Champions League - Arsenal errors hand Porto win

Eurosport - Wed, 17 Feb 22:37:00 2010

Arsenal claimed an away goal but should have won as bad mistakes gifted Porto two goals in a 2-1 defeat for the Gunners in their Champions League last-16 first leg at Estadio do Dragao.

FOOTBALL Champions League Porto celebrate Varela's goal against Arsenal in their Champions League last 16 first leg at the Estadio do Dragao - 0

A goalkeeping howler from reserve keeper Lukasz Fabianski handed the hosts an early opener and, after Sol Campbell equalised following over three years away from the Champions League, Fabianski had his part in the second when he picked up Campbell's back-pass and - along with his team-mates - turned his back on a quickly-taken free-kick, allowing Falcao to roll the ball into an empty net.

Arsenal had a penalty appeal rejected when Tomas Rosicky was brought down in the box by Alvaro Pereira while Cesc Fabregas was denied an injury-time equaliser by a superb Rolando challenge.

But, despite playing some good football, the North London side only have themselves to blame for defeat after two mistakes that skipper Fabregas called "schoolboy" afterwards.

The Gunners will take heart from claiming a vital away goal as they should have Manuel Almunia, William Gallas, Andrei Arshavin and Alexandre Song back from injury in time for the second leg in three weeks.

A frantic start initially saw Porto threaten to carve Arsenal apart.

In the second minute Campbell denied Hulk a clear run on goal with a superb slide tackle, while Thomas Vermaelen did well to block Ruben Micael as he prepared to fire home the loose ball.

Seconds later Hulk fired just wide of the far post with his first competitive kick of a ball since copping an indefinite domestic ban in December for his part in a post-match brawl against Benfica that saw a steward hospitalised with a head injury.

Arsenal quickly woke up and Porto needed a super saving challenge from Bruno Alves to deny Fabregas as the visitors slipped into their free-flowing passing groove.

The hosts took an 11th-minute lead though, thanks to the first dreadful error by Fabianski.

Winger Silvestre Varela made a surging run down the right but his low cross was poor, straight at the Polish shot-stopper. Fabianski, standing in after Almunia was ruled out on the eve of the clash, palmed the weak delivery into his own net.

It was a stomach-churning mistake but Arsenal responded well, Nicklas Bendtner firing a shot inches wide via a wicked deflection.

From the resultant corner they levelled. The ball came off the side of Vermaelen's head and fell to Rosicky on the right, who headed across goal for Campbell to fly in and power his header into the top right for 1-1 on 18 minutes.

The last time Campbell scored in the Champions League was the last time he played in the competition - Arsenal's 2006 final defeat to Barcelona.

Three minutes later Helton made a smart stop from Rosicky's fizzing shot and down the other end Fabianski made a positive contribution by tipping away Micael's ferocious drive.

Porto's Brazilian keeper pulled off another good save, tipping Bendtner's flicked header over the bar, and 1-1 was fair going into half-time.

Arsenal started the second half the better side, passing well and keeping a frustrated Porto on the back foot.

They could have had a penalty when Rosicky was brought down by a clumsy tackle from Alvaro but seconds later a moment of madness from Fabianski gifted the hosts the lead once more.

This time Campbell was almost as culpable as his keeper, playing a back-pass that could have been avoided but that Fabianski should not have picked up.

One can only assume that he again lost concentration and failed to see Campbell's touch: but what followed was inexcusable.

After arguing his case, Fabianski was ordered to hand the ball to Micael by referee Martin Hansson, the official who allowed Thierry Henry's handball against Ireland to go unpunished in France's World Cup qualifying play-off last year.

Micael glanced at Hansson and quickly slipped the ball to Colombian Falcao, who rolled it into a net that was totally unguarded. Fabianski had turned his back as he walked back to the goal-line, with Campbell and Vermaelen similarly negligent of their defensive duties and slow to react as Porto exploited their hesitance.

Afterwards Arsene Wenger called the goal "unfortunate", saying that the backpass was accidental and questioning the referee's decision to allow a quickly-taken free-kick from such close range, saying his defence would never have enough time to organise in such a situation.

At the time the Frenchman protested, even demanding an audience with Hansson, who explained both decisions as the goal stood.

The Gunners battled gamely, dominating possession but never truly testing Helton as they lacked a cutting edge both in terms of striking the ball and playing the final pass.

Porto were happy to defend in numbers and break the play up with niggly fouls, Fabregas in particular targeted by several late challenges as he struggled to exert an influence on the game, one of which saw Jorge Fucile booked.

Hulk forced a decent save from Fabianski after a brilliant piece of skill to flick the ball over Campbell, while in injury-time Portugal centre-half Rolando denied Fabregas a certain goal when he slid across the Spaniard prepared to slam home substitute Emmanuel Ebouels low cross from close range.

Arsenal bossed possession towards the end but Helton barely hit the turf as Porto closed out a win that leaves it all to play for in the second leg at the Emirates on March 9.

Reda Maher / Eurosport

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