 2009 14:33:23

Gunners guarantee top-four finish

Nicklas Bendtner scored a brace as Arsenal guaranteed UEFA Champions League football next season with a 3-0 win over Portsmouth at Fratton Park on Saturday. Gunners boss Arsene Wenger opted to rest his key men ahead of the crucial Champions League semi-final second-leg against Manchester United and it proved a wise decision as Andrey Arshavin inspired the comfortable win. Arshavin, who is ineligible to play in Tuesday's crunch clash, was made captain for the trip to the coast and he was at his influential best - teeing up Bendtner for the first goal and then winning a penalty to allow his Danish strike-partner to add a second. Pompey, who had Noe Pamarot sent-off in the second-half, squandered several excellent opportunities and were finally put to the sword when Carlos Vela added a third thanks to more good work by the stand-in Russian skipper. Pompey, whose best spell came just after the restart, should have enough points on the board to be safe from the drop, while the Gunners head into their clash with United having extended their unbeaten league run to 21. Wenger made eight changes from the starting XI at Old Trafford, with the likes of captain Cesc Fabregas, Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor and regular goalkeeper Manuel Almunia all rested. Theo Walcott, Bacary Sagna and Alex Song - who dropped back to the centre of defence - were the only survivors from Wednesday night's 1-0 defeat. Young Polish keeper Lukasz Fabianski was given an early test when Peter Crouch's knockdown was drilled goalwards by Hayden Mullins, but he was down quickly to make a comfortable save. At the other end, Walcott burst down the right and his low centre was just too far ahead of Bendtner. Nadir Belhadj should have done better from a great position in front of the penalty area, but blasted wide. On 10 minutes, Vela tried his luck from 20 yards, only to send the ball high over the crossbar. It was no surprise when Arsenal took the lead. A corner, in the 13th minute, was only half-cleared, and the ball dropped back out to Arshavin on the left. His deep cross was met at the far post by Bendtner, whose downward header was spilled by David James and rolled over the line. The Gunners' fans at the far end mockingly chanted "England's number one" - with their regular keeper Almunia having seen his cause for international recognition through residency championed by Wenger. It should have been 2-0 when Emmanuel Eboue raced into the left side of the penalty area and pulled the ball back for Vela. However, the Mexican delayed the shot, which allowed Hermann Hreidarsson to make a superb recovery block. Pompey almost snatched an equaliser when Crouch played a one-two with Belhadj on the edge of the area, only to stab his shot just wide of the far post. Arsenal were awarded a penalty when Arshavin cut through the right side of the area and was tripped by Sean Davis after 41 minutes. Pompey were less than impressed, claiming Davis had won the ball, with captain Sol Campbell, the former Arsenal defender, booked for dissent. Although James went the right way, he could not keep out Bendtner's spot kick into the far corner. Portsmouth came out in determined mood at the start of the second half. Substitute John Utaka had a great chance to get a goal back, but dragged his shot wide from 12 yards. Pompey continued to press, with Crouch the next man to fire off target from a decent position before Fabianski pushed away a 20-yard drive from Kanu, sent on for the second half to face his old club. Somehow the ball stayed out when Utaka got to a chip into the area ahead of Fabianski as the home side saw another chance wasted. It proved costly as Arsenal made it 3-0 on 56 minutes. The ball broke for Vela on the left side of the Pompey area after Arshavin's shot was blocked by Hayden Mullins. The Mexican forward showed Pompey how to finish with a low strike into the far corner. With the job done, Walcott was taken off for the final 25 minutes as Portugal Under-21 international Amaury Bischoff made his Premier League debut. Bendtner, on a hat-trick, blazed over from 25 yards when a better option would have been the pass out to Sagna on the overlap. James went some way to redeem himself with a fine one-handed save at the near post to deny Vela, before Bendtner was replaced by 19-year-old Fran Merida. Things got worse for the home side with 12 minutes left when Pamarot was sent off as last man for hauling down Arshavin on the edge of the area. Crouch sent a dipping shot over, and Sylvain Distin was denied by a brilliant reaction saved from Fabianski, but it was just not Pompey's day.


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