By Richard Clarke
Arsenal are in the FA Cup semi-finals for the fourth successive year.
Arsene Wenger's side have won the famous old trophy in the last two season and reached the final in 2001. They are now one game away from going to Cardiff again after sweeping aside Portsmouth's challenge in this all-action Sixth Round tie at Fratton Park.
Goals from Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg and Kolo Toure had given Arsenal a stranglehold by half time.
The Frenchman collected a loose ball in the area on 25 minutes and slammed home from close range to give the visitors the lead. Then Ljungberg and Toure added strikes just before the interval.
Henry and Ljungberg added further goals before the hour as Arsenal picked up where they left off.
In the final stages the game understandably tailed off. Substitute Teddy Sheringham even grabbed a consolation goal. But no matter, Arsenal had done their job and were into the last four for a record 24th time.
As usual Wenger made changes in the FA Cup. Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp were rested. Gilberto and Jose Antonio Reyes were their respective replacements.
Jeremie Aliadiere would have been in the squad but, after recovering from a knee injury, he damaged his thigh in training late in the week. He is expected to be available for Wednesday's Champions League tie with Celta Vigo. The same cannot be said of Sylvain Wiltord (ankle) and Ray Parlour (knee), who are still some way from fitness.
It was a wet Saturday night on the South-Coast. But it had only started drizzling when Reyes thumped a shot against the bar. Within a minute of the start, Henry clipped the ball forward from the left flank, Ljungberg flicked on and the Spaniard produced a rocket shot from the edge of the area.
The 20-year-old opened his Arsenal account with a spectacular effort against Chelsea in the last round. This time his drive thumped back off the bar.
Soon afterwards, Henry's wickedly curling corner was hurriedly tipped over by Portsmouth keeper Shaka Hislop.
But as the rain got heavier, Portsmouth battled their way back into the game. Yakubu and Amdy Faye were particularly prominent as Harry Redknapp's side upped their work-rate. They put the Arsenal backline under pressure but, tellingly, never tested Jens Lehmann.
The breakthrough came in the 25th minute. Patrick Vieira fed the ball from midfield to Ljungberg in the left-hand channel. Reyes played the ball back for Henry just outside the six-yard box. Amid the mayhem, the French striker displayed a cool head. He shuffled the ball onto his left foot and stroked home from close range. Advantage Arsenal.
Having built up their confidence during a decent display thus far, Portsmouth were now deflated and Arsenal threatened a second straight away. Edu thumped a wild shot over then Vieira's downward header fell just the wrong wide of the post.
In the 35th minute only the outstretched foot of Hislop stopped Arsenal grabbing that second. Henry sidefooted a speedy, low ball into the area for the onrushing Brazilian. His shot had similar qualities to the pass but the former West Ham pulled off a fine stop.
Ivica Mornar's near-post flick forced Lehmann into his first serious action of the game when he rushed out to block two minutes later.
But it did not turn the tide and Arsenal added a second a minute before the break when Ljungberg collected Edu's astute pass and clipped his shot over Hislop.
The third, and perhaps killer goal, came from virtually the last kick of the half. Portsmouth failed to clear a corner and allowed Toure to turn 10 yards out and fire a low shot through a crowded area.
Redknapp replaced Eyal Berkovic with Steve Stone at half time. But any impetus the manager had given his side in the interval disappeared five minutes after the break when Henry struck again.
There seemed little on when the Frenchman let fly from distance. His curling effort somehow managed to beat Hislop and nestle into the far corner. Henry's 26th strike of the season meant it was surely game, set and match.
Seven minutes later, Ljungberg collected Toure's pass and rifled home from the edge of the area. As if to prove everything was going against Portsmouth, the shot took a deflection to wrong-foot Hislop. It was the Swede's ninth of the current campaign.
Yakubu nearly nodded a consolation goal for the home side soon afterwards but it did not stop Arsenal threatening. In an incredible passage of play, Henry and Ljungberg were denied their hat-tricks and Reyes's shot was blocked by Hislop.
With the game won, Kanu, Gael Clichy and David Bentley came on for Henry, Vieira and Ljungberg. The former three could do with the run-out for reasons of either rustiness or experience. The latter three will be needed for Celta Vigo on Wednesday.
The changes helped the general process of 'petering out' that overtook the game late on. Arsenal seemed happy enough with what they had and Portsmouth did not want any further damage. The home fans, however, never lost faith, singing "The Great Escape" theme right until the end.
Portsmouth hit the woodwork again in the final 10 minutes when Matthew Taylor's low, angled drive thumped back off the post. They did eventually register when Sheringham flicked home from close range
But, by that time, the tie had long since been lost.
|Buy match pictures from Empics|
|Henry puts u s 1-0 up||Freddie steals in to make it 2-0|
|Reyes congratulates our Swedish scorer||Kolo Toure nets our fourth|
|Ljungberg makes it 5-0||The team celebrate a wonderful victory|
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