Fabianski howlers gift Porto vital advantage
Published 18/02/2010 | 05:00
THERE are worse towns in which to drown your sorrows and Arsenal certainly had a few frustrations to blot out last night.
Arsene Wenger's side can overturn the deficit in the return leg, but bad memories will linger of Lukasz Fabianski's error-riddled goalkeeping and Porto's cynical targeting of Cesc Fabregas, who was shamefully given no protection by a poor referee.
Once again, a major game was undermined by Martin Hansson, the official who failed to notice the Hand of Gaul against Ireland. The Swede only took action against Porto's serial fouling of Fabregas with six minutes left, when he finally deigned to caution Fernando.
How Hansson failed to spot Ruben Micael's disgraceful clattering of Fabregas just before half-time defied belief. It almost sparked a riot.
High-profile games like this deserve better referees. And better 'keepers.
Fabianski was desperately at fault for Porto's first, fumbling in Silvestre Varela's cross. When Sol Campbell rolled back the years with a majestic header, Arsenal believed they could come away with a draw or more. Their Polish 'keeper then messed up again, picking up Campbell's back-pass, leading to Falcao's winner and sending the home crowd howling with laughter.
The Estadio do Dragao had been far from full, although the spaces in the away section were explained by a group of Arsenal fans booking their Gatwick-Oporto flights for this Friday and for Oporto-Gatwick on Tuesday.
Even more damaging blunders scarred Arsenal's trip. Fabianski's goalmouth had come under concerted pressure. Falcao broke through until stopped brilliantly by Campbell, then Hulk shot wide. Porto's pressure gained tangible reward. When Varela ghosted past Gael Clichy with ease, Arsenal's defence opened up.
Drilling the ball in low and hard, Varela's effort was more cross than shot and should have been comfortably collected by Fabianski. What happened next will haunt the Pole's dreams. As he bent down to gather the ball, Fabianski inexplicably helped it over the line.
Fabianski needs intensive coaching on dealing with balls delivered from the wide pastures. Deputising for the injured Manuel Almunia, who is no Iker Casillas, Fabianski is a useful shot-stopper, notably from Micael. Arsenal were level by then, Wenger's side playing with determination and swift movement.
When Tomas Rosicky flicked on Samir Nasri's 18th-minute corner, the unmarked Campbell powered in a headed equaliser.
What a remarkable story. Struggling in League Two a few months back, Campbell has now scored in his last two Champions League games -- 45 months apart, this and the 2006 final in Paris.
At 35, the centre-half looked occasionally vulnerable to real pace, but Porto failed to isolate him in the first half. Campbell's positional sense remains good, his timing in the tackle still impressive. It is bizarre to think that Morecambe gave him the runaround recently.
Inspired by Campbell, and driven on by Fabregas, assuming an even more attacking station then usual, Arsenal kept raiding forward. Rosicky and Fabregas linked up again and Helton needed all his athleticism to keep out Rosicky's shot. The Brazilian keeper then excelled himself by tipping over Nicklas Bendtner's header from a Fabregas free-kick.
Arsenal's captain was beginning to impose his immense talent on the game, and Porto resorted to brutal tactics to stop him. First Fernando chopped Fabregas down. Then Micael came through late and hard, poleaxing the Spaniard. Cynical. Dangerous. Unpunished.
As Fabregas lay on the floor, counting his limbs and his lucky stars that none were broken, Hansson signalled for half-time.
Arsenal were livid with Micael, and soon players were milling and pushing as they moved like a rolling maul towards the tunnel. Hansson looked surprised by the ruck, little realising that his weak officiating had fuelled Arsenal's anger.
He showed no leniency when Rosicky went down under a challenge in the box. The official then incensed Wenger in the wake of Fabianski inexplicably picking up Campbell's 51st-minute backpass.
As Arsenal moaned, Porto took the indirect free-kick quickly as Hansson had not indicated a 'ceremonial' free-kick (which meant the free-kick could be taken only when he blew). Raul Meireles nudged the ball to Falcao, who placed it firmly past Fabianski. Again, the Pole was slow to react to the obvious danger.
Wenger went into meltdown and vented his frustration at Hansson, who had ambled over to the touchline. Wenger felt Hansson had blocked off Campbell from intervening, although nothing could excuse Fabianski's error. Commendably, Arsenal refused to sulk, and were soon foraging upfield again.
Rosicky was withdrawn, Wenger turning to Theo Walcott. The England winger immediately had an impact, albeit defensively, racing back to dispossess Micael.
As Porto chased a third, Campbell did superbly to thwart the tricky Varela and then clear up when Abou Diaby failed to clear. With a minute remaining, Arsenal sprung a quick-fire attack.
Walcott switched to the left and sped forward but Porto stood firm. The tie is evenly poised but Arsenal must address their goalkeeping flaws. (© Daily Telegraph, London)