Arsenal’s well documented goalkeeping woes came back to haunt them once more as Lukasz Fabianski made two horrendous errors, handing Porto a valuable 2—1 victory on a silver platter.
Silvestre Varela swung in a cross on 11 minutes, but Fabianski seemed to be wrong footed and ended up palming the ball into the back of his own net.
Before the match, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger expressed his full faith in the Arsenal No.2 keeper. Hindsight permitting, that might not have been his finest moment.
The words “Fabianski is top, top level” seem very hollow now to any Arsenal fan, especially after Porto’s second goal.
On 51 minutes, Fabianski handled a Sol Campbell back pass, a schoolboy mistake, given the added fact that the keeper was under next to no pressure.
The obedient goalie handed the ball to the referee (France's favourite, Martin Hansson), who gave it to Porto. They did not waste their time, and two touches later the ball was in the Arsenal goal once more courtesy of Falcao, following the quickly taken free kick.
Wenger needed to vent his fury at someone on the pitch, since Fabianski stayed far away, he settled for the referee, who seemed patient enough.
In between those two incidents, Sol Campbell headed in a valuable away goal on 18 minutes, with an uncontested header from a yard out.
After Porto’s second, Arsenal made repeated forays into the Porto half, desperately searching for an equaliser.
However, the attack seemed disorganised at best. Crosses were rained in for Nicklas Bendter, but he was usually in the box on his own and unable to do much else other than secure corners.
Elsewhere, captain Cesc Fabregas and Abou Diaby tried to marshal the midfield with a continous plethora of passing, but as has happened before this season, the Gunners simply seemed devoid of the creativity required to break down a gritty Porto, who had few misgivings about tough tackling.
Taking into consideration that Arsenal made the trip to Porto with a significant handicap, after injuries to Eduardo Da Silva, Andrey Arshavin and Robin van Persie, half of their eligible forwards, the result is not a calamity.
In fact, that injury list does a lot to explain why Arsenal were lacking a killer instinct throughout the night, with no player ever looking capable of smashing the ball into the Porto goal.
A massive improvement will be required for the return leg at the Emirates.
Manuel Almunia’s performance in goal for Arsenal this season has been questioned, but there is no question that Wenger will have to restore the Spaniard for the return leg after Fabianski’s howlers.
From the Porto perspective, the win was well earned, as they kept the pressure on Arsenal for most of the night, solidly defending and counter attacking regularly.
Whether or not the Portugese side will be able to recreate this performance in Ashburton Grove against an Arsenal side with its first team mostly present, remains to be seen.
Arsenal captain Fabregas summed up his side performance rather accurately:
“Schoolboy goals. What can you do? Nothing. Nothing to complain. After the second goal, we went down. We are still a little bit soft in that aspect - when we concede a goal we are not strong enough to lift ourselves up. Until the second goal we were having a very good game.”
Meanwhile Wenger, who is often criticized for blaming defeats on refereeing decisions, said his piece fairly, asking questions of the decision leading up the second goal while not ignoring his team's self induced mistakes:
"First, I believe it was an accidental backpass. Sol touched it accidentally. The ref should have given us time to build the wall, because otherwise you can never defend a free-kick. It was a double mistake - and it was a penalty for us as well.
I believe that the two goals we conceded are not goals you expect to concede at that level. On the second, it is unfortunate, on the first we were beaten. I don't doubt our character. We are still in the game."
Yes, Arsenal are still in the contest. That said, Jesualdo Ferreira’s men have given themselves a very realistic chance of knocking out the 2006 finalists next month.
Partial Sources: BBC