By Richard Clarke
Ten-man Arsenal made it four home wins out of four with a 3-1 victory over Portsmouth at Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
First-half goals from Emmanuel Adebayor and Cesc Fabregas gave Arsène Wenger's side a thoroughly deserved two-goal lead at the break. To that point, they had bossed Harry Redknapp's in-form outfit and looked set for a high-scoring, straight-forward win.
However four minutes after the interval Philippe Senderos was sent off for a hauling back Kanu as he raced through. The Nigerian then gave Portsmouth a lifeline a minute after Tomas Rosicky had fired home a nerve-calming third for the hosts.
The visitors piled forward late on but Arsenal held them at bay effectively. At the final whistle they were in second, level with leaders Liverpool on 10 points.
That's a satisfying start to the season and this game had proved, once again, that Wenger's youngsters have character to match their talent.
The manager named three changes from Wednesday's win over Sparta Prague. Alex Hleb recovered from illness to regain his place, Theo Walcott made way. Mathieu Flamini began at right back in place of Justin Hoyte, Van Persie came back for Eduardo. Kolo Toure captained the side on his 250th game for Arsenal.
Portsmouth had ex-Arsenal players Kanu and Lauren on show but Sol Campbell failed a late fitness test.
The home side took the lead in the seventh minute with the first meaningful attack of the match. Van Persie raced clear and was sent sprawling by David James as he tried to skip past. Adebayor sent the England keeper the wrong way from the spot.
Sulley Muntari fired a long-range response at Almunia but, even in the opening stages, this game was shaping up as Arsenal's for the taking.
Fabregas offered an effort from similar distance. Minutes later the Spaniard won the ball in midfield and spread it wide to Hleb. The Belarus midfielder sent a low ball across the face of goal and the sliding Adebayor missed it by inches.
Then Gael Clichy fled forward down the left and crossed to the near post. Noe Pamarot diverted the ball dangerously close to his own goal and behind for a corner.
Arsenal's football was as bright and breezy as this pleasant September day. They played the ball around with confidence and cleanliness. This was Wenger's side at their efficient best and Portsmouth were struggling to keep up.
Ten minutes from half-time, a trademark Arsenal move led to a corner on the left. Rosicky swung it to the near post and Gilberto nodded goalwards. A combination of Sean Davis and Fabregas blocked it on the line. The 20-year-old recovered the quicker to turn the ball home from close range.
It was Fabregas' fifth game of the season and his fourth goal. That equalled his tally from last term.
Arsenal continued to dominated until the break. Portsmouth's only chance of note was when John Utaka robbed Flamini and turned a shot into the sidenetting. It was a poor effort and superceded by numerous attacks by the home side. But it was the best they could muster.
Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp was stung sufficiently to make two changes at the break. It did little to change the balance of play. With three minutes slack defending from a corner allowed Senderos acres of space to plant a header towards the corner. James made a desperate save.
It would be the Swiss defender's last contribution to the match. In the 49th minute he tangled with Kanu after the Nigerian had been sent clear. Referee Mark Halsey deemed it a foul and a red card. The only mitigation for Senderos was that Toure was racing to cover. Whether he was the 'covering defender' required was open to debate.
The free-kick was whipped by Utaka into the centre of the goal. Almunia palmed out and Davis slid the ball over, this time with Toure in very close attendance.
The dismissal served to add life to a game that could have died a death given Arsenal's control. The minutes that followed with spiky and purposeful before a bit of quick thinking brought the home side a third goal in the 59th minute.
With the Portsmouth defence daydreaming, Fabregas tapped a free-kick from the byline to Rosicky on the corner of the six-yard area. The Czech midfielder fired an angled effort through the legs of Glen Johnson and into the far corner.
Another poor goal from a Portsmouth perspective but Emirates Stadium sighed with relief.
However within a minute they were holding their breathe again.
Utaka roared down the right and crossed for the twisting Kanu to backflick the ball into the far corner beyond Almunia's outstretched hand. It was reminiscent of a famous goal he had scored for Arsenal up at Middlesbrough a few years ago.
By now, Redknapp had brought on David Nugent and had switched to 4-2-4. It was obvious that the Arsenal defence, with Gilberto filling in at centre back, would be tested to the limit in the final 25 minutes. Rarely had a side that had played so well and deservedly taken a two-goal played in front of such a nervous crowd. But it was understandable. The hosts had enjoyed utter control before the sending off and the fans knew knew Arsenal's title bid had been undermined by dropping disappointing points at Emirates Stadium in games like this last season.
Wenger toughened his side for the fight by bringing on Denilson and Abou Diaby in place of Van Persie and Hleb. Diaby could have killed the game with 17 minutes left when Clichy's gift of cross floated on to his unmarked head eight yards. Inexplicably he steered it wide.
A couple of minutes later Johnson's rocket shot from 25 yards force a flying save from Almunia.
After that Arsenal effectively smothered the probing Portsmouth attack. Five minutes from time, Toure deflected Nugent's effort high over the bar but in injury time Diaby nearly atoned for his early error from long range.
- Senderos Red Card
- Rosicky Goal!
- Fabregas Goal! Yellow Card
- Hleb 61
- Adebayor 79 Goal!
- van Persie 70
- Denilson 61
- Diaby 70
- Eduardo 79
- Hreidarsson 46 Yellow Card
- Lauren 46
- Davis 61
- Kanu Goal! Yellow Card
- Mendes 46
- Kranjcar 46
- Nugent 61