Porto 2 Arsenal 1
Poor. Very, very poor.
Porto are a bit like Aston Villa: nothing special but a solid side who will always do reasonably well in the Champions League without winning it (unless they have an inspirational manager and help from the referees). They've got a big man and a little man up front and two reasonably talented wingers. In fact, they're very like Aston Villa.
So one would hope we would have learnt our lesson from Villa and told our full-backs to sit back and try and attack through the middle. Alas.
The fact we managed to score a goal disguises nothing: that was a goal which came outside of the tactical framework of the match; it came from a corner and the manager probably didn't like it as footballistically it was ugly.
But in general, the young team which is supposed to be learning does not learn: it's true that the first goal came from an unforgivable mistake by Fabianski and to blame it on Clichy would be disingenuous: but if we know that our goalkeeper is dodgy, why make him face extra chances? The problem, is that Gael Clichy wants to play far too high up the pitch.
One of the main reasons we were knocked out of the Champions League last year was because Gibbs was out of position so he slipped. When will this team start to learn its lessons?
It is, in short, bereft of footballing intelligence, Fabregas aside. Sure, as Gunnerblog points out, the ref got in the way of Sol. But as I mentioned in my Audioboo, a sensible keeper would have kicked the ball away: sure, he would have taken a booking but I've never seen a keeper get sent off for two bookable offences. Now, instead of 1-1 which would have been a positive result, it's going to be an incredibly tense second leg. At risk of stating the obvious, if Porto score once we have to score twice just to force extra time.
In the past, I would happily have blamed the referee. But the reality is that he let quite a lot go for both team. He was just poor, period. We probably should have had a penalty, but the back-pass goal contained exactly the sort of quick thinking which this Arsenal side is lacking. He probably should have got his cards out for one or two fouls but if we had got Bendtner involved, the ref would not be the post-match topic of conversation.
But, whichever way you look, a serious analysis of goalkeeping at the club is in order. Gerry Peyton is in his seventh year at the club as goalkeeping coach, and it's fair to say he's not really earning his corn.
Fabianski was a good shot-stopper when he came to the club and that hasn't changed. Almunia being crap at crosses is hardly great evidence of a flaw in the system because he's generally been crap this season.
However, last year, even when he was making good saves, he still wasn't great at crosses. The same must be said for Fabianski and I can recall Mannone dropping a couple of balls in his short time between the sticks.
Arsenal is definitely run as a top-down football club, and the impression which comes out of the club, is that Wenger doesn't believe in crosses as a weapon, either in defence or in attack. How often do we score from a corner? Last night was so momentous because it does not happen very often. Look at how much the press wrote about Diaby's goal last week: because it was completely out of character for the club.
If I was having a punt, I'd back us to go through to the next round. But that doesn't disguise the fact that our form is awful and far too many players are not nearly good enough. Andrey Arshavin said we needed to win all 12 games in order to win the League. On this showing, fat chance.
Keep the faith,