By Chris Harris
You have to take your hat off to Porto. Seven weeks ago they were staring down the barrel of Champions League elimination after that 4-0 drubbing at Emirates Stadium and - perhaps even more painfully - a home defeat against Dynamo Kyiv. Now they are a whisker away from clinching top spot in Group G.
Jesualdo Ferreira's side reeled off away wins at Kyiv and Fenerbahce to redeem themselves and a third successive victory against Arsenal tonight will secure first place and bolster confidence ahead of their guaranteed appearance in the knockout stage. Not bad for a club which has to patch up its squad year-in, year-out as high-profile stars seek fame and fortune elsewhere.
For every departed Deco and absent Anderson, Porto unearth another gem. Their latest is Lucho Gonzalez, a 27-year-old Argentine who was half-fit at the Emirates but is firing on all cylinders now. Arsenal beware.
We spoke to a man who will have mixed emotions at Estadio do Dragao tonight - Fernando Eurico. He's the main man at RTP (Portugal's national radio station) but is also a devout Arsenal fan. We asked him for his perspective ahead of the Group G finale.
THE EMIRATES EFFECT
"I enjoyed the first game very much. The trip home was very nice for me but not so nice for the fans or the team. There was some spectacular football on show from Arsenal and also the ease with which they got into the Porto area. I think that is the trademark of Arsenal and they played very, very well."
THE STORY SO FAR
"The game at Emirates was a turning point. Porto were like a yo-yo before that, winning one game but losing the next, that was a regular pattern. But at this moment Porto are very consistent and can play always on the attack. They have a lot of players in very good shape like Hulk, ‘The Incredible’ as we say, who is a very good player – very strong and physical. I don’t think they can get to the Semi-Finals because the club are very clear about their ambitions. They want to win the Portuguese League again and in the Champions League their goal was to get to the knockout stages which they have already. The club is not focused on later stages of the Champions League because they understand that they are a very young team and. At this level, only the best teams can get to the final. I think Porto are aware of their reality at the moment and are focused on the Portuguese League."
THE ONE TO WATCH
"They missed Lucho Gonzalez very much at Emirates Stadium because he is the star of the team at the moment and over the past three years. So when he doesn’t play, the whole team are affected on the pitch in all areas. He is the nucleus of the team and when Porto need Lucho, Lucho appears. He is a very tough player because in the last three years he hasn’t had any type of holiday because he is always away with Argentina. When the Porto team rest he is still playing so he always isn’t in prime physical condition. Playing in the middle is a very tough position for the player but at the moment he is getting better and the team have a lot of other players in good shape."
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
"I would say this FC Porto is very different to the team that lost so heavily at Emirates Stadium. They are better now, they are winning and they have a good mentality. Arsenal could struggle on Wednesday because Porto are very strong at the moment. The players and coach are very positive at the moment and they want revenge for the 4-0 defeat. I'm not surprised they have improved because FC Porto have a lot of new players in the team who are younger. They need a certain period of time to understand the philosophy of the club and understand what Jesualdo Ferreira wants from the team."
"Mr Ferreira said in the press conference that Porto will be there to win. It is a very good Arsenal team and if Porto can beat such a team perhaps they can show a stronger face to the other clubs. They also know that Arsenal aren’t having their best moment at this time but they are always a very good team with good players. Porto are very focused but it won’t be a tough game like they played in Fenerbahce because they have already qualified."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"It is a tremendous joy for me to see Arsenal in Portugal. I will be at the airport to meet the players and say hello and tomorrow I will be working. All my colleagues, the players and staff know about my passion for Arsenal and they keep asking me how I think it will be. I just say that I am professional so if Arsenal win I will celebrate in the end but during the game I am always looking out for my job! For me it is two days of great joy and I think in the evening I will go to a special place in Porto to celebrate with some friends and to speak about our team."