Arsenal to win this tie

Arsenal survive a difficult rite of passage to beat Porto’s tenacity

This worked out well for Arsenal to win this tie. Defeating Portugal on penalties. Running up a frozen Munro with a bundle of bricks on your back seems like a hazing ritual or terrible rite of passage to make it more unique.

This Champions League last-16 second leg was ideally suited for a team that has been accused of complacency, callowness, and excitability.

To re-create the game experience, hire 17 men in red, blue, and white to wrestle on a bouncy castle. Watch for whistles, falls, cramps, and angry crowd members.

Hard, leathery, gnarled Porto refused to bend or rip. Their football-stopping ability is amazing. Pop-up time-wasting, four minutes gone, fussing over a throw.

Pepe, 41, who has played almost 900 professional football games, twirled away from two Arsenal players like a teenage ice dancing champion and threw himself to the turf in search of a way out, only to be waved up by the referee in a furious levitational gesture.

With the score tied after 90 minutes, this felt like a Porto timeframe and happy place. Lowered socks. Cramping opponents. Huddles, intense team chats, broken rhythms, everyone worrying about penalties, triumph, calamity, nerve and fragility. Enter our home. We waited for you.

Then something else happened. Even winning was cathartic. Declan Rice’s fourth kick, already one miss ahead, was crucial. He ran in so fast he seemed like he was charging the goalie. Galeno was doomed. Raya saved his kick.

As they consider an 18-day sabbatical, this is a fantastic time for this team. Victory cools Arsenal’s season. It makes winning the league seem lighter, less burdensome, and more like a step than a leap.

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Mikel Arteta being given over-seasoned steak by the renowned Salt Bae in an Abu Dhabi restaurant seemed to bring life and rebirth to a tired group during the winter sun break.

Since that moment, Arsenal has won eight consecutive league games and reached the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in 15 years.

This is progress no matter what. Arsenal improved from previous year. Players improve. Revenue rises. Style exists. Goals are scored.

Arteta is great at rearranging players. New gears for Ben White, Declan Rice, and Kai Havertz. This team has overachieving footballers, not simply young ones, where the project is straight, obvious, and simple.

Is Jorginho going to transform a title-challenging midfield in 2024? Maybe, but it’s not necessary.

A moment of beauty was also possible. Arsenal, trailing 1-0 at halftime, required a heroic performance from a key player. It was Martin Ødegaard who captured the moment.

Ødegaard scored the game’s sole goal with four touches in a second and a half, using his right and left feet at varied angles and weights.

During a tie where Arsenal had yet to score, Ødegaard’s mental gymnastics were evident. He moved the maths around the board, switched x for y, and took time out to allow Leandro Trossard to start his run.

Trossard’s third touch created space for the fourth pass, which led to the goal. Pepe’s legs sent the ball into the far corner for a beautiful finish.

Ødegaard twirled and feinted between lines, worried, checking back, and seeking angles and sightlines. Still, the same patterns repeated, making the second half feel like being fed through a strong gravity chamber.

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Arsenal was predicted to win. FC Porto are broke. They lost £40m last year. Not even a good Porto. The third-place team hasn’t won away from home. But they showed great resilience, spikiness, and spoiling defence.

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