Two errors from Lukasz Fabianski handed Porto the advantage as Arsenal’s failed to put on the defensive show Arsene Wenger had asked of beforehand.
Four years Sol Campbell had to think of something different with his celebration but just as the Champions League final in 2006, jubilation was soon cut to disbelief as two errors handed FC Porto the initiative in the first leg. His header had put Arsenal level to mark his first appearance in the continental competition in three years and nine months this after Lucasz Fabianski inexplicably failed to hold on to a misplaced cross from Silvestre Varela to divert into his own goal. But indecision had already consumed the Pole and in a chaotic period in the match, transcended into hesitation for the veteran Sol Campbell.
The defender accidentally touched the ball back to Fabianski in the wariness that Falcao was breathing down his neck and referee Martin Hansson awarded Porto a free-kick for backpass. The Swede then proceeded to order the ball away from Fabianski’s hands and the home side displaying all their craftiness and opportunism in one moment, taking a super-fast free-kick which no Arsenal defender was ready for, Falcao resuming the simplest task of stroking the ball into the back of the net. Arsene Wenger was furious; the legality of taking an indirect free-kick was not in question should the ref allow it (although it put Arsenal in a no-win situation), and ordering the ball from Fabianski essentially stopped any time-wasting and delaying tactics. But Hansson was in a position no way advantageous to Arsenal or ready himself, impeding the likelihood of Campbell getting back. Contentious decision and contentious goal maybe, but Arsenal still had plenty of time to get back however the Gunners just fizzled out – unable to string two passes together in a stretched encounter. “Schoolboy goals. What can you do? Nothing. After the second goal, we went down,” said Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas. “We are still a little bit soft in that aspect. When we concede a goal we are not strong enough to lift ourselves up. Until the second goal we were having a very good game.”
The two sides were seemingly set-up in mirrored formations but certainly there was more ambiguity in Arsenal’s 4-3-3. Cesc Fabregas was pushed up right behind Nicklas Bendtner at most times while Arsenal’s defensive solidity was predicted to come in the form of a midfield shield but Diaby started slanting slightly to the left. Perhaps that disorientation is systematic of the Gunners defensive problems at the moment. Porto were initially able to profit greatly by doubling up down the flanks, bypassing Arsenal’s first wave of pressure and exposing the relative lack of cover in front. The full-backs motored up and down the wide channels all game and were among Porto’s most active players. Up front, Falcao in particular was industrious and had pushed Vermaelen and Campbell right down the pitch. Porto’s tactics were clearly to defend deep themselves and push Arsenal right back so as to create large spaces in front of the defence to exploit. There was no offsides showing Arsenal’s need to compress space better but on the other hand made difficult by Porto’s live wire front three and an extremely cautious backline.
“We played a good game against a difficult team,” said Porto coach Jesualdo Ferreira. “We showed initiative and left Arsenal with no options. Our forwards adopted strategic positions. Arsenal dominated some parts of the game but it was a balanced game and we also had lots of chances.”
But after falling behind initially, the Gunners played their way back into the match and displayed some neat football around the opposition penalty area. With Nasri and Rosicky on the flanks, it obviously meant less dynamism but Wenger wanted control and in an entertaining first forty-five minutes, Porto were finding it difficult to handle the quick passing. Cesc Fabregas was put on a shackling job by Ferreira and every touch was followed closely by the hungry Fernando – the Spaniard suffering nine fouls in the match. The second-half, however, could not have got off to a worse start as Arsenal fell behind but they were unable to provide any answers. The intensity and expansive nature of the game seemed to have took it’s toll and Wenger reacted, somewhat strangely perhaps to drop Diaby back and push Denilson higher to regain some control and calmness to the match. The Gunners, though, lost their urgency and a late assault at the Porto goal was just that. The tie is still firmly in the balance with Arsenal producing an away goal but the Gunners are in no way favourites – Porto displayed enough danger signs to show they can trouble Arsenal at the Emirates.
FC Porto: Helton, Fucile, Rolando, Bruno Alves, Pereira, Ruben Micael, Fernando, Raul Meireles, Varela, Falcao, Hulk. Subs: Beto, Guarin, Belluschi, Gonzalez, Maicon, Costa, Miguel Lopes.
Arsenal: Fabianski 3, Sagna 5, Campbell 7, Vermaelen 6, Clichy 5, Diaby 7, Denilson 6, Fabregas 6, Rosicky 5 (Walcott), Bendtner 5 (Vela), Nasri 6 (Eboue). Subs: Mannone, Ramsey, Silvestre, , Traore.
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|6||Shots on Target||4|
|4||Shots off Target||4|
|110110||Distance Covered (mt)||110086|