Post-Match Report

Champions League: Porto 2-1 Arsenal - Report

FC Porto -

Estadio do Dragao
UEFA Champions League
UEFA Champions League
  FC Porto
FC Porto
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By Richard Clarke in Porto

Arsenal went down 2-1 at Porto in controversial fashion on Wednesday night.

They trailed after just 11 minutes of this Champions League Knockout Round first leg when keeper Lukasz Fabianski fumbled Silvestre Valera's cross over his own line.

However they got back on level terms almost immediately when Sol Campbell, playing his first Champions League game since the 2006 Final, nodded in from close range.

It had been an open, nerve-jangling first half but the visitors seemed set to take over after the break. They would probably have led if Tomas Rosicky's strong claims for a penalty had been heard.

In the end the result swung on the events of the 51st minute. That is when Fabianski was ruled to have picked up Campbell's back pass and Falcao scored from a quickly-taken free-kick. Arsenal, and particularly Arsène Wenger, complained loudly that the referee should not have allowed play to restart that swiftly.

Right or wrong, that decision will be the lasting memory of this game.

Of course, Wenger's side can all but erase it if they secure safe passage to the last eight with a stereotypical "1-0 to the Arsenal".

That is all they have to do.

Their fate will be in their own hands on March 9 even if it did not always seem that way this evening.

Wenger's team selection had been hemmed in by a run of injuries in the build up to this game. From the team that had won 1-0 against Liverpool a week earlier, Manuel Almunia (finger), William Gallas (calf), Andrey Arshavin (hamstring) and Alex Song (knee) all dropped out.

Meanwhile a lingering hamstring problem meant Eduardo did not make his anticipated return.

The upshot of all this was that Campbell made only his second start since return to the Club. Fabianski and Denilson return to their familiar roles while Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky flanked the spearhead striker, Nicklas Bendtner.

Arsenal arrived with troubled memories of Estadio do Dragao. In 2006 they had limped through their group with a goalless draw on Matchday Six. Last season, they had been beaten 2-0 in a meaningless rubber.

Since then Porto had continued their policy of summer sales. Their team this evening had important differences but then, given their injuries, Arsenal were much-changed too.
In the circumstances, everyone expected a cautious, cagey affair.

Everyone was wrong.

In the opening exchanges, Arsenal might have conceded twice. They recovered slightly then did go behind in the 11th minute.

It started in the third minute. Falcao motored past Campbell on the left but the Englishman recovered to slide the ball from under the Columbian's feet as he was about to shoot.

It fell to Ruben Michel just outside the area. He got away a fierce shot but by that time Thomas Vermaelen had recovered his position. The Belgian made a crucial block.

Worse was to come. Seconds later Valera stormed down the right and his deflected cross fell to Hulk, who dragged a shot inches past the far post.

Arsenal were away from home, understrength and under pressure. They needed a release.

Nasri did his best to provide it. In the fifth minute he cut through the Porto defence and fed Fabregas eight yards out only for Bruno Alves to prod the ball behind at the vital moment. Seconds later the Frenchman toe-poked an effort forward but Helton held on.

It seemed that Arsenal had come through unscathed after an early assault.

However they then conceded a self-inflicted goal.

Once again Valera attacked down the Porto right. The 23-year-old skipped past his marker and, once again, had time to pick out his target.

Fabianski moved out to anticipate a ball into the heart of the area. But, intended or not, Valera's cross was fired directly across the goal just two yards out. It meant Fabianski had to dive back from where he had just come and attempt to shovel the ball away. Unfortunately the Polish international could only fumble the ball over the line. A horrible-looking goal to concede.

In fairness, Arsenal's recovered almost immediately.

Bendtner whistled a deflected shot inches wide of the angle in the 16th minute. Fabregas raced over to take the corner. The captain was clearly in an urgent mood this evening.

His kick was flicked on by Vermaelen to Rosicky at the far post. The Czech midfielder nodded the ball back into the danger area and Campbell headed home from three yards out.

It was an enormous goal. Away goals in Europe always are but this one settled Arsenal after the shakiest of starts.

Rosicky's rasping cross-shot forced Helton into a full-length save a couple of minutes later. Clearly the visitors now fancied the job.

Fabianski redeemed himself somewhat by pawing away a shot from Micael and then clutching a high, hanging free-kick in the midst of a crowded area.

The liberty of opening half-hour had now been shackled. It was still a decent, attacking game but the opening stages had been reminiscent of the last 10 minutes of an FA Cup replay not the start of a crucial two-legged Champions League tie.

In the 35th minute, Fabregas floated over a free-kick and Bendtner's back header forced the backtracking Helton to tip the ball over the bar. It had been a hell of a half but Arsenal finished it in the ascendancy.

The second period started the same way, Bendtner hacked over the bar and then Rosicky had strong claims for a penalty after Varela chopped him down on the right of the area.

But once again Arsenal undid their own good work. In the 51st minute, Fabianski was adjudged to have picked up a backpass from Campbell and Porto were awarded a free-kick just inside the area. The referee demanded the keeper return the ball immediately and, with Arsenal undermanned and ill-prepared, the kick was squared to Falcao who gleefully tapped home.

It was a highly controversial goal. The key was whether the referee had indicated the kick could be taken quickly. Wenger certainly felt that had not happened and the manager was ticked off by the official before play restarted.

Arsenal were on their uppers again. Hulk and then Raul Meireles forced fine low saves from Fabianski.

But they had steadied themselves somewhat by the time Theo Walcott replaced Rosicky in the 68th minute.

Arsenal were now finding space on the flanks and asking questions of the Porto defence.  But buoyed by a belligerent crowd, the home side stood firm.

Eboue replaced Nasri for the final stages and in the last minute his cross so nearly found the unmarked Fabregas five yards.

That was that type of night for Arsenal. The little things did not quite go for them.

And, of course, one very, very big moment had gone utterly against them.

Referee: Martin Hansson (Sweden)
Attendance: 45600

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