William Gallas produced the perfect response to his critics as the Arsenal captain booked his side’s place in the Champions League group stages with a rare goal in Wednesday’s 4-0 win against FC Twente.
Gallas’s captaincy credentials had already been questioned after his meltdown against Birmingham last season, so when the France defender’s sloppy marking gifted Fulham a shock victory on Saturday he was inevitably singled out for some harsh words from fans and pundits.
But Gallas led by example in the third qualifying round second leg against Twente. He was outstanding in defence and scored with a second half tap-in after Samir Nasri had given Arsenal the lead at the Emirates Stadium.
Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner scored in the closing stages to put the seal on Arsenal’s 6-0 aggregate victory.
It was their most emphatic performance of the season and Arsene Wenger must wish the Gunners could play Steve McClaren’s team every week.
Wenger gave his players a rare dressing down after Saturday’s loss and Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue appeared to pay the price as the trio were consigned to the bench.
Cesc Fabregas, back from a hamstring injury, replaced Eboue for his first competitive appearance since helping Spain beat Germany in the Euro 2008 final in June.
With Fabregas back and the tie under control after the first leg, this was an ideal chance for the Gunners to kick-start their season. After a subdued start they began to rediscover some rhythm.
Robin van Persie tested Nicolay Mihaylov with a low free-kick before Johan Djourou poked a half-chance wide from close-range.
Van Persie should have hit the target when Fabregas’s neat cutback gave the Dutch striker a clear sight of goal but his wild shot sailed over the bar.
Wenger had thumped his seat in frustration after that miss but he was soon on his feet in celebration of a far more clinical finish in the 27th minute.
Nasri has had no trouble settling in since his pre-season move from Marseille and the France winger, who scored on his debut against West Brom, gave another glimpse of his potential here.
Van Persie was the catalyst as he won possession on the edge of the Twente penalty area. His tackle ran to Nasri, who wrong-footed two defenders with a sublime turn before firing in a low shot that took a slight deflection past Mihaylov.
Fabregas’s return gave Arsenal the guile so obviously missing against Fulham. A perfectly-weighted pass from the Spaniard sent Bendtner clear, only for the Danish striker to stumble over his own feet as he tried to shoot.
Van Persie fared even worse when he somehow shot wide with the goal at his mercy after Walcott’s run unhinged the Dutch defence.
This was McClaren’s first visit to Arsenal since his Middlesbrough team were beaten 7-0 at Highbury in 2006 and the former England coach was heading for another thrashing.
Gallas enjoyed his moment of redemption in the 52nd minute when his rampaging run set up Bendtner. The forward’s shot was blocked by Mihaylov and rebounded for Gallas to slot home.
Walcott got reward for a menacing display when he exchanged passes with Bendtner and curled a low shot past Mihaylov in the 66th minute.
Bendtner’s close-range strike from Denilson’s backheel in the 89th minute capped the rout. Perhaps Wenger will look forward to Thursday’s draw for the lucrative group stages with slightly more enthusiasm now.
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