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Aug 22, 2009

Pompey outclassed by Arsenal

When good fortune begins to feel like a friend from a former life, hope tends to evaporate at a rapid pace and thus was the scenario for Portsmouth at the Emirates Stadium.

While the final score line of this one-sided match provides an accurate reflection of the dominance enjoyed by a slick Arsenal side, Portsmouth manager Paul Hart had every right to feel a sense of injustice after a 90 minutes that was a mix of humiliation and annoyance for his team.

Chaos off the field should not affect the players when they go into battle, yet the turmoil at Fratton Park in recent months can only have left the 2008 FA Cup winners wondering when their next stumbling block will pop up.

Since losing manager Harry Redknapp to Tottenham last October, Pompey have been in freefall and two defeats at the start of this Premier League campaign has led many a pundit to install them as relegation favourites and it took Arsenal just 18 minutes to expose this as the mismatch it always had the potential to become.

Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby was the grateful recipient of Pompey's lacklustre defending as he fired Arsenal into a 2-0 lead early on, with young Pompey full-back Marc Wilson looking out of his depth in the Premier League as Eduardo's pace and trickery gave him an afternoon to forget.

Eduardo should have made it three moments later as the gulf in class between the two sides became rapidly evident, with the speed and quality of Arsenal's passing far too much for Portsmouth to deal with.

As they showed in their first two games of the season against Everton and Celtic, Arsenal have the look of a winning machine all over again, yet over-hyping this performance as that of title contenders may be premature as some of their all too familiar flaws were also in evidence once again.

With the match apparently over as a contest, Arsenal gave a reminder of why they have fallen off the pace of the newly formed 'top three' in the last 12 months as they handed Portsmouth a goal by failing, yet again, to deal with a set play.

Manuel Almunia's weakness in dealing with high balls into the box was exposed by ex-Tottenham defender Younes Kaboul, who leapt higher than the Spanish keeper to score a goal that was greeted with groans of despair around the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal fans who had dared to believe their team had banished their demons of last season after their stunning start to this campaign were left fearing the worst again, as a side that cannot deal with set pieces will struggle to win anything other than plaudits over the course of a season.

Then came the incident that had the curiously muted Arsenal hoards shuffling more than a little uncomfortably in their seats at the start of the second half.

A long ball caught out Arsenal centre-back William Gallas and as John Ukata raced past him and in on goal, an unlikely Portsmouth equaliser seemed imminent. As the Pompey player tumbled just outside the box, Portsmouth boss Hart raced from the bench in anticipation of a red card, but referee Steve Bennett was too far away from the incident to make a decision, and his assistant opted to take no action.

From our position in the press box, Gallas had to consider himself fortunate to escape and as if to confirm the incident was the key moment in the match, Portsmouth then saw the villain of the piece take the game away from them in decisive fashion, scrambling home Arsenal's third goal after 51 minutes.

"I don't know how the officials can make the decision they ended up with," moaned a furious Pompey boss. "It was a foul, a clear red card and somehow Gallas has got away with it. Then he goes up the other end and scores. We have to make sure we don't allow ourselves to believe the world is against us because it could feel like that just now."

The game was put beyond Portsmouth as young Welshman Aaron Ramsey scored his first Premier League goal after an assist from Van Persie, who was picked out for special praise from Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger.

"Robin deserved a goal in this game as his all-round contribution was excellent," believed the Frenchman. "He is our main creator at the moment and I'm sure the goals will come for him sooner rather than later.

"What is positive is this team are producing goals and chances from a variety of positions. We have scored 10 goals in our first two games this season and 12 if you count the Champions League match at Celtic. It's a brilliant start and we have to try and build on it."

Wenger's view of the contentious incident with Utaka was typically obscured. "I did not think the incident was a clear foul," he said. "If the referee had given a foul, it would have been a red card, but you have to be certain in these situations."

Had the game's pivotal moment gone in Portsmouth's favour, the misery that has been the first week of their season could have been transformed and yet they were left to wonder where their first point is going to come from.

As for Wenger, he will know his side relied on luck as much as judgement to continue their immaculate start to the season.

• MAN OF THE MATCH: Cesc Fabregas - The movement in the Arsenal midfield was exceptional and Fabregas looked back to his best, with his passes rarely missing their target.

• FACE IN THE CROWD: Pompey chief executive Peter Storrie and club chairman Sulaiman al Fahim were sitting next to each other once again in the directors' box as the Pompey takeover rumbles on. Rumours in the Arsenal press room suggested former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein may now be involved in a deal to secure the club's future. England boss Fabio Capello was also in the directors' box.

• POMPEY PLUS POINT: Frederic Piquionne looks to be a decent signing for Portsmouth. His strength and skill gave the Arsenal back line a few problems and he may be a useful outlet against lesser opponents.

• ARSENAL BLACK MARK: Manuel Alumina and his Arsenal back line have struggled to defend set-plays for too long now and they gave Pompey an unlikely route back into this game by conceding a goal all too easily after a high ball into the box.

• VERDICT: Portsmouth's sense of injustice covers up the reality that they were comprehensively outclassed by Arsenal. Wenger must ensure the old defensive lapses that hurt his side last season are not allowed to damage his hopes once again.

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