Arsenal moved majestically into the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals as Nicklas Bendtner silenced his critics with a hat-trick in a majestic 5-0 win against Porto on Tuesday.
Arsene Wenger's side had trailed 2-1 from the first leg of this second round tie, but Bendtner overturned that deficit within 25 minutes of the return at the Emirates Stadium to set up a 6-2 aggregate victory. French midfielder Samir Nasri put Arsenal in total control with a sublime solo effort in the second half and Emmanuel Eboue added a fourth before Bendtner completed his treble from the penalty spot.
It was a sweet moment of vindication for Bendtner after the Denmark striker came in for some stinging criticism for his poor finishing in Saturday's victory over Burnley. While Bendtner's lack of goals had led some fans to call for him to be dropped, Wenger kept faith in the 22-year-old and got his reward as the Dane helped Arsenal keep alive their bid for a Premier League and Champions League double.
Although Porto arrived with a slender advantage, the Portuguese champions had lost their last six matches in London and, even without injured captain Cesc Fabregas, it was Arsenal who dominated from the start. When Bacary Sagna looped a cross into the Porto penalty area, Andrey Arshavin was left unmarked at the far post and the tiny Russian's header drew a good save from Helton.
It was a warning that Porto failed to heed as another header from Arshavin started the move that led to Arsenal's 10th minute opener. Arshavin was by far the smallest player on the pitch but he was still able to win a header that found Nasri and he slipped a sublime return pass back towards the Russian.
As Arshavin bore down on goal, Nuno Coelho made a despairing tackle which only succeeded in knocking the ball to Bendtner, who slid across to push his shot into the empty net. Two farcical mistakes from Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski had proved decisive in the first leg at the Dragao Stadium, but it was Porto who shot themselves in the foot in the 25th minute.
Fucile had the chance to clear deep in his own half but tried to play his way out of trouble and instead gifted possession to Arshavin with a careless pass. Arshavin escaped his markers with a clever flick and whipped over a low cross that Bendtner gleefully prodded past Helton for his seventh goal of the season.
Bendtner has never lacked confidence so his belief must have been sky-high by now and he almost completed his hat-trick with a curling strike which Helton pushed away for a corner. By the time Abou Diaby's header was saved by Helton, Arsenal were playing with such verve and imagination that the tie looked all but over already. Nasri's elegant play in midfield was more than compensating for the absence of Fabregas and the Frenchman forced a sprawling stop from Helton as Arsenal went for the kill.
Arsenal hadn't overturned a first leg deficit when they played the return at home for over 30 years and they had a scare early in the second half when Nasri had to clear off the line from Cristian Rodriguez's header. But that only served to spark the Gunners back into life and Nasri extinguished Porto's hopes with a breath-taking goal in the 63rd minute.
Taking possession wide on the right edge of the Porto penalty area, he jinked past three Porto defenders with a mesmerising dribble and unleashed a fierce strike that gave Helton no chance. Arsenal weren't finished there and, in the 66th minute, Arshavin sent substitute Eboue galloping clear and the defender rounded Helton before slotting home. There was still time for one more goal as Fucile gave away a penalty with a foul on Eboue in stoppage time and Bendtner stroked in his hat-trick from the spot.
After the match Wenger said: "If I don't smile now I will never smile! We controlled the game, played our fluent football and had a positive start with goals that gave us belief.
"We controlled most of the game, scored great goals and were good to watch. We did what we want to do, we won with style. The pace we put on gave Porto a problem. When we play our quick passing on this pitch it can be difficult for everybody."
Porto manager Jesualdo Ferreira claimed the scoreline was harsh on his team, but he admitted they had made too many mistakes to go through. "We conceded an early goal due to our mistake and that was the worst scenario we could imagine. From there Arsenal, with the maturity and quality they have, put us under pressure," Ferreira said.
"In the second half it was exactly the same. Arsenal controlled the match and played a good match but we deserved a little bit more than we got. Ball possession was almost the same but we didn't take our chances and Arsenal did, they were lucky in that respect."