Monday, May 20, 2024

Porto 1-0 Arsenal: 35 seconds cost Gunners a draw

Match reportPlayer ratingsArteta reaction

On a night where a fairly drab 0-0 looked like a reasonable outcome based on performance levels, Arsenal paid the price for 35 seconds of carelessness at the end to go down 1-0 to an injury time Wenderson Galeno goal.

There was very little to be enthused about how we played, but that goal just should not have happened – especially at that stage of the game. Last night was a reminder of just how different the challenge is when you get the knock-out rounds of the Champions League, something we’ll go into more in a bit, but a big part of is game-management. ‘If you can’t win, don’t lose’ sounds a bit trite or obvious, but it was well within our hands to come back to London with a draw. Instead, we were just a bit naive, just a bit careless, and got punished to the max.

It wasn’t like one massive glaring error, we just got scrappy for a few seconds. First, Gabriel took a heavy touch on a routine pass from Saliba, got caught on the ball, and went back to David Raya. His clearance wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good either, allowing Porto to regain possession in our half. Then Declan Rice intercepted but lost his footing slightly. In his attempt to win it back, he squirted the ball back to Porto. To his credit he gets a foot in, the ball goes to Gabriel Martinelli who, trying to be positive I suppose, looks to switch it across field to where Martin Odegaard, Kai Havertz and Bukayo Saka are.

He has to either find Odegaard, or hit with enough power to potentially send Saka in behind. He does neither and Porto have possession again. They play it forward to Galeno, Rice is too deep and doesn’t react to the danger well enough, and from there the finish asks questions of Raya. I’ve seen a lot of discussion, and while I think this goal is a catalogue of errors for which he is probably least culpable, it doesn’t look good for him. It might be positioning, it might be the timing of his leap, or that kind of finish – which was very good, let’s not pretend there isn’t quality from Galeno – is one which is basically a consequence of having a relatively small goalkeeper.

As I said, all of this happens in just 35 seconds. There were numerous things we could have done differently, done better, and we just didn’t. And while there will be a lot of frustration, and rightly so, at the performance overall, I’m sure the manager will be tearing his hair out over the goal we conceded. I don’t even think you can say it’s a lack of experience at this level, because it’s basically applicable to any game of football you play, but it needs to be a learning moment all the same.

It’s also worth pointing out that this came mere seconds after we did have a decent chance up the other end.  Gabriel headed over from a Rice free kick, and while it wasn’t like he missed a sitter, with his aerial prowess he’ll be frustrated with his effort, I’m sure. On a night when we fashioned very little, we didn’t make the most of our set-pieces either.

Arteta afterwards:

The way we gave the ball away three times in a row in that area, we cannot do it. Not managing that situation well enough, and you get punished in the Champions League

I’ve seen it said we played for a draw last night, and I just don’t buy that at all. Did we play well? No, there’s no doubt about that, but I don’t think we didn’t want to win – we just didn’t play anywhere near well enough to do that. The level was well below what we’ve seen in recent weeks, but then the opposition was markedly different too. Porto, canny operators it’s fair to say, made it very difficult for us to play through them, and despite first half dominance in possession, we had nothing really to show in the way of chances. Some danger from corners when the opposition players weren’t hurling themselves to the ground to win the free kicks the ref was happy to give them all night, but that was it.

In truth, we were remarkably lucky not to be behind in the first half after Galeno’s extraordinary miss. I use that word deliberately, because it was one of those where you actually needed the replay to see what had actually happened. He caught Saliba ball-watching, crashed a shot off the post from close range, then put the rebound wide of the other post from even closer. Incredible really.

Odegaard buzzed around, his first half movement in particular was very good, but ahead of him none of Saka, Martinelli, Trossard or Havertz were anywhere near as effective as we needed them to be. We finished the game without a shot on target, and chances were few and far between. There was a Trossard volley over the bar from a corner, but the referee had already blown his whistle because a Porto player fell over.

A Porto player fell over. And a Porto player fell over. And a Porto player fell over. And a Porto player fell over. And a Porto player fell over. And a Porto player fell over. And a Porto player fell over. And a Porto player fell over. And a Porto player fell over. And a Porto player fell over.

Again. And again. And again. Which isn’t to make any excuse for our performance, but it reached absurd levels. The ref stopped a corner being taken when a Porto player raked his own goalkeeper who, of course, fell over. There was one deep in their half when an Arsenal player simply stood behind a Porto player who just fell over and handled the ball. Free kick Porto. Porto got a free kick when one of their players almost pulled Kiwior’s shirt off, but fell over. So the ref gave it his way. Mad.

That is as much on the official as it is anyone else, but this game had the lowest ball-in-play time of any Champions League game this season, and it was very clearly a tactic from Porto. It worked. It wasn’t so much part of why we lacked fluency, more that any chance to hurt the opposition in transition was snuffed out by a cheap dive and a referee who was more than willing to give a free kick for nothing.

But, it was always thus really – that continental ‘know-how’. Welcome back to the big time, Arsenal. It’s something we’re going to have to deal with in Europe, not just from Porto either, and we need to learn from it quickly. Which brings me back to the top. This is a game which should have finished 0-0, but it didn’t and we now have a challenge on our hands for the second leg. I think it’s one we’re capable of dealing with, especially at home, but until our record in Europe improves, you can understand why people will have a measure of anxiety about it.

Final thought: just because you don’t deserve to win, doesn’t mean you deserve to lose. There is a middle ground, and that’s where I am. We shot ourselves in the foot late on, but overall we should have come away from there with a draw. We didn’t, that’s our own fault, but this is just half-time, and there’s a chance to put things right in a few weeks time.

Ok, let’s leave it there for now. We will have a post-game Arsecast for you a bit later on this morning, so keep an eye out for that.

Until then.

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