Before I get too carried away on Arsenal's thumping of Porto last night, I will begin with my usual caveat, namely that I don't think I have seen Arsenal play a team as bad as Porto in the last 16 of the Champions League for some time. Possibly ever. Its well known that Porto struggle away from home, but if it was not for some comical goalkeeping in the first leg by Fabianski, this tie could have been wrapped up in Portugal. Right then, thats done. So lets get excited.
The game simply could not have gone better for Arsenal. Before the kick-off I was slightly nervous about the absence of Walcott and Eboue from the starting-line up, having watched that combination thrash up the right side against Sunderland and Burnley in recent weeks, but early nerves on the pitch (particularly from Campbell) were quickly settled when Nikki B scored with his first chance of the game, after Nasri had played a lovely ball through for Arshavin to run on to. The Porto keeper and right back then made a balls-up of clearing up and the ball fell nicely to Nikki, who did the necessary in calm fashion. Lovely start.
The midfield of Song, Diaby and Nasri was ticking along quite nicely and were making Porto look very average indeed. Rosicky was slightly quiet on the right side and Arshavin played in fits and starts on the left. But my goodness, when Arshavin gets the bit between his teeth and dribbles at a defender, he is simply awesome. Arsenal's second goal came from some more woeful defending from Porto, when they cleared their lines badly and the ball came to Arshavin in midfield.
The little Russian has a wonderful habit of running with his back almost half bent forwards with the ball at his feet in perfect balance, and with two good feet you have almost no idea which way he will go. Some quick feet and a dash for the line drew both centre backs out of position, leaving a cut-back to the six yard line for Bendtner to tap-in. That was 2-0 and Arsenal in pole position.
Chances came and went in the first half, and to be fair to Porto, they gave it a shot. The game was finely poised at that stage and had it gone to 2-1, then Porto were right back in it. Arsenal kept plugging away but there was a sense at half time that there was more to come in this. The ref was also demonstrating a love for his cards and this had dodgy penalty written all over it.
Thankfully, the fates were with us. Porto gave it their best shot at the start of the second half and Almunia made a smart save from a Porto cut-back, I think to Falcao. A corner a few minutes later was then well headed towards our post only for Nasri to block it on the line. For all the headlines this morning, lets not forget those tense periods.
Nasri was playing well in midfield and there was little sense that we were really missing Fabregas. And that is a massive, massive complement to what Nasri was doing. The ball then fell to him wide right after about 60 mins, a position where he has often played this season but done little to tear into defenders, but instead of passing back to Sagna, little Samir took the Porto defence on and slalomed through them before burying it beautifully past the hapless Helton in goal.
It was a real beauty and at 3-0 down, Porto basically gave up the ghost. However, there was plenty of time for a superb cameo show from Eboue and Walcott, who both came on as subs. Eboue scored a blinder break-away goal from a Porto corner after more excellent work from Arshavin. And the fifth came in extra time as Eboue again looked to take the Porto defence on and was dragged down (just) inside the box, giving Nikki the hat-trick from the spot.
Wow, so there it is, a 5-0 drubbing and Arsenal cruise through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. For me, the best part of the performance was the large number of good performances from the team. Nikky B scored a hat-trick and amazingly was nowhere near being the man of the match. Arshavin made two goals and had a hand in two more. Eboue came on and simply blistered Porto for the last 25 mins. The defence was very solid - Tommy V was superb and after a nervous start, Sol Campbell was a rock in the second half. A fucking enormous rock that made Hulk look like a midget. Song and Diaby did well in midfield, as did Sagna and Clichy.
But as we filed out of the stadium my main thought was how well Nasri did in that central role, and just how many good players Arsenal have who could play there. Cesc is having a sensational season and its his position, but it was amazing to see Nasri step into those boots so easily. Personally, I don't see any point in risking Cesc against Hull unless necessary, and with Nasri stepping up to the plate, we frankly can feel quite relaxed about that.
If Arsenal can keep this run going, and get a good draw in the quarter-finals, then we knows what might happen.....