By Richard Clarke
Better. Much, much better.
Arsenal returned to form in fine style with a morale-boosting 4-0 win over Porto in Champions League Group G on Tuesday night.
Arsène Wenger’s side had been humbled by Hull at Emirates Stadium last Saturday and, this evening, Porto returned to the scene of the crime with their own superhero – Hulk – in tow.
Despite the scoreline, Arsenal were not that outstanding; like they had not been that bad on Saturday. The crucial difference was the chances they took. Robin van Persie slid them in front on the half-hour and, four minutes from the break, Emmanuel Adebayor scored with a towering header.
Three minutes after the restart, Van Persie killed the game by burying a cross-shot and, 20 minutes from the end, Adebayor slotted home a penalty after substitute Nicklas Bendtner had been hacked down on the edge of the area.
Arsenal will play better than this and win by a tighter margin however it was just the answer they needed after a weekend of questions.
It also puts them top of Group G.
In the immediate aftermath of that defeat to Hull on Saturday, Wenger had spoken of sweeping changes. In the end there was only one. Fit-again Samir Nasri came in on the left side of the midfield with Theo Walcott switching to the right. Emmanuel Eboue made way.
The first home game of the Group Stage is always crucial but, after this particular weekend, it was doubly important for Wenger’s side. The sunshine and blissful optimism of Saturday was replaced tonight by sweeping rain and a measure of concern.
It was nothing that a thumping win could not solve but Arsenal would take half an hour to start finding the solution!
After a cagey first few minutes they began the search in earnest.
In the 10th minute, a sweeping move involving Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Adebayor found Walcott unmarked at the far post with the ball at his feet. However the angle was tight and the England international could only find the side-netting.
When Van Persie’s curling effort forced a scrambling save from Helton, it appeared the home side were about to take control. However they were nearly caught out again – and with a classic Arsenal attack.
The home side were over-committed in attack and Freddy Gaurin sent Tomas Costa racing clear on the right. His deep swinging cross was met by the diving Cristian Rodriguez just inside the area. Fortunately for Arsenal, the Uruguayan’s powerful header bounced up off the turf and smacked the bar on its way over. A huge let-off.
Arsenal responded by pushing forward. As on Saturday there was little wrong with their approach play, but the finish was missing.
Walcott’s trickled cross-shot caused more trouble than it should and Van Persie’s far-post volley bounced on to the roof of the net.
However Porto would respond once more.
Just before the half-hour, Lisandro let fly from almost 30 yards. It was powerful drive that forced a full-length save from Manuel Almunia.
From the corner, the ball ran loose and the same striker was on hand to swivel a shot goalwards from six yards out. This time his effort beat the keeper but Gael Clichy was stationed on the line just behind him and booted the ball clear.
Arsenal needed a goal to settle their nerves. Fortunately they got it almost immediately.
Fabregas’ slide-rule pass sent Adebayor forward in the right-hand channel. The Togolese striker was only marginally onside but had plenty of time to place his pass. He decided to send over a low ball to the near post. Van Persie slid in just ahead of his marker to prod home the ball with his outstretched leg.
The goal was a blessed relief and Arsenal tried to consolidate with concerted offense.
It paid dividends five minutes before the break when Van Persie curled over a corner to the far post and Adebayor met it with a firm downward header. There was little chance of the pace alone beating the Porto defence but the visiting backline were fooled by the way the ball reared up.
Now the tension could truly dissipate.
Three minutes after the break, it was flowing out of Arsenal’s veins. The Porto defence ran into trouble in the corner and Walcott found Van Persie just inside the area. The Dutchman nutmegged Bruno Alves and flicked his cross-shot into the far corner of the net.
It should have been 4-0 a couple of minutes later. Toure collected a corner and weaved inside the area. His cross found Walcott six-yards out but his snap-shot went wide. A couple of minutes later Nasri bundled an equally-inviting effort past Helton’s left-hand upright.
Porto were now reeling and rudderless. Substitute Lucho set up Tomas Costa just before the hour but the striker wasted a decent opportunity by blazing high over the bar.
Meanwhile Arsenal were attacking in waves. Walcott only just lost a foot-race with Helton and Adebayor scuffed an effort inches past the post.
The home side’s dominance was such that Wenger withdrew Nasri and Van Persie with 24 minutes to go. For their part, Porto brought on Hulk.
It barely changed the balance of play. Helton spilled a Fabregas drive and Adebayor pounced. However the keeper recovered to get a toe on the striker’s sidefoot shot.
Rodriguez’ drive suggested Porto had not given up hope however they may as well have done. In the 70th minute Guarin hacked at the legs of Bendtner on the corner of the area. The Dane fell over, the referee pointed to the penalty spot and Adebayor scored.
It had become a stroll.
Tomas Costa rifled an effort inches wide soon afterwards but Arsenal regained their stranglehold almost immediately.
Adebayor rolled an effort narrowly wide and substitute Carlos Vela scrambled the ball against the post in injury time.
The whistle blew soon afterwards.
Now Arsenal can truly move on.
|2. FC Porto||2||1||0||1||3||5||3|
|3. FC Dynamo Kyiv||2||0||2||0||1||1||2|
- Clichy Yellow Card
- Nasri 65
- Walcott 71
- Persie 65 Goal! Goal!
- Adebayor Goal! Goal!
- Bendtner 65
- Eboue 65
- Vela 71
- Meireles 65
- Costa Yellow Card
- Fernando 45
- Rodriguez 79
- Candeias 79
- Hulk 65
- Gonzalez 45