Arsenal for the first time overcame a first leg deficit in the CL. There were a couple of different looks how this was managed.
There was always someone to receive the outlet and a moment of genuine counterattacking skill where Arshavin finally managed to lay bare his speed for a rare breakaway.
Nicklas Bendtner was the beneficiary on both occasions as the ball sprang free in the box. The first time when Nasri’s beautiful pass isolated Arshavin with the Porto defense reacting too late. As the protagonists collided, the ball rolled free to Bendtner who tapped the ball in.
The second time it was Arshavin at his most brilliant as he shimmied his way leaving a swarm of Porto defenders in his wake and laid a cross that Bendtner latched onto for his second goal. On both occasions Arsenal had a player in the box when it counted and Bendtner showed some well needed hustle.
Even better was how the fourth goal was set up with Arshavin busting loose and then passing onto a galloping Eboue who reminded me of Rooney in his counterattacking glory in his desire for the ball. Eboue slipped past Helton and finished off smartly. Bendtner completed his hat trick after Eboue was brought down in the box following some neat ball skills.
This was exactly what was missing from Arsenal’s attack during those miserable losses against Chelsea and Man Utd. Arshavin was often isolated far ahead of players who seemed to lack that extra step to receive the ball from him. Arsenal also had virtually no counterattacking punch to trouble their opponents.
The match provided some redemption for all concerned:
Samir Nasri: The French midfielder stepped out of Fabregas shadow stamping his creative imprint on the match. We can celebrate his magic carpet ride in the 63d minute as the peak but even before that he positioned himself emphatically as the fulcrum of the attack. His discipline on the line also saved a sure Porto goal. There was nothing soft about Nasri yesterday.
Nicklas Bendtner: He scored a hat trick silencing his critics for a while (yours truly included) but did you see how he won almost every ball down field, flicking it on or bringing it under control. Using his height to great use and a more deft first touch saw Bendtner retain more meaningful possession of the ball. He even threw in a curling effort that saw Helton scramble for a save.
Andriy Arshavin: By now we have to take the desultory with the brilliant. The second goal was all Arshavin and so was the point blank miss as Nasri cut the ball inside. But the Russian owned the piece of territory from the center to the left embankment. Fucile was futile. The body count was high as he stretched the Porto defense to breaking point.
Manuel Almunia: Short of self confidence, long on the stubble. Almunia has managed a sleep deprived look. But against Porto he looked sharp on the few occasions they looked dangerous. He was decisive punching the ball away, on corners, and he saved Falcao’s down the pipe shot.
Emmanuel Eboue: Usually vertically challenged at his worst but this time he stayed upright enough to hopscotch around the Porto defense to administer the coup de grace after Nasri’s sublime goal. And he did not have to play aggrieved victim as Fucile brought him down for Bendtner’s penalty.
Gael Clichy: The left back literally lost his head challenging Hulk but was saved when the Brazilian went for self glory. Apart from that he looked solid fending away the hulking Brazilian whose finish was rusty. Clichy seems to have regained some of his speed and cross making abilities.
Bacary Sagna: A scary moment when the Frenchman lay hobbled with pain after a tough challenge but he shook it off and managed to neutralize Silvestre Varela and Ruben Micael quite effectively.
Sol Campbell: The big question was how Big Sol would manage Radamel Falcao, Porto’s in form Colombian import. The question was quite easily. He was fouled more by Falcao than the other way around.
Thomas Vermaelen: A nice block by the
Dutchman Belgian on Raul Meirelles and a typically feisty performance continues his excellent first season. Both Vermaelen and Campbell weathered a torrid 15 minutes of the second half after Cristian Rodriguez was introduced.
Abou Diaby and Alexander Song: The backfield was manged by some robust interventions between these two gentlemen. They pulled off quite a number on Meirelles and Ruben Micael, Porto’s first leg heroes. Song playing clean up and Diaby managing a higher line acting as a conduit between the deeper reaches and the attacking line. He was unfortunate as Helton denied him a goal pulling off a spectacular save.
Theo Walcott and Denilson: The former launched a few ambitious attempts and the latter came on late for a quiet interlude.
In the end the win gave us another memorable moment when Wenger broke out in a delighted jig. Lord of the Dance, yeah!