Twenty3’s Tactics Truck: How first-class firepower can push Arsenal past Porto

It’s do or die for Arsenal in the Champions League.

The Gunners trail Porto after an unexpected 1-0 loss in the first leg of their round of 16 tie, and they have failed to progress beyond this point in the competition in each of their past seven attempts.

The wounds of their 2022-23 Europa League exit to Sporting will still be fresh, and with the Premier League title heating up, the Champions League may be their best shot at silverware this season.

Using the Twenty3 Toolbox, we’ve considered how Mikel Arteta’s men can overcome the Portuguese outfit and book a spot in the quarter-finals.

All guns blazing

Arsenal will be looking for a fast start against Porto.

The Gunners have burst out of the blocks in their last three outings, scoring five goals inside the opening 25 minutes — two against Newcastle and Sheffield United, and one last time out against Brentford.

The most noticeable change following their first-leg defeat has been the reintroduction of midfielder Jorginho, who was excellent in both Premier League wins.

Arsenal’s No20, a reassuring and composed presence in midfield, has allowed Declan Rice more freedom to push forward.

Jorginho ranks third among his team-mates for ball recoveries in the opposition’s half and has completed 181 passes with an accuracy of 89.16% in the Champions League.

He also has the ability to play incisive and defence-splitting passes, potentially an important quality as Arsenal look to break down a Porto side that will stubbornly defend their narrow lead.

Wide areas will be a key avenue of attack for the North Londoners, who will look towards wingers Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli for inspiration.

Saka ranks first at Arsenal for attacking duels won (32), shots assisted (12), and link-up plays completed (15) in the Champions League this season.

On the opposite wing, Martinelli has been a direct threat, completing 19 dribbles and making 23 touches in the opposition’s box. That has led to two goals and one assist for the Brazilian.

Together, Saka and Martinelli are an ominous duo for any defence — but they will need to be more decisive in the final third than in the first leg against their disciplined opponents.

Porto kickback

Sérgio Conceição’s Porto were compact and resolute in defence in the first leg — and they will undoubtedly be completely committed to the defensive cause again at the Emirates.

Their narrow 4-3-3 formation often became a 4-5-1 in Portugal, all but eliminating any space in central areas for Arteta’s men to exploit. They were also quick to swarm any Arsenal player in the final third.

As a result, Porto were the first team in two years to deny Arsenal a single shot on target.

In the Champions League, they have allowed their opponents just 8.05 expected goals.

Porto are roared on by their veteran captain, Pepe, who has been dominant in the competition. The 41-year-old has completed 45 defensive actions and won 14 defensive duels from an attempted 19.

And the Dragões showed in the first leg that they have players at the other end of the pitch who can hurt Arsenal.

Match-winner Galeno has registered four goals and two assists in three appearances since victory over the Gunners, continuing his impressive run of form.

The 26-year-old forward leads the way at Porto for goals (five), assists (three), progressive runs (27) and non-penalty shots on target (10) in the Champions League.

If Galeno is given the same space he was allowed in the 94th minute of the first leg, he has the confidence and quality to punish Arsenal.

Managing emotions

Another theme of the first leg was persistent fouling from both teams, the result of which was a lack of fluidity in a stop-start contest.

No round of 16 first-leg tie had more total fouls (37) than the matchup at Estádio do Dragão, with five yellow cards also being handed out between the two teams.

This meant the Gunners could not get into any kind of rhythm.

After the game, Arteta said: “That’s the context of the game, we knew, we prepared [for it]. 

“That’s something the referee has to manage; we cannot do anything about it. And we’re going to have to handle it and play our game.”

How Arsenal manage their emotions will be crucial in front of an expectant Emirates crowd.

Saka vs Wendell

In the first leg, Porto did a good job of containing Arsenal’s star winger Saka.

Brazilian full-back Wendell was given the unenviable task of keeping him quiet — and team-mates Galeno, Nico González and Otávio all supported him commendably.

The Gunners’ No7 ended the night with just one shot attempt, two dribbles completed and only 27 passes received — eighth-most on the pitch.

Saka, who has three goals and two assists to his name in the competition so far, was far from his best.

Given his importance for Arteta’s team, he will likely need to be more effective in the second leg if Arsenal are to advance.

His marker, Wendell, has been strong defensively, winning 15 of his defensive duels, completing 30 ball recoveries and committing just three fouls in 284 minutes of Champions League football.

But he has been suspect in possession, losing the ball 13 times in his own half — and Arsenal will look to exploit that potential weakness with an aggressive high press.

Round two of this winger vs full-back battle will be a key matchup at the Emirates.

All graphics in this article were produced with the Twenty3 Toolbox. For more information, please get in touch below.