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