After the seemingly endless winter break we finally have the chance to get back to the hunt for European glory. I will start today’s post with some stats about our opposition.
After 10 home games in Liga Sagres, Porto have yet to lose, averaging 2.4 goals per game. They lie 3rd, 9 points behind Benfica. With an 87% win rate in 19 games, they have conceded just 14 goals.
Captained by Bruno Alves, the tough tackling central defender is the current La Liga Player of the Year. Porto have two strong frontmen; Hulk, a 23 y.o. Brazilian who is reported to be a €20m target for Man Utd (and us!). Top scorer is Columbian Radamel Falcao, who has scored 20 goals in 26 games since signing for Porto in the summer.
Five years ago led by Mourinho, Porto became World Club Champions. In 2009 they won the Portugese League and Cup double and went out of the Champions League in the Quarter Finals to Man Utd, having drawn 2-2 at OT and very unluckily losing 1-0 at home.
Porto are a different club to the team that lost to MU having sold 7 of their 2008/9 first team squad including the sale of CF Lisandro Lopez to Lyon for a staggering €24m rising to €30m !
We played them in last season CL group stages losing 2-0 away and winning 4-0 at home in what was one of our best performaces of the season. However our away defeat should be put into perspective as we had already qualified and played a weakened team including Ramsey, Silvestre, Djourou and Vela.
This season Porto easily qualified for the CLQF’s coming second in their group, despite losing home and away to Chelsea (aggregate 2-0)
We go into the game with injuries to Song, Gallas, Almunia and Arshavin. Song will be a big miss as will Gallas. Both have been immense this season. The injury (finger?) to Almunia should allow Fabianski to get a run of games, develop some confidence and unity within the defence, and finally take the shirt from Coco. I am sure Almunia is a great chap, but he doesn’t inspire confidence, something we have seriously lacked since Mad Jens left. My guess is that Sol will partner TV, and it is here we may have problems. Porto do not play with one big striker to hold up play, Hulk and Falcao being pacy, skillful forwards, not the best style of striker for the ageing Sol. However, Campbell has enormous experience and looks very sharp. plus he is brilliant at marshalling his defence.
I expect Denilson to play ahead of Ramsey. Diaby is a central figure for us, he has started to impose himself upon the team, and with Porto’s stated intention of double marking Cesc, we will be looking to Diaby to create the space for Cesc. Wenger usually plays 4-5-1 away in the CL, so Bendtner will be asked to play the holding CF role, with Walcott joining him for the last 20 minutes.
We will undoubtedly struggle for goals and will look to our midfielders to link with Nik. We don’t have a TH14 to score the breakaway solo goal (who can forget that amazing goal against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu?) and as much as I like Bendtner, he doesn’t have it in his game. That said, we will attack, it is the Arsenal way, and of course we need the vital away goal.
My team would be:
Sagna Campbell Vermaelen Clichy
Denilson Cesc Diaby Rosicky
It is exactly 200 years (and 6 months) since the Duke of Wellington went over to Portugal and defeated a combined French and Portugese force at the battle of Duoro, just outside Porto. Porto was the beginning of his successful Peninsular campaign which ended with the vanquishing of Napoleon’s armies. Wellington’s rewards were the gold and silver plate that one can see at Apsley House , 1 Marble Arch. This time the French are on our side, and Wengers ultimate reward may be silver as well.
And as everyone knows The Duke was a renowned Gunner …..
By Big Raddy