Porto’s Galeno scores a spectacular goal to give them a slight lead against an unimpressive Arsenal team.

Porto’s Galeno scores a spectacular goal to give them a slight lead against an unimpressive Arsenal team.

During his time as a player, Mikel Arteta experienced constant disappointment in the Champions League last 16 while at Arsenal. He suffered five losses in a row during this stage, contributing to the team’s overall record of seven last-16 exits between 2011 and 2017.

At the time, that was the situation. However, in this current scenario, after a tense night in Porto against a team who has more recent experience in this type of situation, when the differences were incredibly small, Arteta experienced the same feeling of disappointment.

No decision has been made yet. Arsenal can draw inspiration from their previous victory in a Champions League knockout match. In 2010, they defeated Porto with a 5-0 win at the Emirates Stadium after initially trailing 2-1 in the first leg at this impressive arena.

This was another first-leg battle defined by defensive tightness, the closing of spaces, a lack of rhythm; the whistle never seemed to be far from the lips of the referee, Serdar Gozubuyuk. Porto defended deeply. They made life extremely difficult.

The players on both teams were extremely conscious of the potential consequences of making a mistake. They were cautious from the very beginning for this reason. Arsenal would have been satisfied with a tie before the game, and this feeling intensified as time passed.

However, in the final moments of stoppage time, Arteta’s squad was thrown off balance, resulting in jubilant celebrations from the Porto bench, as substitutes and staff rushed onto the field; the crowd erupted in excitement. Arsenal was unable to successfully clear the ball twice, with Gabriel Martinelli making a direct pass to Otavio, who then passed it back to Galeno positioned 25 yards away from the center on the left side.

The threat was not explicitly evident. However, as Declan Rice retreated, the Porto winger moved inward and executed a curled shot towards the far top corner. As David Raya missed the ball completely, Porto gained momentum.

Arsenal’s Kai Havertz’s looks dismayed after Galeno’s winnerView image in fullscreen

This was Arteta’s initial experience as a manager in a Champions League elimination match, and it was vastly different from how his team effortlessly advanced through the group stage after a six-year absence from the tournament. Despite having possession of the ball for most of the game, Arsenal failed to create many scoring opportunities and lacked the energy and precision necessary to break through their opponents’ defense.

Arsenal did not have any significant opportunities during open play, relying solely on set pieces delivered by Rice for any potential danger. Gabriel’s header at the beginning of stoppage time was their best attempt but it missed the mark. The team lacked aggression and ultimately suffered consequences for not handling the final minute effectively.

Porto played with a 4-5-1 formation when defending, but Francisco Conceição, the son of manager Sergio, and Galeno were swift in moving up the sides when they had possession. Eduardo Pepê also contributed on the right side of the midfield and all three players were a threat to the opposing team.

The strategy was to move swiftly – the home team did not have to hold onto the ball – and they showed glimpses of success in a tense first half with only one true opportunity. It was a remarkable chance, as the stadium announcer was so certain that Galeno had scored that he started playing celebratory music before quickly pausing it.

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Galeno missed the first shot after receiving a pass from Conceição on the right side at the 22-minute mark. The ball hit the far post and bounced back to him, giving him another chance to score. He struck the ball just inches past the opposite post. The defenders of Arsenal appeared to be frozen in shock. How did the ball not go into the net?

It was crucial for Arsenal to avoid any careless mistakes in the beginning; their goal was to not give the crowd any reason to get fired up. However, Rice’s yellow card after only 67 seconds was quite concerning. He was never going to reach Galeno in time and ended up fouling him while trying to stretch for the ball. Rice was now walking on a tightrope.

Before the break, Arsenal’s strategy mainly revolved around taking corners, making them easy to anticipate. It seemed like Rice deliberately took a long time to take them, possibly in an effort to cause confusion and disorder in the six-yard box. Was this a tactic to engage in physical duels, or simply a reflection of Arsenal’s aimlessness? They were unable to capitalize on these opportunities, with William Saliba heading the best chance off target after a physical battle.

The speed at which Arsenal plays in the first half has been a notable aspect of their performance in the Champions League. Out of the 16 goals they have scored, 12 have been before half-time, making them the top scoring team in the competition. However, in this particular game, their opponents Porto proved to be more cunning. Although they are currently seven points behind in the domestic league, and could potentially be ten points behind if Sporting wins a postponed game, Porto has consistently made it to the last 16 of Europe’s most prestigious tournament under Conceição’s leadership.

Arteta decided to keep the same starting lineup that had previously defeated West Ham and Burnley, with Kai Havertz on the left and Leandro Trossard as a false nine. However, their performance was lacking on this particular night.

Source: theguardian.com