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Champions League Preview: Arsenal - Porto

Kick Off: Tuesday, March 9, 2010. 20:45 CET
Emirates Stadium, London


Mental Test


Arsenal host Porto on Tuesday night facing a deficit against the Dragoes that came about in a much-discussed manner. Not only did goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski have an evening to forget at the Estadio do Dragao, so too did referee Martin Hansson, whose handling of the Sol Campbell backpass incident that led to the second goal was the subject of intense scrutiny in the English press.

Gunners boss Arsene Wenger certainly wasn’t pleased about the manner in which his side’s defeat came about and has work to do to rectify the situation in the English capital this week.

The temperament of the Emirates club has been examined closely in the past, but this term Arsenal have largely managed to bounce back from significant set-backs. Despite losing to Chelsea and Manchester United twice apiece in the league, they’ve shown fine consistency against the weaker Premier League teams to stay firmly in the title race.

Such a mentality is needed come Tuesday if they are to move through to the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite competition. Boasting a perfect record on home soil in the Champions League this season, and having won each of those encounters by at least two goals, the English side remain favourites to progress, despite their handicap.


Gunned Down | Wenger's men have work to do

Travelling Into Charted Territory

Goals from Silvestre Varela, who had a little help from Fabianski, and the predatory Radamel Falcao have Porto in an advantageous position as they make their way to London, though Sol Campbell’s headed away goal does pose problems for Jesualdo Ferreira’s side, who will either have to score or keep a clean sheet to move through to the last eight.

Los Dragoes are by no means wandering into entirely uncharted territory. Over the course of the last decade, Porto have established themselves as one of the forerunners in the Champions League, winning the competition in 2004 under Jose Mourinho and frequently flirting with the quarter and semi-finals.

It took a scorching goal from Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo to eliminate the Azuis e Brancos’ dogged challenge from last season’s competition, and that was after picking up a hugely impressive 2-2 draw at Old Trafford. Ferreira won’t want to see his team stutter again, though they have already lost in London this season, succumbing 1-0 to Chelsea.

Domestically, Porto lie eight points shy of second placed Braga, whom they defeated 5-1 immediately after their previous encounter with Arsenal, but nine points better off than fourth placed Sporting, who defeated them 3-0 on February 28. Third placed in the Liga is effectively locked in, allowing the Portuguese to fully focus on the task at hand in London.

FORM GUIDE

Arsenal


WON 3-1 (h) Burnley (Premier League, March 6)

WON 3-1 (a) Stoke (Premier League, February 27)

WON 2-0 (h) Sunderland (Premier League, February 20)

LOST 2-1 (a) Porto (Champions League, February 17)

WON 1-0 (h) Liverpool (Premier League, February 10)

Porto

DREW 2-2 (h) Olhanense (Liga, March 6)

LOST 3-0 (a) Sporting CP (Liga, February 28)

WON 5-1 (h) Braga (Liga, February 21)

WON 2-0 (h) Arsenal (Champions League, February 17)

DREW 0-0 (a) Leixoes (Liga, February 13)

TEAM NEWS

Arsenal


Cesc Fabregas remains a significant worry for Arsene Wenger, though the Frenchman has indicated his willingness to take a risk on the Spaniard, who is both the club’s leading scorer and leading assist maker this season.

Sol Campbell will be available for the Gunners, but William Gallas faces another evening of frustration as he is consigned to the sidelines once more. Kieran Gibbs, Johan Djourou and Robin van Persie all remain long-term worries, as too does the unfortunate Aaron Ramsey.

Probable Starting XI:
Almunia; Sagna, Vermaelen, Campbell, Clichy; Diaby, Song, Fabregas; Nasri, Eduardo, Arshavin   

Porto

Several players were rested at the weekend in preparation for this encounter, including midfielder Raul Meireles and centre-back Rolando.  

Holding midfielder Fernando is out with an injury, while the travellers will also be shorn of Ernesto Farias and Orlando Sa. Diego Valeri is ineligible.

Probable Starting XI:
Helton; Fucile, Bruno Alves, Rolando, Pereira; Belluschi, Costa, Meireles; Hulk, Falcao, Mariano

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Arsenal


Whoever starts at the spearhead of Arsenal’s attack, whether he be Eduardo or Nicklas Bendtner, has a great job to perform. The Gunners remain somewhat erratic in front of goal, as they showed against Burnley at the weekend, when they missed a host of chances before burying the game late. Porto won’t be quite so forgiving, so a higher percentage of opportunities must be taken.

Porto

Courted by Real Madrid according to reports, now is the time for Rolando to show his big game credentials. The 24-year-old centre-back will doubtless come in for a stern examination on Tuesday evening and must be rock solid if the Portuguese outfit are to progress. Still maturing, this will be one of the Cape Verde-born player’s biggest games to date.

PREDICTION

Porto remain one of Europe’s grossly under-rated sides. They are quietly efficient and get on with their job on the continent with little fuss. Though they will again prove to be a fine match for Arsenal, the English side’s home advantage has been important for them on the continent and will again come into play. The Gunners should tip-toe through, though if anything inclement happens to Cesc, it could be a whole different story.

Arsenal 3-1 Porto (after extra-time)