Arsenal 5-0 Porto (6-2). Magical performance takes us into the Quarters.

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.

Almunia

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!

Nasri Goal

href='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyzAKSDi-es

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.”

And Nasri:

“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?!

  • Nick

    Couldn’t have asked for a better result!

    I was a little concerned with Arshavin last night. He honestly didn’t seem to be all there or care half of the time and the other half he was unstoppable. It was like a bipolar player on the pitch.

    The first 15 minutes was amazing. THe start to the second half was terrible and then we turned it around.

    Nasri’s goal was absolutely magical. Congrats to B52 for the hat trick. Arshavin was a little unlucky to not score on the night. He really should’ve tested the goalie on his volley off the corner kick.

    Song played great and Vermaelen was very good as usual. I thought Sol looked a little uncertain at times and others he was brilliant.

  • http://arsenalandtherandomthoughtsofmylife.blogspot.com/ Debs

    Oops! Seems the youtube video’s no longer available. I’ll find another one later and try and embed it.

    Spot on analysis, Nick. Arshavin’s a weird one, but I guess it’s the fact that he’s capable of brillisnce out of nowhere that makes him very important to the team.

  • jat85
  • derek

    Both Song and Diaby were outstanding last night, with both of them covering each other’s back, it made the team look very balanced and resilient. Especially pleased for Super Nick and Sol. Nick is 21 years old guys, he could end up being more prolific then ade was in his last season, and Sol despite the very small positional errors must’ve been pleased to play at the Grove in Red and White. He made some crucial interceptions and we sang his name last night. Pleased with the way Arshavin and Rosicky tracked back last night, love the fact for once we took our chances and happy that the Grove was a courus of song all night long. Every single player deserves recognition last night, Clichy look as if he is getting back to his best, Sagna looked defensively more stable, even the capitano, the much maligned Almunia did exactly what was needed punching the ball and collecting the crosses, they had many corners but (apart from one) we dominated those set pieces. The Verm (how good a signing was that) has removed that little nerves I used to get when the opposing teams attacks, but special special praise goes to Nasri, as superb free role display capped by a wonderful goal and wasn’t it funny watching Eboue running at Porto. Is there anyone out there who still does not have the faith??

  • united we stand

    Good game by Arsenal but how poor were Porto.Their defending was awful,Arsenal could have scored a few more.The Nasri goal summed them up,he walked past three defenders without one of them putting in a serious challenge.Some lovely moves by the gunners,I enjoy the one touch passing but surprised a team as poor as Porto got out of their group.

  • dada

    Maradona in his prime would have been proud to score a goal like Nasri’s last night. It was special.

  • Nick

    I was also impressed with Theo in the little 15 minutes he got to play. I was hoping he’d start and if not at least get 30 minutes of solid play. He looked very dangerous and if not for a couple of overweighted passes he might have given us another goal or 2.

    I think they said it was 1 minute, 32 seconds from the time Eboue came onto the pitch to when he scored, lol. It was a great goal created by Clichy and Arshavin.

  • Marc Callan

    Have to say, I agree, Sol looked uncertain in stages but he was solid most of time. Nasri’s goal shouldnt have happened, Porto players should have been ashamed for letting him move in initially very easily into the box. Arshavin I think was a little annoyed for not getting appreciation for the set up of goals, like Eboues goal, he did most of the hard work and when the goal was scored, Eboue didnt thank him so I think he was a little annoyed over it

  • devday

    Great post Debs, I feel like I was there now….!!

  • Sam

    Every player, including Arshavin, was quite brilliant. Arshavin had 3 assists, that’s very impressive.

  • http://arsenalandtherandomthoughtsofmylife.blogspot.com/ Debs

    Thanks Dev. I wish I was at the game! Seemed like a cracking atmosphere…

    Been trying to sort the embedding thing, but it isn’t embedding, it’s only creating a hyperlink. I’ve got to figure out a way to get it to work, one of these days! The current link works now, anyways.

  • http://arsenalandtherandomthoughtsofmylife.blogspot.com/ Debs

    Sorted now…

  • manoo

    Souness n Gullit both said nasris goal was own 2 awful defending. well thats true, but he still did it didnt he, it wasnt that easy. Messi does this a lot, and you dont hear these clowns saying it was down to the poor defendingn cant these priks ever giv us a bit of praise?? if rooney did that, the media would talk about how good he is for at least a month. NASRI = CLASS

  • Marc Callan

    I think Nasri was class for the goal itself, the angle was v v tight but they have a point manoo, the defending was awful, you wouldnt see it in Sunday League. Moving on I think the team will take great confidence in the match that they can win, I wouldn’t want one of the English teams just yet, they know how to beat us (harrass us) so I think Arsenal need to discipline themselves to be able to work under pressure

  • arseneKnows

    Here endeth the lesson;

    Real Madrid spend 200M on players and go out of the Champs League

    Arsenal are very much in it!!

    Can we stop this endless year after year after year stupid talk that spending money buys you success!!

  • Mike

    yeah it was s really good game for us.
    the whole team found a good flow. they really pushed forward and defensively we were OK i should say probably shaky with campbell but all in all a seriously good performance by the boys. eboue was a really good substitution and arshavin was sheer brilliance and of course nasri. but i really would like to praise clichy for doing so well on the left last night i swear he really was causing all sort of problems for hulk. he doesent get the praise he deserves but is really outstanding in some matches and yesterday was one of them.

  • Nick

    @arseneKnows- The big spending doesn’t matter unless your players play as a team. That’s why Arsenal are still in it. They play as a team where everyone plays off each other. Guti admitted that Real lost yesterday because they did not play as a team, but a group of players. There’s a world of difference.
    Back to the big spending, it’s only worth the spending if it’s for players you NEED. That’s why all the Arsenal fans are asking to spend is for positions we are weak and/or lack depth at.

  • arseneKnows

    @NICK you are very right my friend – the problem comes when people assume they know the squad inside out a some have the temerity to insist they know they squad better than Arsene. To give you an example, “We need to get rid of Bendtner and buy a new striker NOW” – or “We need a new defensive midfielder because Song is crap, Eboue’s crap” “Diaby is rubbish we need we need we need we need BUY BUY BUY!!” these are all things we’ve heard mate.

    Do you get my point Nick? People are inpatient and don’t see how our players are developing as Arsene does – so how could they possibly know where we lack depth??

    I just think a little more patients and little more trust……………

  • goonerman

    Obviously we cant get through a game without an injury lol so now we have a few ahead of the hull game!
    Roscky and sagna are main doubts with fabregas looking to be definatley out which aint a bad thing becuase surely a week getting his hamstring solid again instead of it being on the edge is better! and sol is a slight doubt but likely to be ok! all that said it does make the team a little easier to predict! i know the media said we were good after the prto win but we were still slated for our vunerability blah blah but when the mighty muppets man united win 4-0 over a bunch ofgrandads playing for milan they get talked about like heroes! QUITE FUNNY REALLY.

    Anyway im just gonna wack out a prediction for hull becuase im sure if i have a go everyone wont be able to resist having a go at a lineup lol.

    Almunia
    Eboue–Campbell–Vermaelen–Clichy
    Denilson–Nasri-Diaby
    Walcott–Bendtner–Arshavin

    cant think of many other options to be honest even though i could see eduardo getting a start ahead of arshavin or walcott!

  • Vazy

    haha just found out my mates mate actually predicted the Bendtner hattrick, the guy in the betting shop laughed at his face for 10 mins, hes over the moon

  • andrew

    @ vazy

    how much did that pay out?

  • Vazy

    my mate is telling me it was roughly about 40-1

  • dampatti

    Looking through this current mob of Arsenal players I have to say that I have become particularly taken by a young Vermaelen. The man is immense. I think that Wenger deserves a lot of credit for taking a gamble on him and bringing the man to Arsenal. He was virtually unknown outside of Holland and Belgium. But buying an unknown player is Wenger’s favourite type of signing. I’ll be honest, the only time I had ever heard of Vermaelen before he signed was when he grabbed van Persie by the throat in the Amsterdam tournament! Well, Arsene has done us proud with this one. In my opinion Thomas has been the signing of the campaign by far. The way he has settled into Arsenal and English football has been amazing. It’s like he has played over here for years. Sagna had a fantastic first season with us and I was very impressed with how he took to the English Premiership. I believe that Vermaelen has surpassed Sagna’s first year with us and has been even more impressive than his team-mate. And that was no mean feat. Vermaelen is a warrior and as tough as the best of them. You could almost say that he is the complete defender. My guess is that he could become one of the best defenders in the world. You need players like Vermaelen in the team, and I’m glad that Wenger bought him. In my opinion Thomas could be a future Arsenal captain. I’d select him as the vice-captain to Cesc Fabregas right now. He seems like a born-leader to me. I think he is absolutely crucial to the rest of Arsenal’s campaign. If we lost him to injury or suspension who knows what would happen? fabregas is the star of this team and quite rightly will grab the head-lines but the quiet consistent players who you can rely on are just as important.

  • frank

    we’ve been here before – many times over the past five years: playing well, fans onside, silverware almost in sight… And we all know what happens next. The wheels fall off. It’s no secret I ran out of patience with AW several years ago and the reasons for that have been aired numerous times on here, so I won’t bore you with ‘em again. I have been damning in my criticism of him during this unproductive and unrewarding time, as I don’t believe he has shown any sign of being able to assemble a silverware-winning squad. So your question is a bit hypothetical, I’m afraid. Yes, I was thrilled with the Porto win… until the following night’s display by the Mancs put it into perspective. I’ve also loved some of our recent displays in the PL… but I still recall the way we were humiliated by both Man U and Chelski this term. So I don’t think we have what it takes to win either competition and, given AW’s bizarrely dismissive attitude to the Cups, we have no chance of winning them again under him. However… if we were to somehow defy the odds and the top two imploded so we could magically leapfrog them to claim the title, of course I’d salute Wenger and his squad – and then hope he’d do the decent thing and leave on a high before he had the chance not to reinforce in the summer! That’s the big problem – because of AW’s weird philosophy, his torpor and tunnel vision, bringing in just one half-decent player a year or a few kiddies is nowhere near enough now – especially as we seem unable to retain our better players these days. Anyway, however you dress it up and whatever excuses you make, the past five years have been frustratingly fallow and I believe much of the blame can be laid at AW’s door. Sadly (for AFC fans), he’s just no longer capable of delivering the goods.

  • Simon Zekaria

    Tuesday night’s victory was fantastic. Who can argue with a 6-2 aggregate win in the Champions League round of 16? Most of us would not have expected that, even though Porto have sunk meekly into their shells at the Emirates before. Bendtner in particular must be given great credit for the way he responded after missing all those chances against Burnley. He is no Thierry Henry, but he showed considerable mental strength last night which is very pleasing. Nasri scored a superb goal, as did Eboue. Arshavin created havoc on the left.

    However, even after all those goals rattled in (against a desperately poor Porto side it has to be said – did they even look that bothered about losing?), I found myself vociferously nodding in agreement at the screen when our former legendary captain, Tony Adams, was giving his opinions on the game. Tony has played over 600 games for Arsenal. He has played under the great Arsenal managers. He has played with some of the best players and the best teams in our history. He knows what it takes to be a winner. He is worth listening to.

    Tony said this Arsenal team only knows one way to play – attack – and that for them to progress against the best teams in Europe they have to win by three or four goals. More seriously, Adams believes that, however talented is this Arsenal team, it lacks something that is required to win crunch games at the sharp end of competitions. Missing a key ingredient which means they fall short. It is a stark, brutal admission, and, to be honest, one that I – for now – sadly agree with.

    Why do I say this? You only have to look at Tuesday night’s performance for evidence. We were in total control – cruising at 2-0 up. Then the second half started and we had a very shaky 15 minutes, giving Porto chance after chance. We have all seen this before. If they had scored the game would have been very different. Vermaelen had to produce a series of crucial blocks to prevent the Portuguese scoring. And throughout the game, there were many, many sloppy passes that were completely unnecessary and put us on the back foot and in dangerous situations – guilty culprits of this include Arshavin, Song and even Nasri. It seems strange to say after a 5-0 win, but on so many occasions I thought to myself: ‘We are in trouble here. We look open’.

    This team is not built to defend, to hold tight, to protect a lead. It is not able to with the players we have – technical, tricky, nimble, small, playful. It is not in their nature, in their DNA, to solidify, firm up, press, control.

    In my opinion, Wenger’s greatest teams (reaching a height with the Invincibles of 2003/4) had the perfect blend of poise and power. They had skill in abundance of course with world class players, but also that raw, dogged determination – starting from the back with Lehmann, Lauren and Campbell, and going through midfield with the likes of Vieira, Parlour and Ljungberg – not only to completely outplay the opposition, but crucially, to dominate them.

    I remember going to the Aston Villa game at Highbury, the final game of the 49 match unbeaten run. Even at one nil down, everyone in the stadium knew Arsenal would win. It was self-evident, it was inevitable. Henry scored to equalise, took the ball out of the net and made a gesture to say – We KNOW we are the best. The superiority was eviscerating, and the confidence in that superiority was total.

    Now I believe that, however entertaining is the football, the balance in this Arsenal team is not quite right. It does not have that experience, that power, that combination of security with adventure. It is a cake with too much icing and not enough flour.

    We have too many similar players. All attack-minded, all technical, all adventurous. Do we have enough hardened characters in this team? Players who will drag the team through key moments to victory? Cesc is one, Vermaelen is another, Campbell knows the winning mentality. But can this team create that spirit of a champion, to say: ‘No one will beat us today’. Do they actually believe they can be winners?

    I am not sure why Wenger made this transition, this change of emphasis, in his Arsenal teams, but the one you see today is very different to the one he had six years ago. It is a confirmed transition with clear changes in his strategic thinking. However, this alteration of styles and personalities is a key debate for another time. This is now, this team, this season, these weeks ahead.

    The victory away against Stoke was the first time in years when I had a genuine flashback to Wenger’s greatest teams. A killer’s instinct when the game was there to be won. Vermaelen punching the air, belief coruscating through the veins. This was when I thought: ‘We can do this’.

    For the rest of the season, the psychology of the players is the most important factor in whether or not we win one of the big trophies. This is what Wenger has to spend most of his time working on – to convince the players that they are ready to win, to achieve. To drill into their heads that they can beat anyone, that if they want it enough it is all there in front of them. To make them go on the pitch and think, this is my moment, when I will be victorious. The whole season comes down to these final weeks. This is the moment of opportunity. Take your opportunity Arsenal and make your supporters proud.

  • dada

    What a terrifying vision of the future of football we’ve been served up this week.AC Milan ,once the pride of a powerful and thriving seria A now reduced to shadow boxing against a really not that great United.All because they deserted their natural(and rather beautiful) defensive style of football to join the circus ,brought in foreign players(especially brazilians) who think jogging back to defend is beneath them and generally put two fingers up to Italy’s historic football traditions.Much good as it done them,and what a boring game?I concede that a lot of football fans nowadays dont remember anything before the cheque book league but even they must have been struck by the sheer mind numbing pointlessness of it.Even the stewards were asleep by half time.As for the porto match well all that can be said is that they made the gooners look like an half decent well balanced football team,no mean achievement when you think about it.At least we,ve had the pleasure of listening to all those gooners and Mancs waffling on about how great they are which is always hilarious.Especially the stuff about Rooney,just wait till the World Cup when some Italian or South American defender takes him under his wing for half an hour and then see how great he is.If he can survive the WC without being sent off it will be a miracle.All the recent hype has done him no favours at all.Not that the World Cup really inspires these days,its glory days are long over and it’s become a competition decided by referees rather than great play.Bear that in mind if Roons has to take the walk of shame,it’s not his fault,someone told him he was a truly great player like Bobby Charlton or George Best.The problem is he looks like he believes them.

  • Sam

    Interesting! Wenger gives the finger to Real Madrid, telling them they’re wasting their time chasing him. That is a good man, I wouldn’t want any other manager at Arsenal for a very long time.

  • goonerman

    HAHA so saggy face redknapp BELIEVES that the gap betwee us and the spuds is CLOSING! he is one funny funny man! we are fighting for the title and the champions league while tottenham are fighting to get a champions league spot.

    arsenal spent about 10 million in the summer to be were they are and over the last year and a half spurrs have spent over a hunderd million and they are still slacking behind us! that GAP IS STILL FIRMLY THERE