Porto vs. Arsenal: Abou Diaby and Nicklas Bendtner, Now Is Your Time To Shine
Wednesday night sees Arsenal return to European action as they take on Porto at the Estádio do Dragão in the UEFA Champions League.
The Gunners face Porto with renewed confidence following their 1-0 victory over Liverpool following successive defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea which saw their title challenge stutter.
Arsenal's solitary goal against Liverpool came via Abou Diaby who will be key for Arsene Wenger's side in Europe.
Diaby arrived in North London in 2006 and straight away the Frenchman was likened to his fellow countryman and Arsenal legend, Patrick Vieira.
Their features and long, languid running style drawing comparisons.
A tall order indeed for Diaby who has proven he has the ability, strength and rasping shot to match his much vaunted international colleague.
What he lacked was consistency.
Gooners would witness Diaby play out of his skin in one match: creating space where there was none, making chances for team-mates, bullying the opposition off the ball, scoring a vital goal. The next four matches he would be anonymous.
The Frenchman's rise has not been helped by constant trips to the treatment table which included an eight month lay off with an ankle break.
The 23-year-old showed great courage to come back from that injury and the 2009/2010 season has witnessed the rise of Diaby.
He has become consistent.
In 27 appearances (24 starts) for the Gunners this season, Diaby has found the net seven times but it is his all round performances that have caught the eye.
It was Cesc Fabregas who got all the plaudits against Aston Villa at the Emirates but the real star that day was Diaby who attacked and defended with equal brilliance. His day was capped off with a wonderful solo goal.
With Alex Song an injury worry for the trip to Porto and Denilson out injured, Diaby must once again step up to the plate.
Porto is a strong side and Diaby will be key to the midfield battle. He must bully so Arsenal don't become bullied.
Diaby will be expected to start regardless, but if Song is out, Diaby's job will become even more important as he will become the main muscle in midfield.
Another player who must have a good night is Danish international Nicklas Bendtner.
The 22-year-old has yet to convince the masses in North London, but with injuries to Robin Van Persie and Andrey Arshavin this is his time to show what he can do.
Eduardo is back from injury but it is expected that Bendtner will get the nod in the central attacking role.
Since his return from injury in recent weeks, there has been a notable added physical presence to Arsenal's attack.
Bendtner puts himself about up front and is always likely to win a free kick in and around the box.
His height causes problems for opposition defenders and it is his persistence that saw him slide the ball to Tomas Rosicky who crossed for Diaby's winning header against Liverpool.
Bruno Alves is a much vaunted defender who is craved by many teams around Europe, Bendtner must test him to his full abilities.
How Diaby and Bendtner perform could be key as to whether Arsenal have an easy or difficult job to do in the return leg at the Emirates.
To ease pressure, Arsenal must score an away goal.
A score draw would be very welcome by Wenger while a win would boost confidence no end.
Arsenal beat Porto 4-0 at home in last season's group stages but the Portuguese side are a different team in the knock-out stages.
Alves may be watching Cesc Fabregas but Abou Diaby and Nicklas Bendtner can leave Porto with a mountain to climb if they can play to their fullest abilities.
EDIT: Since this article was published, Arsenal have confirmed Alex Song, William Gallas, Manuel Almunia, Andrey Arshavin, and Eduardo Da Silva will miss the trip to Porto. Hence the predicted line-up has changed.
Predicted Arsenal line-out:
Sagna Campbell Vermaelen Clichy
Denilson Fabregas Diaby
Rosicky Bendtner Nasri
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