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03 Mar 2011

At times this felt an audition between Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner over who would be the leading man in the Nou Camp next week.

If Cesc Fabregas is fit, and Arsene Wenger also fields Samir Nasri and Andrei Arshavin, then the right to replace the injured Robin van Persie at centre-forward in the 4-2-3-1 system is a straight fight between Chamakh and Bendtner.

The Dane, who scored in Barcelona last season, began on the right, where Wenger most uses him, but moved all over. He netted a good hat-trick, including a powerful headed goal that Alan Smith, Frank Stapleton or Malcolm Macdonald would have been proud of.

After Chamakh had opened the scoring, Bendtner’s header brought up Arsenal’s 100th goal of the season in their 45th game. Bendtner’s second was a neat solo strike and he guaranteed ownership of the ball with a second-half penalty.

When Gael Clichy added a fifth in front of the watching Steve Davis and Barry Hearn, Orient needed snookers. For all the noisy exhortations of the 9,000 travelling fans, Russell Slade’s side were simply outgunned. A great Dane was too much for the underdogs.

After helping setting up a quarter-final at Manchester United, Bendtner was removed from the fray by Wenger, protecting him for tougher tests ahead, Sunderland on Saturday and then Barcelona.

Bendtner is a frustrating figure at Arsenal, capable of being almost as good as he thinks he is but also capable of drifting out of games.

He began quietly, almost indifferently, seemingly failing to appreciate the importance of pressing opponents from a lower division.

He even earned some murmurs of disapproval from the home fans before springing into life, ensuring the perfect pick-me-up for Arsenal after their Carling Cup woes.

There was to be no hangover. This was a night of positives for Arsenal; even initial concerns over Tomas Rosicky, who limped off, proved to be only mild concussion. The Emirates enjoyed an assured debut from the tall Irish teenager Conor Henderson, a force down either flank.

Henderson impressed as did Abou Diaby, making rangy runs through the centre and working hard to disrupt Orient moves. Slade’s men stuck to their passing principles, and were superbly supported, but Arsenal had the superior fire-power.

Orient still have their trip to Las Vegas guaranteed, Hearn having made the promise following their performance at Brisbane Road. Arsenal are focusing on another visit to Wembley.

Rosicky was the only survivor from the Carling Cup starting XI and he began to make amends for his Wembley anonymity by creating Chamakh’s goal.

The Czech Republic international darted down the inside-right channel, turning and looking for red shirts in the box. Rosicky calmly picked out Chamakh, who shot low past Jamie Jones. The grateful Morrocan ran across to Rosicky, lifting the No 7 up in the cold north London night air.

After the gut-wrenching distress of the weekend, this was just what the doctor ordered. Arsenal settled, passing the ball around smoothly but Orient briefly showed why they had suffered defeat only once in their previous 22 games.

Ben Chorley, once an Arsenal youth-team starlet, almost embarrassed his former employers with a meaty volley which was flying goalwards until encountering traffic. Still Orient attacked, eliciting a few bouts of “ole” from the away end.

As in the first game, Charlie Daniels was again impressive, raiding forward from his left-back station. Having eluded Sebastien Squillaci, the former Spurs defender drilled the cross to the near-post. Alex Revell connected well enough but his radar was slightly wonky, his shot skimming wide.

Believing it was in, the Orient fans down the far end whooped with brief delight before the sound of Arsenal cackling and the sight of Manuel Almunia lining up a goal-kick soon silenced them.

Orient fans had brought plenty of banners with them, including the “Orient. Kids. Wife. In That Order” flag that looked suspiciously like a doctored version of the one that hangs at Old Trafford. The Red Devils logo in the centre rather gave it away.

There was nothing artificial about the performance of Slade’s team.

Daniels, Stephen Dawson and Jason Crowe all worked over-time. They needed to. Arsenal always carried a threat, soon adding a second A good move down the left, involving Henderson, soon saw the ball nestling at the left foot of Kieran Gibbs. When the full-back hoisted it in the box, the danger seemed minimal but Bendtner timed his jump well, getting good spring to reach the ball and send a looping header past Jones.

If his first capped a good team move, Bendtner’s second was a fine individual effort. Cutting in from the left, Arsenal’s No 52 unleashed a firm drive that beat the diving Jones. Stupidly, Bendtner cocked his ears at the Orient supporters, something he also did to Huddersfield Town fans. Orient supporters responded by chanting “we’re going to win 4-3”.

More goals flowed. The lively Gibbs was brought down by Revell and Bendtner drove the penalty past Jones. When Emmanuel Eboue swept the ball across the box, Clichy thumped it powerfully home. Tougher challenges await.

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