Campbell relives final nightmare in giving Gunners lifeline
IT WAS four years since Sol Campbell had played in a Champions League match but, at times last night, he could have been forgiven for wondering if he was reliving a nightmare.
Not for his own performance, which was admirable in the context of a long absence from European competition, but rather in the way Arsenal succumbed.
Just like the final against Barcelona in 2006, Campbell was the sole Arsenal scorer in a 2-1 defeat. Just like in 2006, the worth of Campbell's goal was undermined by freak goalkeeping errors and a controversial refereeing decision.
On that night in Paris four years ago, a red card for Jens Lehmann signaled the beginning of the end of his Arsenal career and, ever since the German's departure, the goalkeeper position has provided Arsene Wenger with a headache.
Manuel Almunia lacks the presence of some of his illustrious predecessors while Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone remain unreliable understudies.
Wenger is convinced that Fabianski (24) will mature into one of the world's best goalkeepers, yet he retains a tendency to commit the most unexpected and debilitating of errors.
He apologised for his mistakes after the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea last year and had to shoulder further responsibility last night for Porto's two goals. First, he softly turned Silvestre Varela's tame near-post cross into his goal and then inexplicably handled a back-pass from Campbell.
The debate will rage over whether Porto's quickly taken free-kick and subsequent goal should have stood, but another pertinent question is whether Arsenal can win a trophy with their current crop of goalkeepers. A collective nervousness and vulnerability in defence continues to undermine them at key moments.
Despite his goal, Campbell also experienced his share of jittery moments. He was out-paced in the opening seconds by Falcao and gifted Hulk an excellent early opportunity with a mistimed clearance.
He did improve, however, as the match progressed and his sheer physical presence ensured that Arsenal carried a bigger threat at set-pieces.
In the absence of William Gallas, Campbell's performance was one positive for Wenger, who had doubted whether the former England defender really could return to his team even when he allowed him back to train with them. Campbell, though, treated his time back at London Colney as a trial and, after 60 consecutive days working purely on his fitness, he was invited to join in with the first-team squad.
"The fact that every single day he was there, was ready to work, I thought, 'Oh, he is still hungry'," said Wenger.
With Arsenal trailing, that hunger was certainly evident when Campbell powered into the Porto penalty area to secure a crucial away goal.
Amid the acrimony over their defeat, it might yet prove to be a telling lifeline. (© Daily Telegraph, London)