Friday, May 24, 2024

Porto preview: Arsenal out to make their mark in Europe again

Arsenal are in Champions League action this evening, taking on Porto away in the first leg of our Round of 16 tie.

There’s not a lot of team news to report. We’re still without Gabriel Jesus, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Oleksandr Zinchenko. And despite the fact Thomas Partey and Fabio Vieira appeared for training yesterday, it’s believed only the latter travelled. Having not played since surgery in November, the best he can provide is an option from the bench. Mikel Arteta was asked about him on his return to his former club, and said:

I’m really happy with him but sad at the same time because it’s been a tough period for him, especially with the last injury, because he had some momentum and had put some performances together before he got injured. That broke up his rhythm again like last season, but he is an enormous talent and we’re going to get the best out of him.

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that despite seeing flashes of that talent, Vieira still has a lot to prove at Arsenal. But at 23, he has time to do that, and hopefully he can start to do it in what’s left of this season. Will it be tonight? I hope we can get the job done without him, to be honest, and I think we’re likely to see an unchanged side again.

Realistically, the only possible change I can see is Jorginho coming into midfield, but while I can see how his experience might be useful on an occasion like this, it would mean one of Kai Havertz, Leandro Trossard or Gabriel Martinelli would have to miss out. Assuming there was no physical reason to do that, I’d be loath to be without any of them tonight. I’ve written a bit about how effective that big man, small man front two hybrid has worked, and there’s something in my gut about Martinelli and the Champions League this season. With Porto set to field veteran Pepe, now 40 years old, at centre-half, I want the Brazilian running at him and causing him problems.

As for Porto, they shouldn’t be underestimated at all. They’ve only lost twice at home this season, one of those games was against Barcelona, and they gave as good as they got home and away in the group stages against the Catalans. I suspect they’ll fancy their chances at home more than for the away leg, so they’ll probably have a go tonight, and have some dangerous players up front who can cause us problems. Can we then exploit the space they might leave?

It’s the first time in seven years we’ve been at this stage of the competition, and beyond the result tonight, there’s real importance of doing ourselves justice in Europe. It was put to Arteta that our difficulties in previous years might be a bit of a cloud, but he said:

What happened in the past is irrelevant. The challenge and ambition that we have now to go through and deserve to be through.

I agree with that, I have to say. It can certainly be used as motivation to do better this time around, but it has no real bearing on anything related to this game. Nevertheless, as a way of demonstrating the quality and progress made by this team and this manager, showing up in the biggest European competition is important. Arteta says:

95 per cent of the players have not played in this competition. They have never played in the last 16, I haven’t, but we have so much enthusiasm and energy as well, and willingness with a point to prove that we are good enough and want to be there. That’s our desire and the passion with which we’re going to play the game tomorrow.

This is a team in good form, especially away from home, looking to make their mark in Europe and continue the momentum ahead of big Premier League game this weekend. It’s also an occasion they should relish, and fingers crossed we get a performance to match that later on.

As ever, you can join us for live blog coverage later on, plus all of the post-game stuff on Arseblog News. For now, I’ll leave you with a preview podcast over on Patreon.

Catch you later!

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