FC Porto Preview
Porto arrive at The Emirates, defending a one-goal advantage, on the back of a poor record when visiting London. The Portuguese champions have not won on their last six visits, indeed losing them all. If Arsenal are to progress that record must continue. It is the night when comic pundit Ian Wright ‘feared‘ that Arsenal’s season would be over. Perhaps he should return to the company of Fozzy and Kermit.
They will have to achieve that victory without Cesc Fabregas. Losing your best player is disadvantageous but unlike previous seasons, Arsenal has depth in its squad to cover this loss. The likeliest replacement is Samir Nasri but any one of the Frenchman, Tomas Rosicky or even Andrey Arshavin can fulfil the playmaker role, other personnel can be shuffled to compensate for any shortcomings in their respective games.
With Nasri and Rosicky, it would be a more or less, like-for-like adjustment to the team; Arshavin would in truth probably require a third midfielder in the traditional sense to accommodate him centrally. Nasri though is in pole position having made an outstanding contribution to the victory over Burnley at the weekend.
Defensively, William Gallas is still ruled out and despite some initial misgivings on my part, Sol Campbell has returned to Arsenal providing a stable central defensive partnership with Thomas Vermaelen when they have played together, more assured than Mikael Silvestre in that pairing.
My doubts were over his age and what impact that would have on his abilities; Wenger had seen enough in training to warrant short-term cover for this season – and who knows, may be next as well – and it has, thus far, worked well, a moment of madness in the first leg aside. He will be playing this weekend with Gallas confirmed as missing the trip to Hull City as well.
Home form has not been an issue in this season’s tournament, nor has it been in recent seasons unless the opposition has been English. Porto have been amongst the victims but Nicklas Bendtner will need to be more ruthless with his opportunities than at the weekend. The real positive amongst all of the misses was that he did not shy away from putting himself into a position to miss time and again. Adding a cutting edge to even half of those chances out to see this tie buried come the final whistle.
Complacency though will be an enemy that Arsene has to counter. There were enough opportunities to finish the tie in the first half of the first leg. Porto were not tight defensively, allowing Arsenal time on the ball. Perhaps they will be different tonight but somehow that does not seem likely. Their domestic form is indifferent, trailing Benfica by eleven points is indicative of the change in their fortunes this season.
Arsene mentioned that practising penalties was not on the agenda, quietly confident that they will not be required with a 2-1 victory the only possible result which would necessitate such a decisive manner for a result. Defensively, Arsenal will need to be more streetwise than they have been at times and for that reason, I suspect Arsene will start with the same line-up in attack as at the weekend.
Arshavin has played around 90 minutes in the past week and Wenger will be conscious of not wanting to aggravate the Russian’s injury further. Rosicky on the left provides more defensive cover for Clichy although Arshavin does not slack in that area either.
Elsewhere, Alex Song should return to the fray, midway through a domestic suspension where I think he and Nasri will find Diaby for company. There have been no reports of an adverse reaction to his recent bout of knack and slotted in well when he replaced Fabregas at the weekend. Harsh though it is on Denilson, Diaby is a member of Arsene’s first choice triumverate in midfield.
Equally, Eboue has played well at right back but I expect Sagna to be there tonight. Sagna has been rotated more frequently in recent times and one wonders what sort of knock he is carrying since he has been pretty consistent when playing. Eboue is more flamboyant in attacking, Sagna more dependable.
I would expect Arsene to start with:
Almunia; Sagna, Campbell, Vermaelen, Clichy; Diaby, Song, Nasri; Walcott, Bendtner, Rosicky
If matters are not progressing as he would like, the options of Eduardo, Arshavin and Vela on the bench have enough firepower to solve any problems, these matches suiting the style of all three, perhaps more in the case of Vela than Premier League matches do.
A win is all that matters tonight, substance over style more important. I don’t care if the ball goes in off the referee’s backside from a freak deflection in the centre circle, as long as Arsenal has the higher aggregate score. The way the first leg went, perhaps that is the lucky refereeing intervention we are due.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow
Posted on March 9, 2010, in Arsenal, Champions League, Football, Premier League, Premiership, Soccer and tagged Arsenal, Champions League, FC Porto, Football, Soccer, UEFA. Bookmark the permalink. 410 Comments.