Reflections on Porto: We’re Back!!!

By on October 1, 2008

Arsene Wenger and the supporters got the kind of response from the players they were looking for last night.  After losing for only the second time at the Emirates last weekend to promotion-side Hull City, Arsenal came out on Tuesday night determined to show their true colours.  It was a glorious European night for us Gooners only surpassed by our recent Champions League outings at home to Slavia Prague and away to Milan last season.

However, it wasn’t smooth sailing from the very beginning.  We came out and dominated possession as usual but Porto looked very threatening offensively on counterattacks while we looked very threatening (to ourselves) defensively on corners.  We could easily have found ourselves down 1-nil after a lightning counterattack led to a header that went just over the bar and Clichy was forced to clear off the line following another “Keystone Kops” episode of set piece defending.  But some unselfish play by Adebayor put van Persie on the scoresheet just past the half-hour mark and when Adebayor scored from a corner just before half-time Arsenal were sitting in the driver’s seat.

Porto knew that after the break they could not sit back any longer and play for counterattacks, and Arsenal took advantage.  van Persie’s second goal came after a nice turn in the box right after the break and Porto’s spirit was broken.  From that moment on, it began to look like a training session. Arsenal attacked at well into acres of space and blew enough chances that the scoreline could have realistically read 8-nil by full-time.  Theo Walcott blew a glorious chance right in front of the box along with others by Eboue, Adebayor, and Bendtner.

Carlos Vela came on for Walcott in the 72nd minute and immediately picked up where he had left off.  With Nasri having already been replaced by Eboue and van Persie by Bendtner a few minutes earlier, Vela slotted out on the left and immediately began showing why he was so effective in that spot last season at Osasuna. Bendtner also had a great game coming off the bench for the last 25 minutes.  He drew the penalty that led to the fourth goal and also did wonderfully to create Adebayor’s best chance for the hat-trick which he dragged just wide of the bar.  To write an article about this game and not mention Cesc would be a crime.  He was the midfield maestro, as usual.  His deft little pass to Adebayor, who for once actually timed his run perfectly, led to the first goal.

The peak of the night came late in the match when Vela went on a mazy dribbling run through three Porto defenders inside the box and laid off a little pass to Bendtner, who got the ball tangled up in his feet and fell down trying to get the shot off.  Setanta’s cameras then panned over to the Arsenal bench and the entire bench, but especially Arsene and Pat Rice, were rolling in laughter.  It was nice to see Arsene and the staff being able to relax a bit and actually enjoy a match, especially after seeing how much tension and stress there was during his press conferences following the Hull match on Saturday and in the lead-up to this match on Monday.

There are many positives we can take from the demolition of FC Porto.  Once again, we have responded well following a disappointing result.  This shows the club retains the resiliency that made them so hard to beat last season.  Also, when we went 1-nil up, we didn’t sit back or over-play.  We kept pushing and forcing corners, got the second goal before the half ended, and sealed the deal with van Persie’s goal on the the other side of the interval.  Samir Nasri made his long-awaited return after a month off due to injury and fell right back into the side without any problems.  Theo looked consistently threatening even if his finishing did not on this night.  Confidence should now be restored among the players.

Of course there are the issues of our set-piece defending which at times last night was almost comical in its ineptitude especially on the build-up following a corner that led to Clichy being forced to clear off the line.  We could be worried about all the chances we spurned in the second half but, in all fairness, Porto had stopped playing by the hour mark.  We could also wonder how a team can destroy Porto on Tuesday but get beaten by Hull on the previous Saturday.  But I don’t want to think about these things right now, as I’m still basking in the glory of this comprehensive victory.

Arsenal Station’s tribute piece to Arsene Wenger on his 12th anniversary yesterday said, “I would like to thank the man for the many great memories he has given me which will last my entire life,” and last night was another one of those moments.

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