Arsenal's Firepower Not Enough To Slay the Dragon of Porto

Darius StoneContributor IFebruary 18, 2010

PORTO, PORTUGAL - FEBRUARY 17:  Sol Campbell (C) of Arsenal looks dejected after his pass back to goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski is given an indirect freekick which Porto go on to score from during the UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg match between FC Porto and Arsenal at the Estadio Do Dragao on February 17, 2010 in Porto, Portugal.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

As I threw my hands up in exasperation last night, the question about when a hill of beans becomes a mountain lingered in my head. That was me just pissed off at our breath-taking propensity to engineer individual moments of madness that pretty much unravels the collective team effort.

After being scraped off the ceiling, I had a beer and watched a classic stand up comedy routine from 1981 by Richard Pryor. Of late, movies seem to do the trick for me, especially to inject a dose of reason and perspective with the elapsing time.

So what really pissed me off? 

Probably the fact that I don’t like losing, but I guess one team inevitably loses in a game of this type. I think I was bothered more by the individual mistakes that led to the goal (just for the record, I came off the ceiling and can happily look at this in the cold light of day.)

First, it was a great match for the most part. 

Any neutral would have loved watching last night’s game as it ebbed and flowed. Believe it or not, there was not one offside decision, and I can’t ever recall a match going all the way without an offside decision being given.

I didn’t want to leave the room lest I missed a counter attack. Apart from the errors that led to the goals against us, Arsenal played relatively well for a visiting team at the Estadio do Dragão.

It seems we have learned our lessons from recent defeats about keeping our shape and dealing with counter attacks. I don’t recall a time when I thought we were in imminent danger of conceding a goal from a counter attack. 

In respect of a free flowing attacking game, both teams have to be given credit for making it a great football game to watch. Not that there weren’t sloppy and lethargic spells during the game, but the two teams applied themselves well.

From Arsenal’s point of view, it was great to see Bendtner getting into attack mode.

We eventually scored on a corner resulting from Bendy’s deflected shot. In all honesty, Bendy had started to celebrate as the ball was en route into the net off the deflection.

The look on Bendtner’s face with his hands behind his head pretty much said, ”How the hell didn’t that ball go into the net?”

Porto had clearly been studying our games against Man United and Chelsea. They targeted Clichy’s left flank in what the industry now considers Arsenal’s defensive Achilles heel. 

I recently wrote about the mental fortitude and discipline Arsenal needs to make the system we play a success. There was a classic lapse of this on Porto’s first goal.

Silvestre Varela should have never been given the freedom of the park to bomb down our left flank. The sequence of individual lapses played out right in front of my eyes. 

Nasri didn’t track quick enough, Clichy didn’t deal with Varela well enough (and he really should have), and Fabianski became the second Arsenal goalkeeper to score a goal in less than three weeks...albeit at the wrong end of the pitch.

Fabianski’s judgment could have been spot on as he moved to anticipate Varela’s cross. I guess you can argue all day whether it was a really bad shot from the Porto player that went the wrong side of Wookash. Varela probably couldn’t care less, and why should he.

For the second goal, I can live with the first mistake made when Wookash picked up the back pass. However, his judgment to give a demanding referee the ball will probably haunt him for a long time to come. 

This was one of those cases where Wookash should have taken one for the team and refused to give the ball to the referee until Arsenal had regrouped. 

It most definitely would have cost him a yellow card, but it would have been one card that the Arsenal players and supporters celebrated. 

Campbell should have punched the referee out of the way for blocking his run towards Falcao and taken a yellow or red card for "dealing’" with foreign objects obstructing access to the ball. 

If the referee had any conscience, he’d have had Porto retake the free kick because his positioning blocked Campbell.

Denilson, who in recent times has become the doom and gloom brigade’s "scapegoat du jour," had a shaky start, but he settled down, and I feel he had a good enough game. 

Like with AC Milan and Man United the previous evening, both Arsenal and Porto went through a spell of giving the ball away, like they were being paid to do it.

Porto also employed the unsavoury tactic of rotational fouling, targeting Cesc Fabregas. This cowardly and irritating strategy not only broke Arsenal’s flow, but it’s that cumulative tackling that ends up causing niggly injuries that will affect our players as the season goes on.

Martin Hansson (of the France-Irish World cup qualifier fame) should have handed over more yellow cards to Porto players. This rotational fouling was a deliberate, well thought out strategy.

Part of the reason I was pissed off after that second goal was this. The referee made a technically correct decision to give the indirect free kick to Porto, but having done that, it was totally unfair for him not to allow Arsenal the right to defend it. 

Considering the drama this referee is capable of, I concluded that there’s absolutely no point in expecting any less from him. 

My exasperation then moved to Campbell and Fabianski for giving the referee the opportunity to gift Porto an open net. They also should have taken a yellow card for kicking the ball out of the stadium to stop the free kick being taken until Arsenal were ready.

All in all, the minimum we can now demand from this team is the right to sing "One nil to the Arsenal" on March 9. Any win will do, but if Porto score twice at the Emirates, we have to win with a two-goal margin because of the away goal rule.

I don’t think Arsenal is out of the tie, and I believe we have a great home advantage.  This habit of the Gunners doing things the hard way is what’s making my doctor contemplate referring me to a shrink.


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