By Richard Clarke
Having entered their discomfort zone at Fulham on Saturday, Arsenal ensured a safe return to the Champions League Group Stages with a comfortable 4-0 win over FC Twente at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.
Arsène Wenger’s side had all but secured an 11th successive season in Europe’s elite competition with a 2-0 win in Holland a fortnight ago. This evening they completed the job with something to spare.
Samir Nasri settled any lingering nerves with a sparking solo goal in the 26th minute, William Gallas bundled home a second on the night just after half-time, Theo Walcott steered in classy third just past the hour and finally Nicklas Bendtner tapped home a fourth on the whistle.
It was straightforward stuff but, after Saturday, that was more than welcome.
Of course, Arsenal will have to overcome much, much tougher tests than this if they are reach the Champions League Final in Rome on May 27.
But, at the same time, there is much, much more to come from this side.
And now they are in Thursday’s draw they will have much, much more time to prove it.
Wenger made some significant changes from the team defeated at Fulham on Saturday. Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor dropped to the bench to be replaced by Johan Djourou and Bendtner respectively. The other switch was widely anticipated – Cesc Fabregas for Emmanuel Eboue.
The early stages were lively but toothless. Theo Janssen and Robin van Persie each fired in a couple of long-rangers for their respective sides. None had much menace.
Gradually Arsenal found their feet and Walcott, in particular, used his pace to give his marker a torrid time.
Van Persie blazed over the bar in the 22nd minute and four minutes later the Englishman and the Dutchman would create the opener for a French colleague.
Walcott crossed from the right and the sliding Van Persie tapped the ball into the path of Nasri. He weaved around two defenders before clipping a shot past Nicolay Mihaylov with the aid of a slight deflection.
The goal seemed to suck the life out of Twente. For the first hour of this 180-minute tie they had been clearly superior. But now, just past the two-hour mark, they were trailing by three goals.
And Arsenal could have doubled that advantage before the break.
First Denilson saw his shot blocked by the legs of Mihaylov then Bendtner was dispossessed in the area when caught in three or four minds. The Dane had that many options.
Finally, six minutes from the break, Van Persie had acres of room to pick his spot with the Twente defence in disarray and Mikhaylov nowhere. Unbelievably he steered his shot wide.
Wenger took off Nasri at the break and replaced him with Eboue. The Ivorian slotted in on the right-hand side of midfield so Walcott moved to the left.
Within seven minutes of the restart, Arsenal had killed the tie. Bendtner bustled through in the left-hand channel and stroked a shot to the right of Mihaylov. The keeper could only deflect the ball into the path of Gallas who stabbed home from close range.
It was slightly less scrappy than the goal the Frenchman had scored in Holland a fortnight ago. But only just.
Arsenal’s third was the opposite. In the 66th minute Walcott played a rather fortunate one-two with Bendtner before roaring forward and caressing a low, curling effort into the far corner of the net. A gorgeous goal.
Almost immediately, Wenger withdrew Fabregas. The job was officially done.
The third goal even quietened the visiting supporters for a couple of minutes. The Twente following had been in party-mood all night and were a credit to their team.
But they responded quickly, loudly and heartily; as Arsenal had to Saturday’s disappointment.
Just for good measure Bendtner slotted home a fourth in injury time.
- Gallas Goal!
- Clichy Yellow Card
- Walcott Goal!
- Nasri 45 Goal!
- Fabregas 66
- Persie 64
- Bendtner Goal!
- Song 66
- Adebayor 64
- Eboue 45
- Wielaert Yellow Card
- Braafheid 87 Yellow Card
- Tiote Yellow Card
- Heubach 45
- Wellenberg 45
- Rajkovic 87