Few people will doubt Arsenal’s ability to beat Porto on Tuesday night, with the team hitting form at the right time (beating Hamburg and Manchester United away, Sheff Utd at home). Despite Porto’s mix-it-up, in-your-face style, Arsenal will rely on their passing and ability to control the game.
The pressure of playing away should push Porto into playing defensively, so you can expect someone from the Arsenal camp complaining about how Porto put 11 men behind the ball while defending. It’s a football game, Porto’s job is to get through the 90 minutes just like Arsenal, so why complain about it?
Update: Fabregas has ‘expressed’ the fear that Porto might shut up shop and play defensively – they really don’t have anything else to whinge about, do they?
This is Arsenal’s first group stage tie (they’ve already played a CL qualifier at the Emirates stadium) and with their side top of the group, they will be banking on the improving form of Rosicky, Fabregas and Henry to help them win the game.
Interesting stat: After losing at home to Chelsea FC in the 2003/04 quarter-final second leg, Arsenal played ten matches at Highbury in the tournament without losing, winning seven and drawing three. If I were a gambling man I’d bet on Arsenal shading this match with ease.
Arsenal have Djourou and Ljunberg as doubts for the game, with both having missed training on Monday. If Djourou does not play Gallas will slot into the centre-back role and one of Hoyte and Flamini will be playing at left-back. Money’s on Hoyte, but considering that Flamini did such a good job there last year, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Wenger to play him instead.
Ljunberg’s absence does not negatively affect Arsenal especially if they stick to playing 4-4-2 – with Rosicky on one flank and Hleb/van Persie on the other, and Henry/Adebayour up front. Another option for Arsenal is to play Walcott, but Wenger’s doing the right thing by keeping him under wraps.
Eboue, Toure, Gallas, Hoyte
Hleb, Fabergas, Gilberto, Rosicky
van Persie, Henry
The defensive composition will be changed if Djourou is fit for tomorrow, with Arsenal going back to Eboue, Toure, Djourou and Gallas. The only other possible change could be Baptista playing in midfield – he should get at least 20-30 minutes, if not a starting berth.
Porto have never won away to English opposition in European competition, with their ‘best result’ coming against Manchester United FC – a 1-1 draw in the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League first knockout round.
Porto failed to pick up an away win in last season’s edition with late goals proving their downfall. With Arsenal’s fast counter-attacks they are virtually guaranteed to leak goals, and despite the young Anderson’s immense promise this is one fixture where Porto will be looking at damage control instead of a win.
Update: I forgot to mention Quaresma – a hugely talented winger who will be key to their chances of winning. Can they shade it? Despite their good domestic form (4 wins out of 4), it’s unlikely that Arsenal will be troubled at the Emirates. Then again, all you need to do is shut up Fabregas and keep Henry off the ball. Easier said than done though…
Arsenal to beat Porto, 2-0. Porto will try to rough up the Gunners but as Henry, Fabregas and co. get more used to the new stadium and as Gallas grows game by game as the-defender-who-completes-Arsenal, a comfortable win is likely.
Download the official UEFA Champions League Press Kit (right-click, select ‘Save As’) for the Arsenal vs Porto game. Full of stats and historical tidbits.
Bookmark and come back tomorrow night / wednesday morning for the match report. You’re welcome to add your own analysis and predictions in the comments below.