Porto Preview: Injuries No Excuse? Neither Is Sloppiness.
Champions League football returns, the elongated Round of Sixteen especially stretched so that UEFA can milk as much television and sponsorship money as possible allow fans to see each of the games without having to split their TV screens…
Injuries have depleted the squad that travelled to Portugal but even so Wenger will be able to field a strong starting XI with options on the bench, albeit the forward line being a little limited in that respect.
Arsenal are favourites, a not unusual position, and judging by the comments attributed to the players in the media, Porto are not entirely sure of their chances, influenced no doubt by some indifferent domestic form.
Even so, they are the only team in the competition who has the chance to win four trophies in one season, which even if you factor in the relative strengths and weaknesses of domestic leagues, is nothing to be sniffed at.
An Arsenal win would be their first on Portuguese soil in a competitive match, a goal slightly less rare but not a common theme in the matches played against opposition from that side of the Iberian Peninsula.
Where the come from is the conundrum facing both teams. Porto’s main threat is Garcia although they Hulk available to them in spite of a domestic ban for six months for throwing his not inconsiderable weight around in what was quite literally, a clash with Benfica pre-Christmas.
Arsenal will be looking to midfielders, Bendtner the only recognised centre-forward to have travelled following Eduardo’s failure to recover in time. That is nothing unusual since the midfield has contributed more goals this season, combined, than the forward line. It is a reasonably healthy state of affairs since past seasons have shown that the central trio/quartet/quintet have been deficient in this aspect of their games. For all of the skills possessed, shooting was not a strong part of their game in an Arsenal shirt.
For Lukasz Fabianski, it is a big night. Unable to take advantage of Almunia’s absence earlier this season because of his own injury, he has been fitful in his cup appearances. Indecision apparent at Stoke in the opening minutes, excellent shot-stopping later on in the game. That is the pattern of his Arsenal career thus far, part of growing-up in public that we remember.
And I suspect, tonight, with a point to prove, he will produce an excellent performance in a noisy atmosphere. He is playing for an international place this summer so motivation will not be an issue; if he allies his abilities with concentration, those who believe he will eventually lose out to Szczesny may yet be proved wrong. Perhaps Fabianski should ask Song or Diaby about using criticism to become stronger, they are after all, the resident experts on that.
William Gallas’ absence means Sol Campbell will come in, hopefully fully recovered, and ready to partner Vermaelen to keeping a clean sheet. Bacary Sagna should revert to right back but both he and Clichy will need to get forward to support a midfield that I suspect will be defensively-orientated. By that, it would be no surprise if Eboue occupied the right berth, not losing perhaps the overriding outcome in Arsene’s mind.
Whilst that would deny the attack some support, it would enable Cesc to play further forward, in a similar role to that he played in Villarreal last season. Alex Song’s absence will presumably mean a recall for Denilson, sharing defensive duties with Eboue and Diaby could give him more strength. Playing away from The Emirates, more confidence knowing that mutterings and murmurings coming from the home fans is a sign of a job being well done.
I suspect Nasri will get the nod over Rosicky in the final third, the midfield being more of a quintet rather than the usual variation on 4-3-3. Even so, it is an evening where concentration will be paramount. Slack tracking back, the undoing in recent big matches, will no doubt find itself equally punished. Pressing from the forward’s is as important as that of the midfield.
The line-up I expect Wenger to field is:
Fabianski; Sagna, Campbell, Vermaelen, Clichy; Eboue, Denilson, Diaby; Fabregas, Nasri; Bendtner
Defeat tonight is not the end of the world, provided an away goal is scored. The return leg in three weeks should see a number of the walking wounded back but it would be nice to be in a position of strength entering that match.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.