Wow. That was eventful, wasn’t it? It was a cracking match, but we’ve now got a 2-1 deficit to overhaul during the second leg. But we’re definitely not out of it, far from it.
The atmosphere at the Estadio do Dragao was electric, as usual, even without a full-capacity crowd, and it was always going to be a hard task for us to win the game, especially with a number of 1st team regulars out with injury. The much-maligned Almunia was sidelined with a finger injury, meaning Fabianski was drafted in as his replacement. Gallas was also missing, Sol Campbell playing in his stead. Our midfield general, Alex Song was also missing, along with Arshavin & Eduardo. None of those injuries are long-term, so we should have them back over the next few games. Which meant Bendtner was able to make yet another start, after recovering from his groin injury. The starting XI looked like this:
Sagna – Campbell – Vermaelen – Clichy
Denilson – Diaby
Rosicky – Cesc - Nasri
The match started in frenetic fashion, with Porto having 2 quick chances, both due to errors on our path. A sloppy Denilson pass put Porto’s Falcao through, but he was denied by a last-ditch challenge by Sol Campbell right in the box- a brilliant tackle. But that was the nature of the game- our errors led to Porto chances, and inevitably their goals, both of them comical. For the first, Silvestre Valera skipped past Gael Clichy on the left way to easily to deliver a cross, or was it a shot? Either way, it went straight to Fabianski for an ‘easy’ catch, but for some reason, he fumbled it in! He seemed wrong-footed, but why, I do not know. The only person his fumbling would have pleased in the Arsenal camp would be Almunia, who has been criticised of costly fumbles of late- he’s safe in the knowledge that his deputy will not be displacing him anytime soon.
So 11 minutes in, and we were already behind! But we had started to get into the game, and it was not a surprise that we were level pretty soon- but the identity of the scorer was definitely a surprise! We had a corner on the right, Vermaelen flicking the ball, finding Rosicky on the far right who simply headed it back across to an unmarked Sol Campbell who headed it in! It was Sol Campbell’s 2nd goal in his last 2 Champions League games, the last coming in that Champions League final in 2006. An omen, maybe?! (minus the final result, ofcourse!) But the result on the day suggests that we need to do more before contemplating the possibility of reaching the final.
We were well on top after Sol’s equaliser, with Rosicky and Bendtner both testing Helton. But we went into the break on level terms, the half being memorable for the constant fouling meted out to Cesc who clearly wasn’t happy with a number of the Porto players when the whistle blew. The referee ought to have booked a number of the Porto players, or at least warned them, but he was far too lenient, and it was more of the same in the second half!
We started the second half much brightly than we did the first, and we had the ball in dangerous positions, even though we didn’t test the Porto ‘keeper, Helton, that much. But it did look like the next goal was going to be at his end, which could only mean that Porto would go on and score! And score they did, in highly contentious circumstances, about 5-6 minutes into the second half!
Right before the goal, Rosicky had a pretty decent shout for a penalty, but the referee was having none of it. Looking at the replays, I personally do not think it was a penalty, but almost everyone else seemed to think it was, including a few neutrals. One of the Porto players had over-run the ball a bit, and Sol had the simple task of shepherding the ball to Fabianski. But he accidentally touched the ball to Fabianski, at almost the last instant. Fabianski had already committed to picking up the ball and wasn’t alert to the fact that it had become a back-pass, so he picked up the ball! Porto had an indirect free-kick inside the box. Fair enough, even though Arsene disputed this in the post-match interview. The next passage of play was the highly controversial part, which also proved to be the deciding factor of the game.
When the referee blew for a free-kick, the ball was with Fabianski, with Sol the only other Arsenal player around. Two Porto players were quick to get in the box to take advantage. The referee demanded the ball from Fabianski, who arguably had no choice but to give the ball back. But the problem was that he was nowhere near his goal and before he had the chance to get near, the free-kick had been taken and the ball was past him and into the net in a flash. The referee allowed the goal to stand! Arsene was LIVID and even had a bit of a long discussion with the referee near the touchline. He was probably trying to get the referee to explain how on earth he allowed the Porto players to take the free-kick so quickly, especially as it didn’t look as if the referee was ready for it! He had turned his back on play to speak to Sol, who was directly behind him, when the free-kick was taken. Add that to the fact that the referee had gone out of his way to demand the ball, and the Boss was justifiably furious! One definitely cannot blame the Porto players, as they were well in their right to take the free-kick quickly and one would expect us to do the same if we were in a similar position. But the referee ought to take the blame for it, as he didn’t hand the situation well.
Here’s Arsene’s take on it:
What can you do? The backpass was accidental. Where do you see a defender kick the ball back with his toe? It was completely accidental. The ball hit Sol, it was not on purpose and it has to be intentional to be a free-kick. It is difficult to understand how the referee can interpret that or not see that. Then, on an indirect free-kick, if you allow the team to play quickly, just five metres from the goal, how can the team defend that? It is better than a penalty. It was unbelievable that he allowed Porto to play straight away and push the ball into the net.
I have never seen that and I have been in the game a long time. It is completely inappropriate that he allows that in such a situation. When the referee gives the free-kick he has to allow us a chance to defend it, otherwise it is better to give a goal straight away.
Either way, the goal was given and we found ourselves 2-1 down, and we weren’t able to improve on the score-line, even though the match was very much end to end. The match was played at a high tempo and it was hard to keep up with it at times!
We had a few more chances to get another goal, but so did Porto and to be honest, any time they had the ball anywhere near our box towards the end of the game, I was pretty worried we would concede, so I was happy to take a 2-1 scoreline! Anything worse and we surely would have been out of the tie?
We did made use of our substitutions, with Theo coming on for Rosicky, Vela for Bendtner, and Eboue for Nasri, but none of them were able to make a telling impact. Eboue did have a brilliant drive into the box creating a chance, but it didn’t come to anything.
There weren’t really any stand-out performances, although Sol was generally impressive and showed he’s more than capable to deputise for either of the centre-halfs. Fabregas didn’t really have that much of an impact on the game, but then, he was being tackled every other minute. Clichy was a bit worrying defensively, but I just feel as if he needs more games to get back to his best; we all know, and I’m sure he does too, that he much better than this. Fabianski did make a couple of decent saves, but his 2 errors have pretty much overshadowed them, as you would expect, considering we lost the match as a result.
A disappointing result, but on reflection, it is hardly a disastrous one, given the circumstances. We do have the crucial away goal, and a 1-0 win at the Emirates on the return leg would more than be enough but if we were to concede, we would have to win by 2 clear goals. We won 4-0 the last time Porto visited us at the Emirates, and there is no reason why we can’t repeat the same next time round. We should hopefully have the likes of Alex Song and Arshavin back by then, Bendtner, Clichy and Theo should have had a few more games under their belts, but we have to cut out on the silly errors if we want to have any chance of getting through to the next stage.
No point dwelling on this result though, we’ve got Sunderland at the Emirates on Saturday for the start of our unbeaten Premier League run!