By Randy Osae
Arsenal’s tilt in the Champions League’s group stages ended in dismay as Porto handed them their first defeat in Europe this season and bitterly snatched their summit status.
The bow means Arsenal will be drawn against a group winner in the round of 16 – for a second year in a row. The Gunners had been familiar top dogs of Group G since September, but on the evidence of tonight’s performance, there is no denial that Porto deserved to deprive them of that luxury when it mattered the most.
Arsene Wenger’s starters were a mixture of youth and experience. Stand-in captain Almunia, Djourou, Song and Denislon were the only men kept from the line-up against Wigan. The rest were a string of amends which welcomed Gallas, Silvestre, Ramsey, Diaby, Bendtner, Vela and the demoralized Eboue.
The Ivorian did receive a warmer reception from the traveling Arsenal fans at the Stadium of Dragon.
A traditional Arsenal start saw them make advertisement of their one touch and passing football. That was just about it. The Gunners, as usual, looked shy in front of goal.
Ramsey did force Helton to make quick save, but it was Porto who tested more in attack.
Soon, the hosts began to own the challenge as numerous chances fell to them.
On the half-hour mark, Lopez unleashed a thunderous shot straight at Manuel Almunia after Gallas had slipped in his mount. And another edgy effort came from Raul Meireles who stroke just wide from about 25-yards out.
Porto’s relentless pressure eventually turned into goal. Jorge Rolando swung in a corner and Bruno Alves was left unmarked to head home past Almunia. The Gunners looked shattered by that concession, and recovering would be tough.
Eight minutes after the break, Porto wrapped up their stroll. Fernando sent in a long pass with Eboue playing Lisandro Lopez onside. The Argentine took possession and showed no mercy to fire into the top corner of the net.
Arsenal were now crawling in tatters as ball-giveaways became customary. With a hefty 30 minutes ahead, Ramsey and Diaby were sacrificed for Gibbs and Randall.
But to be fair, the young duo could change little though, as Porto remained assertive.
Cristian Rodriguez twice went close to making it a real whipping on Arsenal, but he shot just wide from the left and later repeated a similar trick from the opposite angle.
And it did take quite a while for Arsenal’s horrible day to finally come to a close.
With the likes of Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Lyon all finishing their groups in identical positions as Wenger’s men, they might have avoided some of the tough fists.
But most of them will await a potential meeting with Arsenal as the draw for the round of 16 takes place in Nyon on December 19.