Niklas Bendtner turns on the class as he guides Arsenal to the Champions League Quarters….
An exceptionally confident performance from Arsenal saw them bulldoze their way to a place in the UEFA Champion’s League Quarter-Finals. It was necessary for the Gunners to play well to overcome the one-goal deficit, and they did not disappoint, turning out one of their finest performances for several months. With thin the opening minutes it was clear to see that the blitzkrieg passing style and kaleidoscope movement of the Arsenal player was going to prove too much for the Portuguese reigning champions, and it didn’t take long for the men in red to draw first blood. Eight minutes after the kick-off, Bendtner slotted home an excellent finish under extreme pressure from the Porto defence, sliding in and beating them to the ball to put us one-nil ahead, and in front on aggregate due to the away-goal rule. But the Arsenal pressure didn’t let up there, and twenty minutes later Bendtner popped up on the end of a great piece of play from Arshavin to spank the ball home, making it 3-2 (aggregate) to Arsenal.
Bendtner battles well to slot home his first of three….
The second half started slow for us, and Porto looked a lot more motivated and a lot more dangerous. Sol Campbell proved himself a man in from as he was dominated the Porto forwards to make amends for a collective drop in effort by the whole team. But Wenger was uncomfortable with the squad resting in their laurels, and he fired them back into winning ways, as Arsenal picked up the slack to utterly embarrass Porto in the remain half an hour. First, the wizard Samir Nasri dazzled us with his magic as he showed how quickly he could make the Portuguese defence disappear. Soon after, Arshavin outmuscled his to man to an aerial ball and broke viperously on the counter, before playing a perfect ball for Eboue who rounded the keeper and slotted home from a tight angle. But, regardless of all this excitement, the fairy tale couldn’t be completed until the big game, Niklas Bendtner, was given the opportunity to convert his hat-trick from the penalty spot, after Emmanuel Eboue had been lumberously brought down inside the area. Bendtner casually placed the ball in the corner to finish up a wonderful night for both him and his team mates.
So that’s the game in two paragraphs, but how good was this performance? I think most of us will agree, exceptionally good. This was just the 21st time a team has come back from a first leg deficit, and was the first time Arsenal had achieved the feat since 1978 (I think?). And without Fabregas too. All the players can be proud of their performances, and there were a bunch of real gems. We were evidently lethal on the counter attack, as shown in Eboue’s goal. Nasri deputised superbly for Fab, and had a major part in the first goal too.
Nasri celebrates his fantastic goal with his team mates
KEY MAN WATCH – Arsenal: I was looking to Nasri to be the puppet master in the absence of Fabregas, and the young Frenchman was in scintillating form, to say the least. He delivered a throughball to Arshavin who went on to get the ball to Bendtner for the first goal, though the initial pass was what made the whole move possible. Nasri also produced a piece of brilliance in the Porto 18-yard box to utterly obliterate both the opposition’s dignity and their chances of getting back into the game; beating 3 men and then ricocheting a punishing shot from the narrowest of angles to beat Helton.
KEY MEN WATCH – Porto: The two men I identified as important players in this game for Porto were in form striker Falcao and goalkeeper Helton. I was half right, maybe. Falcao barely got a sniff all day, which was great to see, and Helton had a pretty good night and made a couple of excellent saves. Notably one low to his left from a strong Nasri drive and another tight in the corner, perhaps with a bit of help from the upright. It would have been a lot worse for Porto if they hadn’t had a very decent performance from him.
Manuel Almunia – 7.5: There was precious little to do in terms of shot-stopping for the Spaniard tonight, excluding a couple of decent efforts that were hit mostly straight at him. However, Almunia gets this rating from me as he had great control of his area tonight, and seemed to be very composed. An excellent acrobatic punch from a Porto corner was the mark of a keeper in good form, which will stand us in good stead for the rest of the season if he can keep it up. One or two nerve racking moments, one from a fumble which he smothered well.
Bacary Sagna – 7.5: The French right0back had a very,very good game tonight. He was excellent in defence, as usual, with some perfect slide tackles down his flank to break up the Porto attack, but he also had a notable better day on attack. His crossing was mostly poor, as usual, but there were a couple of really good ones from his which floated in well.
Thomas Vermaelen – 8: I rated Vermaelen lower than usual and have had several points made against that rating, all which were valid. I have gone back and watched the game again and I would have to say I totally agree and that I was completely wrong with my original rating. At the time I watched originally I was ackownedging many key tackles and blocks, but I guess I forgot come rating time. So thanks for the heads up guys, and with the number of exceptional tackles around the area, and four or five fantastic shot-stopping blocks, its not wonder Almunia had little to do.
Sol Campbell – 7.5: Another excellent game from the Sol-man, as he set about with his no nonsense approach to contribute greatly to our clean sheet tonight. During the first 15-20 minutes of the second half, a lot of the team went to sleep a bit. It was here than Campbell earned his keep for the day, as he was an absolute bully to the Porto forwards, and crowded out the danger on five or six occasions. He had one bad moment in the first half with a poorly timed defensive header which fell nicely to the Porto attack, though his best moment was certainly his experienced effort to frustrate Hulk out of play from inside our box; the striker was clearly not enjoying being marked by the former English international.
Gael Clichy – 8: Yet another phenomenal night for Clichy; his return to form has been nothing short of remarkable. He was lightning quick on attack, and must have cut out the Porto midfields passes at least half a dozen times. He was also rock solid down his flank, and put in some excellent tackles to break Porto up. Some good crosses and passes to bring Bendtner and Diaby into play.
Alex Song – 8: After a few tough weeks for Song, in which he has seemed a little of the pace and has suffered from a cheaply given suspension, the Cameroonian midfielder had a great first half. Especially in the first 35 minutes, I think Song was largely responsible for our dominance, as he refused to give the Porto midfield a moment on the ball, and won us back possession numerous times. His performance dropped a bit in the second half, but so did everybody else’s. He found his feet again to help us dominate the rest of the match after than rocky spell. There was no particularly standout moment for Song; rather he put in a very hard working and consistent effort throughout the match.
Abou Diaby – 7: A solid performance tonight from Diaby, though he wasn’t at his best. He linked well in midfield and showcased his strength by holding up possession several times to bring his teammates into player. So decent direct runs at the Porto defence too. Did his part in defence to boot, with some key defensive headers.
Tomas Rosicky – 7: Looked like he was feeling a bit tired tonight, as he has played a lot in the last two weeks. He started very brightly and showcased the same skills as against Burnley; his close control on the ball and ability to ghost past his marker, but ended up with mostly the same result: getting fouled from behind. Taken off early but not a bad performance from Rosicky, by any means.
Samir Nasri – 8.5: Was a magician on attack tonight, both creating and scoring goals. Slotted home the best goal I have seen this season, to be honest. An excellent pass to help set up Bendtner’s first, Nasri’s jinking runs were dangerous throughout the night. Nasri can feel very proud of his overall performance; he had big shoes to fill and he more than rose to the challenge.
Andrey Arshavin – 8.5: Phenomenal match for the little maestro, he literally obliterated the Porto defence. His ability to make defenders shit themselves when he runs at the on the edge of the box is a very rare talent; he almost always beats his man or draws the foul. Exceptional tonight, with a effort to set up Bendtner’s first, and a superb assist for the Dane’s second as Arshavin danced his way through the defence. I’m sure he’ll be disappointed not to get on the score sheet himself.
Niklas Bendtner – 9: I predicted in my Burnley post-match that Bendtner would bounce back vs. Porto, and boy did he. A great game tonight, he was popping up in all the right places. His first goal showed real tenacity and commitment, and it was good work to be on hand for the second. A coolly taken penalty rounded of an evening he will never forget, and his confident shot to the bottom corner summed up his night.
Emmanuel Eboue – 8: A very good super-sub performance for big Manu, his cool finish contrasted strikingly with Sagna’s effort which was blazed over the bar; this really summed up the different abilities of both right-backs. He was out of position which showed at first, as he gave the ball away cheaply once or twice, but he settled into a good rhythm, and scored a superb goal after showing composure and rounding the keeper. I really hope he doesn’t leave in the summer, it would be a gutting loss for us.
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