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Bendtner hits hat-trick in Gunners romp

ARSENAL (5) vs FC PORTO (0)

Arsenal win 6-2 on agg

MUCH-MALIGNED striker Nicklas Bendtner shot down his critics with a first career hat-trick as Arsenal overwhelmed Porto to reach the Champions League last eight – but even that was not enough to earn unqualified praise from his exacting manager, Arsene Wenger.

Bendtner’s trio, a dazzling solo goal from Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Eboue’s breakaway effort ensured the home side overturned a European first-leg deficit for the first time in 32 years.

If there was relief for Arsenal it was particularly sweet for Bendtner, who was pilloried for missing a glut of chances just three days earlier against Burnley and responded with a classic centre-forward’s performance.

Yet Wenger tempered his praise for the Danish youngster, reminding a player with a reputation for boundless confidence to keep his suddenly-lethal feet rooted to the ground.

“I hope that will not give him too much confidence but I am happy for him,” he said. “He had a good game on Saturday but missed plenty of chances and three days later he has less chances and scores three goals. It’s good for his confidence and I hope it will give him the desire to work even harder.”

Despite losing home and away to both Manchester United and Chelsea this season, Wenger is keen for an all-English quarter-final, should they follow the Gunners into the next round.

“I have a funny feeling, maybe it’s good for us to play an English team,” he added. “We have not done well against Chelsea and Man United and it would be a good opportunity to show that we can do it against them.”

Bendtner’s haul was impossible to ignore but it was Andrey Arshavin and Nasri who pulled the strings for Arsenal with captain Cesc Fabregas sidelined. That trio combined for the 10th-minute opener, Bendtner sliding into an unguarded net after goalkeeper Helton rushed out to foil Nasri’s through-ball to Arshavin. Bendtner and Arsenal had two on 35 minutes, Arshavin’s trickery and square ball setting up the easiest of finishes.

Flickers of a revival were snuffed out when Nasri slalomed past three defenders and rifled low past Helton from a tight angle. Then moments later, in the 66th minute, Arshavin released Eboue and the substitute danced around Helton for the fourth. Eboue was then felled in the last minute, allowing Bendtner to wrap up his hat-trick with a penalty.