Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Questionable Young Arsenal Crushed By Porto

Porto vs Arsenal 2-0

Arsenal lacked poise, power and pentration and were distinctly second-best against Porto. They had looked reasonably comfortable for much of the first half, but a familiar flaw - lack of concentration leading to lax marking at a corner - saw Bruno Alves head the hosts in front on 39 minutes. And early in the second half more poor defending saw Lisandro double the hosts' advantage.

Comfortable For Porto Against Poor Arsenal
Arsenal travelled to Portugal needing a draw against Porto to finish top of Group G, and manager Arsene Wenger made seven changes from the side that beat Wigan last Saturday, with Emmanuel Eboue, William Gallas, Mikael Silvestre, Aaron Ramsey, Abou Diaby, Carlos Vela and Nicklas Bendtner all brought into the starting XI. For Porto, playmaker Lucho Gonzalez was back, with Lisandro Lopez and Hulk forming the strike partnership.

Eboue was looking to exorcise the misery of his barracking at the weekend, which led to his being substituted after he himself had come on as a sub. Being away from home, and restored to his favoured right-back position should have made him feel better, though he is clearly a man under pressure and looked understandably edgy, despite being given a decent reception by the travelling fans.

The Gunners adopted a 4-5-1 formation, Bendtner playing as a lone striker with Vela on the left wing and Ramsey on the right, and Silvestre deployed at left-back.

Eboue fouled the wonderfully-nicknamed Porto striker Hulk early on, prompting the incredible one to wave an imaginary yellow card at the Ivorian, though the referee took no action.

Undeterred, Hulk then set off on a powerful run and Eboue checked him again. Alves took the free-kick and bent it in teasingly but Manuel Almunia dealt with it comfortably.

It was a fairly even, half-paced opening, Arsenal's passing looking neat and tidy but not causing Porto any problems, with Bendtner looking isolated up front. Porto though were pressing Arsenal well when not in possession, denying the Gunners time and space.

After they won a midfield scrap for the ball, Hulk was sent sprinting on to an astute defence-splitting pass, and it needed an outstanding last-ditch interception from Johan Djourou to snuff out the danger.

The Gunners followed that by mounting their best attack so far, Alex Song turning smartly but Bendtner overhitting a lay-off to Eboue. Then a slick through-ball from Denilson for Bendtner saw Brazilian goalkeeper Helton dash quickly off his line to gather.

Arsenal's first real shot at goal arrived on 26 minutes when teenager Aaron Ramsey ended a determined run with a powerful left-foot drive that was parried away by Helton.

Bendtner had to receive treatment after Alves' arm accidently caught him in the face, and a minute later Porto carved out an excellent chance as Gallas was robbed near his own goal and Almunia was forced into a smart save. The Portuguese side followed that with a rampaging run by Meireles who undid his good work with a long-range strike that flew well wide.

Then Porto earned a free-kick in a dangerous position after a Denilson foul, but Alves hit it straight into the wall and away to safety, though the hosts were beginning to dictate by this stage. And on 39 minutes they duly took the lead from a corner. Diaby was guilty of allowing Alves to power into the area and head home Meireles' flag-kick unhindered. It was too easy for defender Alves, and a poor goal to concede.

Although the Gunners picked up the game for the remainder of the half, they lacked any punch or real conviction and Porto went in deservedly ahead.

The second half got underway with the London side continuing to misplace their passes in the final third. Within the space of two minutes, Lucho was yellow-carded by the fussy Greek referee for a lunge on Eboue, and the Arsenal player was then booked for fouling Lucho.

After Ramsey tried an ambitious overhead kick that went wide, Porto struck again with a finely taken goal on 54 minutes that again exposed inept Arsenal defending. Silvestre allowed Lisandro to get goal-side of him and the rest of a flimsy back-four, and he strode on before firing the ball emphatically into the roof of the onrushing Almunia's net.

Vela was hacked down but the ref waved play on to the annoyance of Wenger on the touchline, and the manager responded by taking off the enterprising Ramsey and out-of-touch Diaby and sending on teenagers Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs.

Just after the hour, with Porto looking comfortable and Arsenal short on confidence and ideas, Rodriguez burst down the left leaving defenders trailing, then cut in and tried to find the bottom far corner with a shot but dragged it wide.

Arsenal switched to 4-4-2 but Bendtner in particular kept giving the ball away when the Gunners looked to get the ball forward. It was giving Porto opportunities on the counter-attack, and on one such break, Rodriguez sprinted through but Eboue managed to keep up with him and do enough to put him off, the Porto player firing wide.

Arsenal mounted a promising attack through Vela's run, but the Mexican was brought down to end the threat, though it was not a foul, said the referee.

Argentine Lucho got a lucky deflection off Gallas but his first-time shot went the wrong side of the post. Lucho was promptly replaced by Costa, and Rodriguez by Mariano as Arsenal sent on Randall for Song.

Apart from an impressive cameo role from Wilshere, and an earlier decent shift by the man he replaced, Ramsey, Arsenal were poor, lacking cohesion in a disjointed display in which their defending was at times shambolic and their passing off-target.

On 83 minutes, the Gunners earned a free-kick in a dangerous position, but Bendtner's low kick went through the wall but straight at Helton.

After a mazy Wilshire run came to nothing, incredibly Hulk was taken off for Guarin. But Porto, with a little more care, might easily have won by four or five.

The final whistle sounded on a game the Gunners will quickly want to forget. And by finishing second in their group behind Porto, they could face Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Juventus in the next round.

Porto: Helton, Fucile, Rolando, Alves, Emanuel, Gonzalez, Fernando, Meireles, Lopez, Hulk, Rodriguez.
Subs: Nuno, Stepanov, Guarin, Mariano Gonzalez, Lino, Sektioui, Costa.

Arsenal: Almunia, Eboue, Gallas, Silvestre, Djourou, Ramsey, Diaby, Song, Denilson; Vela, Bendtner.
Subs: Fabianski, Wilshere, Gibbs, Hoyte, Merida, Randall, Simpson.

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