Four things we learnt as Arsenal lose to FC Porto late on
PORTO, PORTUGAL - FEBRUARY 21: Bukayo Saka of Arsenal was crushed after been defeated by FC Porto during the UEFA Champions League 2023/24 round of 16 first leg match between FC Porto and Arsenal FC at Estadio do Dragão on February 21, 2024 in Porto, Portugal. (Photo by Daniel Castro/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

Arsenal have it all to do in the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie after FC Porto won late on at the Estadio do Dragao on Wednesday. 

The Gunners looked in complete control for large parts of the game, commanding 62% of possession. 

However, in the last minute of play, Brazilian winger Galeno produced a moment of magic with a stunning last gasp strike to give Porto the upper hand in the tie.

Speaking at full time, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta insisted that his side “will learn” from the defeat.

The Gunners last qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League seven years ago, and that lack of experience cost them in the final minutes of the match on Wednesday.

Here are four things we learnt from Arsenal’s 1-0 loss to the Dragoes.

  • Smart Set-up

Arsenal looked in cruise control for 93 minutes against Porto, and were set-up in a way to frustrate and provoke the Portuguese side. 

This was most telling from corners, with Arsenal players being overly physical and crowding FC Porto shot stopper Diogo Costa.

On numerous occasions Dutch referee Serdar Gozubuyuk had to pause play in order to install some form of order inside the Potro six-yard box.

Looking at how the Gunners normally set-up for corners in the Premier League, it was clear to see that set-piece coach Nicolas Jover had changed his game plan specially for this game. 

It was not just set pieces that Arsenal looked to frustrate FC Porto from.

The North Londoners committed 22 fouls on Wednesday, over double the amount that they tend to normally commit in the Premier League. 

In fact, the game between Porto and Arsenal saw a total of 36 fouls committed, the highest amount in any Champions League game this season.

The downside to the Gunners’ gameplan though was their attacking output, with their frontline managing just seven attempts at goal, none of which were on target. 

It was clear to see that Arsenal were not set-up to go and win this game by four or five goals, but had they held out and took a draw back to the Emirates Stadium, it would have been an extremely successful night for Arteta & Co. 

It will be interesting to see how Arsenal react to this result, not only in the return leg, but also on Saturday when they take on Newcastle United in the Premier League.

  • Lack of Experience?

Arsenal’s last venture in the knockout rounds of the Champions League was back in 2017.

Then led by legendary manager Arsene Wenger, the Gunners were thrashed 10-2 on aggregate by German side Bayern Munich

Seven years on and Arsenal are back where they belong.

In the group stages Arteta’s men finished in top spot comfortably, however the signs of inexperience within their squad did begin to show. 

The Gunners near perfect run was thwarted by French outfit RC Lens, who stunned Arsenal with a 2-1 win in gameweek two.

Against Porto that same inexperience came back to haunt them once again. 

Looking at the how Arsenal lined up, a number of players with Champions League experience did feature.

Jorginho and Kai Havertz both won the competition during their time at Chelsea, with Havertz bagging the winning goal in the final against Manchester City at the Estadio do Dragao back in 2021.

Captain Martin Odegaard featured twice in the competition for Real Madrid in 2020/21, and defender Gabriel Magalhaes played every minute of LOSC Lille’s campaign in 2019/20.

Other than that Arsenal’s line-up consisted of players who are currently in their maiden Champions League campaign. 

Whilst this should not be a huge factor in performance, it can help to have a level of experience in the competition in order to see games out and grind out results.

Arsenal had largely put in a professional and well executed performance against Porto, but they switched off with seconds to go and were punished for it. 

This youthful Arsenal team will learn from their Porto heartbreak, but they certainly have an uphill battle on their hands against a solid opposition in the second leg.

  • FC Porto Counterattack

Despite having just 38% of the ball throughout the game, FC Porto played brilliantly. 

Sergio Conceicao’s men kept a clean sheet against an Arsenal side who have scored 11 goals in their last two games, and made themselves extremely hard to breakdown.

Otavio and Pepe were both excellent at the heart of the FC Porto defence, whilst left back Wendell did superbly to keep Bukayo Saka quiet. 

Going forward the hosts were just as good and looked dangerous on the counterattack. 

Porto were happy to let Arsenal have the ball and patiently waited for an opportunity to spring on them. 

They had a couple of good chances and should have been one up inside the first 20 minutes when Galeno struck the left post from point-blank range, before directing the rebound inches past the right post.

With the second leg just three weeks away, do not be surprised to see FC Porto set up in a similar way at the Emirates Stadium and progress to the quarter-finals. 

  • 'It's Only Half-Time

Speaking to the media after the game, Arteta was full of optimism ahead of the second leg. 

He said: “Now it’s clear, it’s half-time.

“If you want to be in the quarter-finals, you have to beat your opponent, that’s clear.

“That will be the purpose and the plan with all our supporters together to do it.”

The message is clear from the Arsenal boss – all is not lost yet.

The Gunners have a tricky task ahead of them if they are to proceed in the Champions League, but it seems as though the manager and the players are confident they can do it. 

Arsenal and Porto face off again in the second leg on March 12th at the Emirates Stadium.

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