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Mikel Arteta unsurprisingly went with an unchanged side from the one which won 5-0 at Burnley on Saturday and 6-0 at West Ham the weekend before –
Raya; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Kiwior; Odegaard, Rice, Havertz; Saka, Trossard, Martinelli; Subs: included Ramsdale, Smith-Rose, Viera, Nwaneri, Sweet and Heaven.

For Porto, manager Conceição had promised they would be physical and he duly included the 41 year old Pepe in the centre of their defence to play his 113th Champions League game. By contrast, ten of Arsenal’s starting eleven are in their debut season in the competition. It’s worth mentioning again that our “inexperienced” captain is the 22 year old Martin Odegaard, who played 11 games in 6 years at Real Madrid but now gets a chance on the stage his huge talent and leadership deserve.

The match officials were a team from Holland and the referee with a very Turkish looking name was Mr Serdar Gözübüyük. The VAR, should he be required – which he strangely wasn’t, as far as we know, given the unarmed combat taking place at every set piece – was the more easily pronounceable Dennis Higler.

The stats looked encouraging as no player had been involved in more Champions League goals this season than Bukayo Saka, with 3 goals and 4 assists, averaging a goal involvement every 48 minutes. Arsenal had scored more first half goals than any other team in the Champions League this season, with 12 of our 16 strikes coming before half time. Porto had only won 1 of their last 10 Champions League games against English opponents – against Chelsea in April 2021.

The pre-match ritual, rather than our own North London Forever, included what sounded like the Porto fans singing along to a Portuguese cabaret singer leading them in a ballad.

Once the match was underway Porto quickly looked to seek out and unsettle Declan Rice, which I guess they did given that he got himself a yellow card after just one minute for an unnecessary challenge on the Porto winger. That could have proven very difficult for Rice but such is the quality and intelligence of the player, he seemed to complete the match unimpeded by his punishment and precarious position.

Arsenal were quickly into control mode with 85% possession in the early stages. Unfortunately it was that kind of possession that involves mostly very slow, sideways and backwards passing and despite some lovely, intricate football billiards from Odegaard and Saka we really failed to threaten the Porto goal. It was shades of bad old Arsenal on 21 minutes when, with their first genuine attack, Porto skewed a shot across the face of goal which cannoned off the far post, ricocheted across the six yard box and was somehow steered wide of the near post with most of the stadium celebrating what looked like a certain goal.

The remainder of the first half turned into one of those affairs that so often happen against southern European teams – fouling, holding, tripping, anything to break up the rhythm and flow of the game, and a referee who allows them to get away with it. Porto were clearly worried about our ability to score from set pieces and the grappling and holding that went on at each one reached ridiculous levels. The antics in the six yard box resembled one of those 1970s tag team wrestling bouts that had got out of hand and had all four protagonists in the ring at the same time. The referee seemed to have simply given up all hope of either stopping it, or identifying the instigators and let them get on with it.

As the half ended goalless, Porto were well organised, hard to play against and made it difficult to go through centrally or get the ball out to our wingers before they were double marked. They were quick to challenge, quick to fall over and quite dangerous when they did attack with some pacy forwards.

With no changes at half time, the second period continued in the same vein as the first. According to the commentary, there seemed to be Pepes and Conceiçãos everywhere. The manager’s son was booked for trying to borrow Martinelli’s shirt without even the courtesy of asking first. Kiwior received his yellow card for getting one back on Conceição. Havertz was cautioned when a Porto player of which he was totally unaware, nutted him in the elbow from behind, and Gonzales went into the book for holding Havertz as he tried to break forwards. Conceição Jr will hopefully have been sent to bed with no tea by his dad, the manager, for a pathetic dive and audition for Casualty. The referee was sufficiently fooled to allow the medics on, who soothed Conceição’s blushes with a cool magic sponge.

Arteta sent Jorginho on for the ineffective Trossard on 73 minutes and 14 minutes later Porto’s pre-match singer, Toni Martinez was subbed on for Evanilson. Thankfully he restricted his efforts to kicking the ball and Arsenal players, and we were not subjected to any more warbling.
Arsenal had honestly achieved nothing with their 9 corners and one final free kick was headed over by Gabriel after two of the added four minutes. After 3 1/2 added minutes Martinelli hoofed the ball clear from a Porto attack, when he should have controlled it and kept possession. The clearance was intercepted near the half way line and played forward to Galeno who curled a brilliant looping shot past Raya from 25 yards. A naive mistake by Martinelli, reminiscent of some rash late actions by Arsenal players in Europe in the later Wenger years. Let’s hope the error will not prove costly in the home leg on Tuesday 12th March.

This was a strange and disappointing performance. We had 68% of possession but really did little with it. We started the game slowly and got into that rut of safety first, defensive passing that is very hard to break out of. We did control the game but seemed content to do it a good 15 yards further back than has been the way this season.

Porto did make it very difficult by keeping compact and occupying the space we normally look to play in between the lines. However, they are a niggly, highly irritating side and I can’t remember seeing so many players falling over and rolling around on the floor – especially after so little, or no, physical contact. Hopefully, the return leg will be managed by a less gullible referee who will leave them lying on the floor until they tire of their own play acting and get up and get on with it.

Afterwards Mikel Arteta said –
“We have to manage much better in deep areas ….. we need more threat, more aggression …. there were 35 – 37 fouls and allowing that is not good enough …. we couldn’t touch anybody, everything was a free kick … “

He wasn’t wrong. Hopefully the players will take note and learn for the home leg. We should be plenty good enough to win through although nobody is pretending it will be easy.

23 Drinks to “Dragons Fire As Arteta Fumes”

  1. 1
    Gooner up North says:

    Great report! Chin up Gooners! We con do this.UTA

  2. 2
    Gooner up north says:

    We can do this!

  3. 3
    BtM says:

    That’s an excellent, entertaining summary of a game that was nothing similar, Trev. A very frustrating watch, particularly because of the constant falling over of Porto’s players enabled by an inept ref. Arsenal’s slow transitions didn’t add to the entertainment value and the late winner, caused by carelessness on our part was a sickener for which there will hopefully spoonfuls of remedial potion in the return leg.

    Almost as woeful as the refereeing and the tumbling display was the commentary on UK TV. I switched off my sound and moved over to Arsenal.com audio which was much better but interestingly about two seconds ahead of the TV video. (It’s usually five seconds at least behind, so I suppose the picture was slow coming down the wire from Portugal). Hence I was forewarned of the pending curler into our net.

  4. 4
    Bathgooner says:

    An accurate and measured analysis of a very frustrating evening, Trev, to which the gullible referee hugely contributed by indulging the diving and playacting of a team that’s been playing that way for at least twenty years. I remember Martin O’Neil’s incandescence at his Celtic team being cheated out of a UEFA Cup Final victory by those antics. We must pray for a stronger referee in the home leg and that the crowd pour scorn on such prima donna behaviour. Meanwhile I understand that the Twittersphere is replete with large numbers of self-entitled and ignorant “Arsenal fans’ who have decided that our team is hopeless (despite recent performances and results) and needs wholesale replacement. God help us!

  5. 5
    bt8 says:

    Thanks Trev for your detailed description of a game that I missed, being off the grid in the north woods. I was able to follow the game on the BBC and Sky text feeds, and that was frustrating enough but probably nothing like seeing the real thing. But one goal down with the home leg to go, and a young team having gained the experience of going out in the EL to Sporting CP a season or two ago, I too think we should be able to do this given a fair enough referee at the Ems. COYG

  6. 6
    Esso says:

    Cheers Trev!

  7. 7
    Trev says:

    One thing I omitted last night because I’ve been quite negative about him in the past, and I wasn’t sure quite what effect it would have had, was the role of David Raya in Porto’s goal. His positioning again looked a bit suspect to me – a huge amount of the left hand side of his goal was wide open and he was quite advanced off his line – and being quite a short goalkeeper his dive again left him inches from reaching the ball in the air.
    Overall he had handled well and he looks to be positive in his distribution -especially rolling the ball out quickly. But his positioning and physical size keep convincing me that he is not a keeper for an elite level team.

  8. 8
    TTG says:

    Thanks for a very fair and balanced report on a disappointing night . The Twittersphere or Goonerverse vacillates between praising us as the new Invincibles and condemning us as utterly hopeless . On this occasion we entered as Invincibles but were being called chumps by the end . Overall I thought we faced up to a stiff task well but fluent we weren’t .
    The return leg will probably be very frustrating. They will sit deep and in Varela they had a great holding midfielder , and one suspects they will strike on the break with pace and strength . We need to hope the crowd is very revved up , the referee is not easily duped and our lads learn as quickly as they did after the Lens game before they played much better against Seville .
    Our front four were all right out of touch . This was big boys football and as Trev says we had not been exposed to this environment and situation before . It’s all very well making the Spammers and Burnley look monkeys but this was a very tight tie well orchestrated by the Porto coach and facilitated by an annoying and weak referee.
    We need a much stronger squad fit to play in the home leg ( fortunately we have one potentially) so that we can alter tactics and we need our group of sick notes to get onto the pitch and give us many more tactical options .
    I thought Rice and Odegaard were admirable and Kiwior continues to improve but as regular readers will know Havertz does not convince me when the chips are down and imo Raya is a competent but not special keeper . I suspect Ramsdale might have pulled off a worldie to Galena’s shot .
    We should get through but last night made the job much harder . Let’s hope it proves a positive learning experience for our young team

  9. 9
    bt8 says:

    Somebody mentioned our (long forgotten) recovery from our Champions League group stage away defeat at Lens, which was only a few months ago. How quickly things can change. Today Lens were eliminated from Europa League competition by Freiburg.

  10. 10
    bt8 says:

    Speaking of long forgotten details, it turns out that our EL elimination by Sporting was a mere 11 months ago, so the lessons should be fresh in the players’ memories.

  11. 11
    Uplympian says:

    Thanks Trev, a most accurate description of the match laced with your good humour.
    Most of how I feel has already said by the denizens of the bar above. We do appear to struggle in away matches in Europe, Sevilla excepted. The players are all experienced internationals so they shouldn’t be intimidated in these type of matches but….je ne cest quoi !
    Yes, Porto didn’t show a lot but their game plan worked out for them in the end. They played as if they were the away team conceding possession to us and catch us on the break. They will no doubt play the same way in the return leg – let’s hope Mikel has a good plan to overcome this and a referee who does not support the dying swan auditions for Swan Lake. We’ve played well in our home European matches this season and Porto have an abysmal away record in UK, so it’s all set up…isn’t it?

  12. 12
    North Bank Ned says:

    A very fair summary of a frustrating game, Trev. It was one of those matches in which we didn’t play badly but never got going because we were never allowed to get going by a team that knew the ropes.

    To your point about Raya/Ramsdale, when that shot went in, I did replay it in my mind with Ramsdale tipping it to safety off the post. Yet it was a fabulous strike that would have beaten most keepers no matter how good their positioning or reach. I’ve noticed that Raya does take more advanced positions off the line than many keepers. I don’t know if that is just a habit or whether he is being coached to do that. Another point to make is that our controlled style of play this season, minimising shots against, exposes Raya to fewer shots on target to have to save so that might colour opinions.

    TTG: I highlighted Verala as a potential Liverpool target. He is just 22 and at 8 million euros, Porto got him for a steal. He’ll be another of those bright young talents that Portuguese clubs sell on to clubs in one of the big five leagues for tasty sums.

  13. 13
    North Bank Ned says:

    The GHF Predictathon leader board for Match Week 25 has been posted. You know where to find it…

  14. 14
    bt8 says:

    I’ve been meaning to say a huge thanks to you Ned (and to TTG, not being sure how the two of you divide the labor) for running the Predictathon and keeping us all updated. It’s been a lot of fun, and the drama is building …

  15. 15
    TTG says:

    Well said Bt8 at 14.
    I think Scruz and I would agree that all the plaudits should go to Ned. He does a wonderful job . Many thanks to him

  16. 16
    Trev says:

    Hear hear. I’ve said it before but worth saying again – thanks, Ned !

    Ned, you have my email address – could you quietly let me know what sort of consideration is required to get me up the table a bit ? Cheers 👍🏻

  17. 17
    TTG says:

    Paul Tierney is ref tomorrow. Bankes is on VAR

  18. 18
    North Bank Ned says:

    Thanks, all. It is a pleasure to do and all for a good cause, The Willow Foundation. TTG’s part in getting the whole thing set up and organized should not be undervalued. Nor should the weekly technical assistance of Scruz and Bath for getting the updates on the site. A tip of the hat, too, to Pangloss for some early inspiration on automating the calculations.

    Trev: the integrity of the competition is beyond reproach, as my own position shows — or at least for now… 🙂

  19. 19
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Thoughtful and balanced review Trev, thank you!

    Away European games remain an uncertain frontier for Mikel and his team. We had lost away at Lens earlier in the season. The margins are fine, and the team lacks European experience to sort themselves out in completely unfamiliar ground and atmosphere. We missed both Jesus and Zinchenko, their guile, craft and experience.

    The away goal rule thankfully having been scuppered, the tie is just 0-1 at the interval with the entirety of the second 90 minutes to play at home. We just need to score two more goals than what we concede. Simple. 🙂

  20. 20
    Potsticker says:

    Ned, I know you and the monks are beyond reproach, but you may wish to check on the algorithm Pangloss gave you – it seems to have him as the Perpetual leader.

  21. 21
    North Bank Ned says:

    Potsticker@20: Rest assured that Pangloss just inspired the automation of the calculations but had no hand in writing the code. The secret to Pangloss’s lead is that he has not
    got anything badly wrong so far. None of his predictions are more than four places adrift at this point, including critically, Burnley, which is the bugbear of virtually everyone else. Trev, for example, has more predictions that are exactly right than Pangloss, and C100 has as many, but Burnley is dragging them down.

  22. 22
    OsakaMatt says:

    Late thanks for a fine review Trev.
    Hopefully we wipe the floor with this shower at home.
    And talking of showers, the Riyadh Barcodes are next up.
    3 points at home is always good for the Oporto blues.

  23. 23
    scruzgooner says: