Before the game, lots of stats were being bandied around:
-We’ve failed to score in four of the last seven Champions League matches in which Fabregas has not played;
-Porto have played 14 matches in England, losing 12 and drawing 2;
-Porto have progressed in the last 25 two-legged ties in Europe in which they have won the first leg at home
-Since 04/05, Arsenal have played 4 home Champions League games without Cesc Fabregas, winning them all;
-We haven’t overturned a first leg deficit in Europe since beating Hajduk Split in 1978- all of 32 years ago!
Some of those stats were obviously in our favour, but it was all a matter of which team would create history. Would Porto finally overcome their England blues, or would we break our 32-year duck?
The starting XI for the game saw a few changes from the Burnley starting XI with Sol and Sagna replacing Silvestre and Eboue; Diaby, Song and Arshavin replacing Fabregas, Denilson and Theo. Apart from Cesc- being an enforced change due to injury- the rest of them dropped to the bench. Alumia was made Captain in Cesc’s absence.
Sagna– Campbell– Vermaelen– Clichy
Song– Nasri- Diaby
Rosicky– Bendtner– Arshavin
With Porto leading 2-1 from the first leg and with us having the away goal, a 1-0 would have done nicely for us. But that would have been an unbearably tense 90 minutes as the worry was that we wouldn’t keep a clean sheet, and a Porto goal would knock us out. A 2-1 scoreline would have forced extra-time and possibly penalties. But for me, as long as we progressed, it didn’t matter how we did it!
We started brightly and in my opinion, this was one of the best 15 minutes we’ve played all season- at the Emirates at least- and we scored a goal too! Our first in the first 15 minutes at the Emirates, in all competitions.
The first chance fell to Nasri, after excellent work down the right from Rosicky but his shot was blocked by a Porto defender. An unmarked Arshavin after a deep cross by Sagna then had a header at the near post, which was brilliantly tipped round by Helton in the Porto goal.
Then came the goal inside 10 minutes, which was scored by none other than Nicklas Bendtner. He’s had some harsh criticism over the past few days after his amazing misses against Burnley, but he did exactly what Theo did on Saturday and turned in a dazzling performance. The goal came about after Almunia’s goal kick found Arshavin, who headed it down to Nasri who played a through-ball for Arshavin to get on the end of. Helton was out quickly but the ball broke loose, with Bendtner getting there just before the defender to prod it into an unguarded net. Replays showed. that Arshavin was offside when he headed Almunia’s goal-kick, but the linesman didn’t give it and we were ahead. It was a deserved lead, though.
We looked to press on, Diaby hiting a difficult volley just over the bar. But Porto came back strongly, forcing a number of corners after our passing suddenly went awry. But we held firm and the pressure was short-lived and we duly got our second goal. Arshavin was causing havoc down the left and it was no surprise that our second goal came courtesy of yet more brilliant work from him.
Instead of playing the ball out for a throwing, Fucile I think it was, kept it in and promptly lost it to Arshavin on the left, who danced his way into the box towards the byline before laying the perfect centre to Nicklas Bendtner for an easy tap-in. He missed a similar chance on Saturday from a similar ball on from the right, but there was no way he was going to miss. Porto tried to claim offside, as Bendtner was ahead of all the defenders, but Arshavin had cleverly run ahead of Bendtner before releasing the ball so Nick couldn’t have been offside. He’s showing us that he performs better on the big stage and is in his element when the pressure’s on. Arshavin said after the game on Saturday that maybe Bendtner was saving his goals for this game. He certainly was and all of a sudden, he was on a hat-trick!
A goal from Porto would have brought them right back into it, so we still had to ensure we didn’t concede, and if possible score another goal just to kill the tie off. We won a free-kick just in the edge of the box, on the right, but Arshavin’s ball which was angling into the far corner, was easily saved by Helton. Arshavin had the chance to make it 3-0 with 33 minutes on the clock after lovely play between Nasri and Diaby on the right, but he shinned it over the bar, after Nasri’s cross found him on the left in acres of space. He looked surprised to have missed it!
Porto tried piling the pressure yet again, but they didn’t do enough to trouble Almunia and the chances in the half kept falling to us. Bendtner tried to bend a shot into the far corner, but Helton turned it round the post. From the resulting corner, Diaby header was tipped onto the bottom of the post by Helton! He was certainly keeping his side in the tie, just about. Nasri also had a shot from outside the box, which Helton yet again pushed round for a corner.
So it ended 2-0 at half-time and we were good value for that lead. It seemed like it was only a matter of how many more goals we’d get in the second half, as Porto didn’t look like scoring.
But Porto started the second-half brightly and we looked shaky at the back. Falcao managed to get on the end of a cross from the byline, but his shot was straight at Almunia, who saved at the second attempt. We also had a chance to score too, but Arshavin’s shot was spilt and then saved by Helton. We then made a substitution after about 56 minutes, Eboue coming on for Rosicky, who’d had a decent game.
There was the slack defending poeple were worried about but we held on and crucially, didn’t concede. We almost did actually, after Rodriguez’s header was cleared off the line by Nasri, straight into the arms of Almunia! And after that brilliant bit of defending, Nasri went down the other end shortly after and scored one of the best goals you’ll see in the Champions League this season! Diaby passed to Nasri on the right, and with no real passing option, decided to walk right through 3 Porto defenders in the box, before firing in a hot shot from a really tight angle in off the far post! Absolutely fabulous goal which Nasri totally deserved! Here’s a youtube video of it if you haven’t seen it yet. That goal in effect sealed the tie. What a way to do it!
And with Porto still reeling from that blow we scored another almost immediately! From a dreadful corner, Arshavin nicked the ball and ran all the way to the other end with Eboue sprinting alongside him for support. Arshavin played the ball to Eboue, who rounded the ‘keeper, kept his composure and stroked the ball into the empty net for our 4th goal. Brilliant counter-attacking and Porto were dead and buried!
The brilliant Samir Nasri was later replaced by Denilson, with 20 minutes to go. We still kept creating chances and Sagna had the chance to score his first goal of the season after a lovely pull-back from Arshavin, but he had too much time to think about it and shot well over the bar.
Theo also came on for Arshavin, with 15 minutes to go. He didn’t have lots of time to make that much of an impact, but he did well for the time he was on the pitch for. We continued to cruise really, and Bendtner had the chance for his hat-trick, but he’s header went a bit wide. But he got another chance shortly after though, after the referee gave a penalty for a foul on Eboue inside the box in stoppage time- right decision. And Bendtner duly converted it for his first hat-trick at a senior level, with the last kick of the game. It was the perfect way to bring the game to an end and seal a 6-2 aggregate thrashing of Porto.
We were without Cesc but we had more than enough to deal with Porto and Cesc was hardly missed. Great call by Arsene not to risk him tonight. The players showed it wasn’t a risk he needed to take. We’ll need hin for bigger games. Diaby was excellent. Song was brilliant in the centre of the pack. He looked fired up, after missing the last domestic game through suspension. Sol was a bit shaky in the first half, but he used his experience to handle Porto very well. Vermaelen also made a number of fantastic blocks, although he picked up a yellow. Clichy and Sagna were effective in defence, and Clichy is beginning to look like he’s back to his best, after a long lay-off. Arshavin was literally on fire and Bendtner had another excellent game. His presence in the side has brought another dimension to our game and everything looks like it’s beginning to click. Almunia was barely troubled, but the few times he had to make a save he did, and I’m sure the clean-sheet would have done well for his confidence.
In all honesty, everyone single player did very very well. Can’t think of anyone who had a dodgy game and it’s really hard to pick a Man of the Match! Anyone of Bendtner, Nasri, Arshavin, Song or Diaby would be deserving.
Here’s Wenger’s comments on the game:
“They had one or two chances in the beginning of the second half and we were coming back from the dressing room not focused enough, but in the game we scored some great goals. We did what we like to do; we won with style and we were always going forward in a convincing way.”
And on Bendtner:
“I told you how football can change for a player in three days. It goes quickly up and quickly down. And it shows you as well that he has not lost the confidence that he came back tonight with good focus and with the same belief. It is one of his strengths. His confidence level remains relatively stable.”
“I believe Samir Nasri is developing very well. What he showed in the game tonight, he has shown in training, and we expected that to come out in games. He is a player with talent and he has shown that again tonight, he showed that on Saturday, and he has started to be efficient now. I believe the first pass against Burnley was great. Tonight on the first goal, he made a great pass to Arshavin and scored a great goal. The great players for me are the players who give assists and score goals. And that is what you want from him.”
What can I say, except that this is WHY I love the Arsenal?!