Samir Nasri pulled the strings and Nicklas Bedntner compiled a hat-trick as Arsenal put in a dynamic collective performance to overwhelm Porto.
They say that every Arsenal attack is what makes Arsene Wenger’s heart tick – the free-flowing football constituting the pumping of blood through repeated, rhythmic contractions. This was the red and white cells versus the blue and white – occasionally the heart skipped a beat but not as frequent as the press and pundits made it out. Sol Campbell and Thomas Vermaelen swept up nearly every loose cross that came their way. Gael Clichy and Bakary Sagna were calm and composed when Porto countered, where instead of impatiently jumping into the challenge as they may have done in the first leg they calculated the winger’s movement and ushered them into blind alleys. Alex Song and Abou Diaby’s telescopic legs stopped the opposing midifelders in their traps and enabled the Gunners to build up quick impetus. And Arsenal’s forward quartet was mesmerising, dynamic and unpredictable – too much for Porto’s vanity defenders.
This was not the sum of parts being greater than the whole; this was a fantastic team performance and each player performed their individual bodily functions in tandem to produce a multiplier effect on the collective.
Some may point to the quality of Porto but what the Dragões always do is provide a stern test on the break and the Gunners passed that with flying colours. The way the two sides were set-up was always going to produce an open affair – definitely one or two hearts in mouth moments but thankfully Samir Nasri’s clearance off the line and Falcao’s shot at Almunia were the clearest moments of danger. Diaby and Song overwhelmed Porto’s tireless, if a little functional midfield trio and the former in particular ran the show from deep in the first half.
Arsene Wenger’s selection was not particularly difficult or surprising but the decision on whether to start Andrey Arshavin was to signal Arsenal’s intentions. Would Wenger go for the jugular early on, knowing his most dynamic player would be unable to last for the full ninety-minutes or more? Or was he to unleash his lion later when the legs will invariable begins to tire but that being at the risk of potentially leaving the Russian with too much to do? As it proved it was to be an easy decision as Arshavin’s penetration and directness helped create three of the goals and was a constant menace all match.
The first goal for Nicklas Bendtner set the tempo up for the match and it was a task in which Nasri relished. His demand for the ball, control and movement would have created a fire for Raymond Domenech’s team of “stick-fetchers” while his slalom for the third was brilliant enough not to have even looked out of place at the Winter Olympics. And while Bendtner may look at times a giant-hooved Bambi on ice his link up play and balance gave Arsenal a focal point in which to play around once again. Emmanuel Eboue’sgoal from a devastatingly quick counter epitomised all that was good about Arsenal last night – confident, sleek and dynamic. The stuff of champions? They’re certainly not pretenders anymore.