Archive for March 10th, 2010

Porto powerless against Arsenal’s free-form brilliance

40 comments March 10th, 2010

Nasri dances past the Porto defenders

Arsenal 5 – 0 Porto (Bendtner 10, 25, 90 (pen), Nasri 63, Eboue 66)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Take the conductor out of the orchestra and they start playing jazz. In the absence of Cesc Fabregas, many expected Arsenal to struggle for fluency. Instead, they were liberated, with Samir Nasri chief among the unexpected soloists.

Nasri’s goal was one of improvisational brilliance, straddling the dichotomy of timing and spontaneity. It arrived at a crucial moment. The game was poised at 2-0, the tie at 3-2, and Porto’s influence was increasing. And yet it was a goal born out of pure impulse. Arsene Wenger spends hours on the training ground forcing his players to play small-sided games in increasingly tight spaces, infusing them with the ability to do just what Nasri did: feint one way, jink the other, and emerge the other side of three perplexed defenders to bury the ball beyond a wide-eyed Helton.

The look etched across across the defenders’ faces encompassed both amazement and heartache: Arsenal’s third goal would win the game as well as the plaudits.

We had started at some pace, with Andrey Arshavin at his impish best. You know the diminutive Russian is on form when he starts attempting headers – his first produced a reflex save from Helton; his second our opening goal. Retreating from an offside position, he nodded the ball back to Nasri before chasing the Frenchman’s slide-rule pass. A lungeing Fucile diverted the ball away from Arshavin but in to the path of Nicklas Bendtner. The Dane buried the chance with a confidence ill-suited to a man who missed a hatful of misses at the weekend. Some accuse him of arrogance, but that same self-assuredness is what allowed him to return form so spectacularly last night.

Arshavin created our second, too. Receiving the ball outside the area, he buzzed past three defenders before firing a ball across goal that Bendtner couldn’t help but turn in to an empty net. I’m not sure I’ve seen a player so adept at beating a man as Arshavin. It’s a combination of factors: pace, technique, a willingness to embrace physical contact and that ever-so-low centre of gravity. There was the odd bum note (a skied chance to add a third springs to mind), but when Arshavin is enjoying himself he is enthralling.

Half-time interrupted our flow, and Porto took advantage, with Falcao offering a considerable threat against the all-action Vermaelen and a creaking but still talismanic Sol Campbell. And then Nasri produced ‘That goal’.

If Nasri’s strike was the one that killed the contest, there was still time for a couple of jubilant encores. First Arshavin broke from a corner, carrying the ball deep in to opposition territory before playing in substitute Emmanuel Eboue, who rounded Helton to tap home with his left-foot. Then, in stoppage time, Eboue was brought down to earn a penalty which Bendtner stroked home for his hatrick. A far cry from the weekend indeed.

I’m not sure how good Porto ever really were – we gifted them a victory in the first leg, and they were utterly outclassed this time round – but a 5-0 victory at any stage of the Champions League is a significant statement. We move on to the next round with confidence and conviction. Let’s see what the draw brings us.

Nursing his tweaky hamstring, Cesc Fabregas’ delight will have been tarred with a pang of jealousy. No-one would have enjoyed that victory more than him, and who knows what further havoc he might have wreaked on Porto’s defence. He’ll be itching to get back in time for Saturday to face his old foe Phil Brown – his chances are currently rated at “50%”, which coincidentally is the same % similarity between Phil Brown’s DNA and that of a tangerine.

For now, let’s applaud another outstanding result and a truly magnificent performance. Vermaelen, Song and Diaby provided a brassy robustness, Arshavin and Nasri wove melodic patterns, and Bendtner thumped home a percussive hatrick to silence his doubters. Play on, Arsenal.

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