Date: 30th September 2008 at 1:41am
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FC Porto travel to the Emirates today to take on a stunned Arsenal in the group stages of the Champions League. This will be a statement game for the Gunners in more ways than one, as they not only need to bounce back from the shocking result to Hull City on Saturday but Arsenal cannot afford to fall anymore off the pace in Group G. If Arsenal fails to win today then it will be a crippling result in their quest for Champions League knockout round qualification.

Much has been made of Arsenals result over the weekend and rightly so. During several moments during the game, I could have sworn that I was experiencing déjà vu of the Fulham game from earlier in the year. Without taking anything away from Hull, who played brilliantly, Arsenal was abysmal. Apart from Almunia, I do not think one player can honestly say he produced a decent performance. If Arsenal can`t show anymore hunger then I saw on Saturday, I`m afraid that Porto will pull a Hull on us.

Vital Quotes:

Arsene made it clear after the weekends match that we would see changes to the team for Wednesday. ‘There were enough ingredients to make me physically sick,’ he is quoted in The Sun.

‘What we delivered was not good enough and we all know that. There will certainly be changes for Tuesday.

Shortly after that Wenger went into mini-damage control. ‘Sometimes you make changes because you consider your team and the balance in the other team,’ Wenger told Sky Sports News on Monday.

‘If a player does not play tomorrow it does not mean they are punished. It is rotation. Players cannot play every single game.

‘We are obviously really disappointed with our result against Hull. But I have sat on the bench long enough to know that if you play this game 100 times you would lose one time.’

FC Porto coach, Jesualdo Ferreira, does not care too much about Arsenal`s result against Hull. ‘I don’t believe the Hull game will be of influence. These are two completely separate matches,’ said Ferreira. ‘In the Champions League teams always play differently. Arsenal use different tactics to the ones they use in the Premier League.

‘Arsenal losing at the weekend will not have an effect on Tuesday night.If Arsenal conceded a goal from the set-piece against Hull it doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t suddenly become something we look at.’

Though he is worried about how his squad has changed since these two teams met two years ago. ‘There have been many changes since then. Arsenal have big players still but only Thierry Henry is missing who was there,’ he continued.

‘Most of their players are bigger, older, better and more experienced. Porto weren’t able to keep up with Arsenal in that game but we were able to qualify from the group.

‘Now we have different players, some left and some have come. At the moment the only thing we can say is that Arsenal have more experience and that could affect the outcome.’

Arsenal Team News:

I’m really not sure what team to expect for this game. My gut tells me that Arsene will bench a few players for their performance over the weekend but I’m not sure which ones will be punished. My best guess is that it will be a mixture of starters and experienced reserves.

Good news for Arsenal is that summer signing Samir Nasri is back in contention for a starting place. He will either replace Eboue or Theo if he is indeed fit to start. I’m afraid the young Englishman will probably be the one to see the axe. Nasri will be looking to grab his third goal in this short campaign for the Gunners. Alex Song is the only one who was available for the Hull game that will not be ready for this game. Diaby, Rosicky, Eduardo, and Bischoff are all still out.

Possible Starting XI: Almunia, Sagna, Djourou, Toure, Clichy, Eboue, Denilson, Cesc, Nasri, Adebayor, Bendtner

Player to watch: Cesc Fabregas

Cesc really needs to step up his game. The lack of a preseason for Arsenal is all too evident in the young Spaniard’s play. This team needs Cesc to be firing on all cylinders to have any chance of winning this competition. Fabregas’ uncharacteristically poor play affects everyone around him, especially Adebayor who must have Cesc’s defense splitting through balls to survive.

FC Porto Team News:

FC Porto is lucky to even be involved in this year`s Champions League, as they were heavily involved in Portugal’s mini Calciopoli over the summer. Even though they were found guilty, the club was only deducted 6 points so they comfortably retained their Portuguese Liga crown.

Back to this game, Porto`s main playmaker Lucho Gonzalez is back in the squad after missing Porto`s 2-0 win over Pacos Ferreira on Friday.

Possible starting XI: Helton, Sapunaru, Bruno Alves, Rolando, Fucile, Tomás Costa, Raul Meireles, Lucho, Tarik, Lisandro, Rodriguez

Player to watch: Lucho Gonzalez

This twenty seven year old Argentine has taken the reigns of creative play maker for Porto after Ricardo Quaresma`s departure to Mourinho`s Inter Milan. He has been with the club since `05 and has scored 24 goals 88 league appearances for the Portuguese side. If Geovanni and his fellow Hull city compatriots caused the Arsenal defense to be ‘scared’ then Kolo and the rest of the defense better be ready for this step up in quality.

Match Facts & Stats

Porto has never won on English soil

Ref Watch:

Herbert Fandel (GER) will be the official for this match. He was the head official for the 2007 Champions League final where AC Milan beat Liverpool 2-1. He was also the official that was attacked by a Danish supporter during a Denmark versus Sweden Euro 2008 qualifying match. In my opinion he was 100% right to walk off the field after that incident.

Match Prediction:

Please don’t call me Simmo, but I’m afraid I have to predict a 2-1 loss or a 1-1 draw at best.

Please Arsenal prove me wrong.

Next Fixtures:

4/10– Sunderland(A)– Premier League

18/10– Everton(H)– Premier League

21/10– Fenerbache(A)– Champions League