Champions League: Moments Of Madness 2 Arsenal 1

UEFA Champions League
Round of Sixteen, First Leg
FC Porto 2 – 1 Arsenal

(11) 1 – 0 Varela
(16) 1 – 1 Campbell
(50) 2 – 1 Falcao

This defeat was not down to the referee, although the original, perhaps more eyecatching, title of this piece perhaps captures the mood: “Arsenal Lose In Porto Thanks To The Cult Of The Referee. And Yes, That Was A Typo“. Yesterday’s headline said it all: “Injuries are not an excuse. Neither is sloppiness“. This loss was not down to anything bar two instances of concentration being entirely absent. Sloppiness.

This was a match which Arsenal should not have lost. They were in control for long periods and had a lot of freedom to move around the pitch at will. Porto seemed content to let Arsenal play this way, almost reverting to counter-attacking for long periods, a sign of what is to come in the return leg.

To use the boxing analogy, punches were traded in the opening phase, Porto had the better of the initial sparring, shooting wide with good opportunties and testing Fabianski’s nerves. Arsenal soon attained the ascendency before being pegged back by a sucker punch, reminiscent of Steve Heighway’s opener in the 1971 FA Cup Final; if anyone understands the agonies Fabianski will undoubtedly suffer, Bob Wilson will surely do so.

Parity was not long in being restored; ghosts of George Graham’s Arsenal pervaded as Vermaelen flicked on – rather firmly – to the redoubtable head of Tomas Rosicky, his header back across the face of goal, met with gleeful force from Sol Campbell. The remainder of the first half followed a similar pattern. Porto on the back foot, Arsenal breaching the home defence with sublime passing, jarred into retreat by forays on either flank, passing from the home side assured until the final third where feet, legs and various other body parts tellingly intervened.

The opening exchanges in the second half continued in the same vein, the question posed as to when Arsenal would next score. Until the referee intervened. Campbell intercepted instinctively and forced the ball to Fabianski, who controlled and the picked the ball up, correctly awarding a free-kick. The Swede further correctly allowed a quick tap-kick to be taken, Campbell inexplicably – past actions show this may have been instinctive – put his head in his hands rather than prevent the quick kick; punishment was swift, Wenger incandescent.

It is understandable why the Frenchman felt so furious. As much as the anger built with the lack of awareness of the defence, concentration entirely absent, the inconsistency of officiating at this level of the game is enough to test the patience of a saint. Frequently quick free-kicks are blocked; on the edge of the area – let alone inside – such alertness on the part of an attacker is stifled by a preening prancer making sure that everyone is aware that they have taken Brasso to their Acme Thunderer, hoisting their trinket triumphantly to the Heavens watching it gleam, iridescent in the floodlights.

On this occasion, the man who was unaware of Thierry Henry’s ball-handling skills, played to the letter of the law. Uefa and Fifa defend their respective corners stoutly when it comes to questioning officials, Papal Infalibilty pales into insignificance compared with the deification of officials in a football match. Roy Hodgson questioned whether the introduction of technology into football was a pointless search for perfection; I would argue that all supporters, players and managers want is consistency.

Fabianski did well other than these two instances; he was confident in coming from crosses, parrying and holding shots when Porto threatened to breach the visitors defence. And yet, his most recent first team outings are marred by mistakes. Some can be put down to the folly of youth – last season’s FA Cup semi-final, for example – but the path the Pole is treading is fraught with the memories of Alex Manninger, an outstanding prospect but never able to find the consistency required to be Arsenal’s Number One. Hopefully, Fabianski will outgrow this phase and deliver on his promise, for he has the makings of an excellent goalkeeper.

Opportunities to level the scores once more still abounded; spurned, saved or deflected to deny equality. I do not think Wenger has much to complain about in terms of the attacking performance, the midfield passed and moved quickly, Bendtner allowed to move off a Porto defence which held position rather than man-to-man marking. The Dane was lively in the first half, one ferocious drive deflected wide in the early stages, dropping out of the centre on occasion to the flanks whilst linking well with supporting players.

In midfield, Cesc was fouled incessantly by Porto, the hosts rotating that particular duty in order to prevent yellow cards which would have led to bans. Even so, the referee was unduly lenient with the most persistent offenders escaping punishment until the latter stages or entirely. It was a throwback to the ‘Good Old Days‘ of this competition unlike the match itself, the antithesis of what is expected in a knockout competition, first leg.

Diaby and Denilson shared defensive duties but the former surged forward on occasion, one delightful moment left a Porto defender on his backside. On this occasion, like much of the evening though, the end product was missing.

Denilson’s style of play harks back to players of the ilk of Ray Wilkins, once his ‘Butch’-ness had gone. One hopes for the Brazilian’s sake that his hairline is retained for a longer period. Quietly sweeping the ball up with interceptions rather than the crunching tackles which are apparently so desirous of central midfielders in the English game; using the ball sensibly, passing sideways rather than ambitiously forwards where possession is ceded cheaply.

Of course, this aspect passes his detractors by and his rite of passage into Arsenal is remarkably similiar to that of Gilberto Silva, his predecessor castigated for not being a Vieira clone until it was realised that a calm, passing, footballing brain is as advantageous, if not more beneficial than a combustible style.

Wenger will be less happy defensively. Porto identified the flanks as a potential weakness, pushing Clichy onto the back foot in the opening phase before the first goal. However, once those avenues were blocked, they punched through the centre, using bulk as much as brain to fashion openings. Wenger will not be entirely happy that the midfield did not snuff out danger quickly, the stretched nature of the game ensuring that the gap between defence and the next line was too wide.

Ultimately though there is a deficit to be retrieved. Porto offered little evidence that they could protect their slender advantage but Arsenal has, unlike PSV in 2007, the knowledge that scraping through by a 1 – 0 victory will be sufficient. Perhaps it could deflect into the net via the referee, a sense of poetic justice would be fitting.

’til Tomorrow.

188 thoughts on “Champions League: Moments Of Madness 2 Arsenal 1

  1. Moan, Moan, Moan….excuses, excuses, excuses…..whinge, whinge, whinge….

    Like Manager, like supporters…

    Just face it, we’re not good enough.

  2. Arse Shavin and Finsbury Parker.

    I made comment about not doing defensive drills in practice in my 2:45 comment by reading what Lee Dixon said and from a comment made by “The Brain” who writes Arsenal Column and occasionally blogs on this site. I mentioned to him that I thought our defensive problems could be solved on the training pitch. I do not who he is but I assume he is somehow associated with the team. His return comment was (paraphrased). “That will not happen because they do not do defensive drills in practice”. I obviously do not know exactly how they practice defense but the evidence suggests whatever we are doing now has not worked for a long time.

    The most important point is that our defense has been slowly getting worse for 7 years and has taken a quantum leap in the wrong direction this year. You can not argue with the statistics in the table. The boss indicated last summer that defense was the difference between us and United and he would fix it. Look what has happened. Even the most loyal AW fan would have to admit there is a problem that he has not been able to fix.

  3. Yeah we hear you Gooner1. No one is moaning and groaning besides you. You’re soft and don’t have the bottle to watch a man’s sport kid. Try World of Warcraft or something.

  4. Oh and I forgot Fletcher. I’d take Denilson over pretty much every mid on Man U and Chelsea outside Essien.

  5. Arse Shavin

    I haven’t read that, but I’m sure the Brain’s comments were specific, and there is always room for improvement etc.

    It seemed to my untrained eye as if the squad were given a defensive ‘tutorial’ during the long run last season, with RVP scoring almost all the goals and getting almost all the assists.

    If that didn’t satisfy those who yearn for a GG ( not implying that the Brain is one!) style of football I don’t know what will.

    The xenophobes use petty jingoism and hide behind a perceived & made up ‘Clash of Football Cultures’, which they claim is AFC’s biggest problem. Of course, those who want to drive out AW, appreciate the momentum they get from such smears.

    This leads to deluded, vain statements such as:

    “AW revolutionised English football with the power and athleticism of players like Viera & Petit, and his training/coaching methods.
    But now it seems he’s forgotten everything he’s ever known about Sport, & wants to play a team of Midget’s who play Tippy Tappy Rubbish, who don’t know how to Tackle (Defend) because they come from hot countries where they don’t have mud, therefore they don’t know how to get ‘Stuck In’.”

    Anyone up for a game of Argy-Bargy?

  6. Diaby out??????????????


  7. Frank,

    Your attack on Cesc is a disgrace. He didn’t name Fabianski and just said it was schoolboy defending which it was.

    You preach support at all costs and then turn on our captain and best player when he has the temerity to tell the truth.

    To use your own words, why don’t you f*** off.

  8. FRANK I HAVE JUST REALIZED HOW GREAT A PROPHET YOU ARE!!!!! If arsenal beat Hull, stoke, Birmingham.wigan blackburn draw with Spurs, and win all our home games we win the EPL and once we beat Porto get Bordeauz in the quarter finals and Inter in the semis we can get to the ECL final where I am sure we could beat are a genius.

  9. Cesc should know better than to direct insults like schoolboy errors especially while he is captain. Most the media have been running with that line today.

    Fab is just so bloody eager which think leads to these errors.

  10. ………………….AIC IS A PARASITE……………………..
    ……………….AIC IS A PARASITE…………………….
    …………..AIC IS A PARASITE……………………
    ………..AIC IS A PARASITE………………….

  11. very nice, YW!

    “One hopes for the Brazilian’s sake that his hairline is retained for a longer period”.


  13. FinsburyParker at 5:26

    How do you explain the fact that our defense has been getting statistically worse for the last 7 years and this year even faster deterioration? Even with our run a 0 – 0 draws last year we still gave up 13 more goals then United.

    You do not have to play boring defensive football to play good defense. United and Barcelona prove that you can have it both ways. However, you have to play good defense to win. The team that gave up the fewest goals has won the EPL 7 of the last 8 years.

    I am not anti-Wenger but I do think that even he can make mistakes and somehow he has lost track of how to get his teams to play good consistant defense. We can not blame inexperience or referees or bad luck forever. Goals conceded is the single most important statistic to determine who will win. Somehow AFC has lost track of that fact.


  15. @ YW
    An apology first – I am pushed for time so I will have to read your post properly another time.


    @ goonerandy

    Going back to the debate on the previous post – “Let’s agree to disagree” is one of those statements which riles me because it is sounds like such a cop-out. So I over-reacted to that, I apologise. However, I don’t resile from the substance of my statements which were that the rules quoted in the link I posted appeared to confirm unambiguously that the ref should have ordered the free kick to be retaken etc etc and why. It is no answer to that to say, Graham Poll thinks otherwise, without saying why he thinks those rules don’t apply or why he interprets the situation differently. Just being Graham Poll and a World Cup referee is not reason enough in a case where there appears to be clear evidence that correct procedure has not been followed.

    And please note that I am not taking the interpretation of another person as gospel, but referring to rules which he posted. Also it’s the quality of research and evidence that counts, not where it’s printed.

    So if, having read the article, you can explain why the procedures etc didn’t apply, or you can supply any new facts, I’d be interested to read your explanation (sometime in the next week or so) but at the moment I see no reason to change my view.

  16. Wow.

    The following was exceptionally vain and deluded:

    “The most important point is that our defense has been slowly getting worse for 7 years.”

    Arsenal League games ’02/’03

    Played: 38
    Lost: 6
    Goals Against: 42
    Position 2nd (78 pts.)

    Arsenal League games ’03/’04

    Played: 38
    Lost: 0
    Goals Against: 26
    Position: 1st (90 pts.)

    “…and has taken a quantum leap in the wrong direction this year.”

    Arsenal League games ’08/09

    Played: 38
    Lost: 6
    Goals Against: 37
    Position: 4th (72 pts.)

    Arsenal League games ’09/10 (To date).

    Played: 26
    Lost: 6
    Goals Against: 30
    Position: 3rd (51 pts.)

  17. I question how much you know about “good defense” just from the labels you apply to it.

    Defending is relative. You talk about is as if it’s absolute.

    To say we’re the 9th best team in defending in the league is simplistic.

  18. I don’t claim to have this vast knowledge of football and I’m just as gutted as you are that Fab couldn’t earn his paycheck. But you take it to a whole different level, SOL. Give the caps lock a rest, too, Junior.

  19. My 5:26 post was addressed top Arsh Shavin, not you Bill.

    “Goals conceded is the single most important statistic to determine who will ‘win’.”

    Funny you should have said that.

    I have to go, but did you like the list of Goals Against I supplied for you to look at?

  20. I remember in 02/03, accrdoing to most p(l)undits AFC had a RM at RB, a CM at CB, and a ‘Winger’ at CF.

    Thank **** the team went the next season unbeaten. Can anyone imagine the response if they hadn’t?

    Another assist for the ‘winger’ Rosicky last night.

  21. problem with most pundits and wapping journilists is that they expect you to play as if your on a highlight reel. Probable because thats what they only ever watch the highlights. When they do get down to a game they’re astonished that the teams turn around at half time.

  22. Anyone got a time frame for Diaby`s absence ?

    He`s been great lately too.

    Three points on Saturday & we`ll all feel much better.

  23. Rosicky was brilliant in the first half yesterday. Loves to get ‘stuck in’ too. And there was one of those passes to Fabregas, outside of the boot…

    Almost as good as some of those challenges by Sol!
    (Good thing he’s been practising!)

    Enjoy your weekends Gunners.

  24. Paulie, if it’s grade 1 (which it must be if he carried on playing) then maybe 2-3 weeks.

    FP, that was a lovely pass. Trivela from Mozart! And the commentators on itv didn’t even mention it. Philistines.

  25. Did anyone see the way the interviewer was purring over Sol. It was a joke!! Can’t imagine him touching Gallas like that. What freaking racist mugs those media types are.

  26. FinsburyParker and Ole:

    Our position on the table with respect to goals against the last 7 years add validity to the idea that we have gotten worse compared with the rest of the league. The total number of goals allowed is not as important as how we compare with our competition.

    Even the boss said after last year that our downfall was defense. Our defense compared with the teams we are competing with for the top spots is our downfall. Help me to understand if that logic is somehow flawed.

    Arsenal table position goals against since 2004
    (1st), 3rd, 3rd, 4th, 4th, 5th 9th.

    United table position goals against
    2nd, 2nd, 4th, (2nd), (1st), (1st), 2nd

    Chelsea table position goals against
    3rd, (1st), (1st), 1st, 2nd, 1st, 3rd

    The league winner is in parenthesis.

    This is the major difference between us and them. Not counting this yr, In each of those years but 1 the team that gave up the fewest goals won the league. That seems simplistic but rather clear cut.

  27. Thanks Limpar A – just two weeks I hope

    On Eboue. He`s got to be close to a starting place now either at RB or in midfield as he brings so much pace to the side. I hope he gets a chance on Saturday.

  28. Brilliant analysis Bill.

    I’m stunned.

    Not a lot I can add to that.

    (So goals against don’t matter now?)

  29. ole maybe you should take your advice in your comment at 6.01 and apply them to your own debates regarding denilson??

    why are the stats on our defence simplistic and yet denilsons stats are concrete?

    very selective..

    but that said we dont need the stats to tell us our collective defending is poor, our gk situation is in crisis, and denilson wont be attracting interest from barca or real madrid anytime soon..

    not saying hes a bad player..hes just not very good…

  30. nasri johns-nasri

    You French idiot. Your blindness makes you unable to see how crap and a waste of money Denilson is. Seems he fall under the same dagger like Senderos. They are all crap footballers brought here to milk struggling Arsenal fans dry.

  31. Maria at 7:25.

    Maybe your right. I have been on this blog for several months and never seen anyone change their mind and type “maybe your right”, me included. I am not sure why we do it. No one who really makes any difference to the club actually cares what we think anyway.

  32. Denilson is at best a championship level player, hasn’t got the quality to play for Everton, City, Spurs, Villa and yet plays for Arsenal.

  33. I’m glad someone had a word with Cesc and he has publicly backed his team mate now. Although his disappointment was understandable yesterday, you don’t hang your team mate out to dry especially as the captain. You win as a team and you lose as a team.

    Re the free kick, no one has mentioned that we have had 2 free kicks following back passes this season. One in the PL and one in the CL. Both times the referees made us wait while the opposition lined up their wall on the goal line and no goal was scored as a result. So what was the difference last night?

  34. haven’t been on the site for a while, funny to see the same arguments and name calling by the same people. i think this site is just about the last one who have any faith in wenger any more, it has been clear for the past three years that we have been getting progressively worse and that wenger will never change his principals to reverse that trend.

    as i said for years, i agree and understand that we can’t compete financially and it was time for wenger to accept that the domestic cups should be taken seriously sadly he has gotten even worse on that front. so roll on 2011 when his contract runs out as nothing will change until then.

    about last night, the real topic wasn’t the goal but how poor we were from front to back, the team that ended the game last night has to be the weakest wenger has ever had in a competitive European game.

    no point getting angry anymore it is all so inevitable, i would rather lose to porto than get killed by chelsea or man utd in the next round.

  35. On Lukasz Fabianski’s display…
    “I do not want to come out individually on Lukasz’ performance tonight and judge him in front of everybody. I believe that you have to accept that you lose as a team and win as a team. Any individual performance has not to be analysed publically.”

    On Tomas Rosicky’s penalty claim in the second half…
    “I believe there was a strong penalty claim for us on Rosicky which was unfortunately turned down. I feel as well that the repeated fouls in midfield were not punished enough…

    On Sol Campbell’s performance…
    “He had a decent game. He is disappointed with the second goal but he had a decent game. When you play at this level you do not want to concede goals like that. He scored an important goal which could prove to be vital in qualification. We will give everything in the second game at home. That is all we can do. I am disappointed because we lost the game but we have a good opportunity to do it at home.”

  36. Are you insane?
    “Denilson’s style of play harks back to players of the ilk of Ray Wilkins… using the ball sensibly, passing sideways rather than ambitiously forwards where possession is ceded cheaply.”
    He lost possession on most of his touches. He passed neatly sideways to Porto more frequently than he found an open Gunner. He dribbled into trouble, lost the ball, then sat and ball watched.

    Going into January I was worried about Song being gone, but figured we had Denilson, who, I thought, was a bit small but had a motor that would never stop. Well its February now and now I’ve seen that he is indeed too small, and worse, he is performing more abysmally than Eboue when he got subbed last year… Too many times our ‘defensive shield’ didn’t bother to get back at a pace over the average slug. He needs to be taken out behind the shed by TV (or better Tony Adams and Vierra) and told that if he continues to play as lazy as he has been that he will pick up one of those (not so) mysterious injuries that will keep him off the team sheet. I have no problem with a defensive player going forward. Our system depends on it. I do have issues with them not running back to their position to help the team where they should be.

  37. “Both times the referees made us wait while the opposition lined up their wall on the goal line and no goal was scored as a result. So what was the difference last night?”

    A group of Arsenal fans (You know the ones: season-ticket holders for 40 years, loudest singers on match days, and so on) clubbed together to raise enough money to bribe Martin Hansson to give decisions against Arsenal. They couldn’t stomach the idea of an Arsenal team without their favourites and including their most hated players winning the game.

  38. The Keystone Cops are a better defensive unit than Fabianski and Campbell. This was bad folks. My grandmother could have stopped that cross ie goal. She has been dead since 1976. Jokes aside this was bad. The good news is that we only lost 2-1. The away goal is important. This is what happens when half your midfield is out and your best keeper. The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Costumes and all.
    It could have been worse. We are still in the drivers seat. Shut em out and win 1-0 or better yet 3-0. There is hope Thanks

  39. As much as we are all disappointed let us not rush into conclusions that have no real bearing on the result of last night. Denilson was not at all to blame for any of the two goals; I doubt we need a new coach (defensive) to teach Fab that he should pick a back pass; the team played generally well excepting the two errors by Fab.

    Also I don’t get the argument sometimes about Arsenal losing to Man U and Chelsea! Chelsea has lost 4 games this season and we have lost 6 and ManU 5 believe so that shows we are not very far away from them. Even when we had all the wonderful players people here like to remind about we used to lose some games to Man U. Even during the “Invincibles” season ManU eliminated us from the FA cup and Chelsea eliminated us from the Champions League. So some perspective is needed people.

  40. Denilson has no urgency in his play, and that to a DM means he doesn’t track back or even make enough tackles.

    Yeah, he played well in the second half, but ONLY because Diaby went deeper to the DM position (probably because of his injury) and Denilson was playing in front of him, with less defensive duties.

  41. This was bad. At least we are only down 2-1 and have the return leg back home. We scored the all important away goal. The bad news we lost but the good news is that we have the all important away goal. Hold serve at home. Shut em out and kick butt and take names. I wrote to you from stats page.. Thanks. Fabianski needs to be shot at dusk for stupid play.

  42. I wish that an billionaire would buy us and tell the boss that he has $300 Million to spend and he has to spend it next year and to forget all his principles and just buy a team that will win the quad for the next 5 years. I know he could do it if he was made to spend the money.

  43. “Yeah, he played well in the second half, but ONLY because Diaby went deeper to the DM position”

    Huh? he played well because…!?

    That doesnt make sense to me, if he played well he played well, if he was poor he would be regardless of Diaby.

  44. What was Denilsons part in either goal also, Porto didnt do much offensively, yes they ran but we played good defense apart from the errors so what the backside are you talking about.

  45. I don’t want to say too much on Denilson – because Maturks is here – but he had a decent game. I don’t know how reliable these stats are but they were sent to me. They have a scoring system a bit Moneyball like and Denilson came out top.

    It was however, Arsenal’s disorientated system which Porto took advantage of and found large gaps to make joy out of.

  46. Brain but they had no joy apart from our mistakes. They were fast but it never came to anything did it?

    If they were not gifted the goals they didnt have a chance of winning.

  47. Arsene’s method of playing average players as often thinking they will improve will never do with Denilson, Almunia, Fabianski the same way it failed with Senderos.

    Its interesting he said he sold Gilberto because he was slow and had no pace to track back. Now Denilson ticks all the above and yet get games week-in-week-out.

  48. Paul N: I’m not disputing that the goals were avoidable but I like to take the whole picture of games and that’s where most of their attacks stemmed from – taking advantage of our frailties in the defensive phase. If you have it, watch Paulo Sousa’s half-time analysis again – his grasp of English isn’t great but he talked with great coaching knowledge.

    I have done an analysis on Arsenal’s defensive game also but I don’t want to feel like I’m taking Yogi’s customers. Click here if you want to read it though.

  49. Haha look at all these mongs throwing a quality Arsenal player under the bus. Once again, Denilson played well last night. What a bunch of miserable pricks.

  50. I agree with Paul N. It was up and down, but Porto looked toothless outside of a bit of stuff on the wings. The bottom line is Porto was given an inexplicable lifeline through Fabianski. End of story. We could have easily won that game 2-0.

    And once again the mongs come out the woodwork spewing venom at a player who actually had a good game.

  51. Bill,

    Your analysis is superb and irrefutable.

    Pay no attention to the others. You’ve substantiated everything you’ve said.!

  52. And a comment from JonJon!

    Has Diaby grown a footballing brain JonJon? I seem to recall you saying he couldn’t make it at Arsenal.

    I remember than and wonder why I should believe your claims about Denilson.

    About stats;

    I’ve said to Bill several times, that yes, we concede too many goals.

    But his analysis of judging defensive deterioration based on goals conceded & position in the stakes is simplistic.

    Your defence could be better and yet you concede more goals. Or vice versa.

    There are many signs that our defending is much better than the goals conceded suggests.

  53. Substantiated that the defence has got worse over the last several seasons?

    That the team with the ‘best defence’ usually wins the league?

    I agree with Joe. Superb & irrefutable analysis.

    There is a funnier, and slightly more interesting conversation about last nights game on the Guardian Football podcast.

  54. From the FIFA rules:

    “The Indirect Free Kick
    The referee indicates an indirect free kick by raising his arm above his head. He
    maintains his arm in that position until the kick has been taken and the ball has
    touched another player or goes out of play.”

    It’s so easy to watch the ref raise his hand to signal the kick AFTER it was taken. I can’t believe anyone is arguing that the goal should stand. It’s not falling asleep to not defend something that is not permitted by the rules.

  55. We may have conceded 30 goals this season but when you take a closer look, 10 of those came against united n chls (H & A), and if you take away the 4 goals we leaked against citeh, then it actually doesnt look that bad…. 16 in 21…. In other words we have improved our defending against the rest (against whom united n chls hav surprisingly fared less better). This is the diff. The arrival of TV5 has made this season ( n not discounting his partnership wt billy who’s also stepped up) and it is the reason why were still in the race. If we can maintain it there’s no reason why we wont be champions come May… So keep the faith gunners!

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