Now I’ve seen some cracking, title-winning, cup-saving, goal-packed games in my time, and I’ve seen some proper rubbish to file away immediately under ‘Assorted Drivel’. I’ve also seen some peculiar games, and tonight’s game, I have to say, was an odd one indeed.
Of course, the good thing about it is that we have qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League, earning ourselves a possible extra £10m and living to fight another day at Europe’s top table. But the game showed up one of the main flaws of the Champions League – namely that, with a knockout stage, you can get games where the incentive to win for both sides is just not strong enough, especially once the game has passed a certain point.
Arsenal always played within themselves, without huge ambition for the most part, and though Porto actually played pretty well in flurries, once the game got to about 65 minutes, both sides seemed conscious that the risk of losing far outweighed the risk of trying to win. The last 20 minutes reflected that.
As the commentator said, Arsenal didn’t look hugely comfortable holding off as they did, and the fact they did so was even more impressive given a seriously contagious outbreak of bad passing. Did we have a shot on goal? I can’t recall one.
The clincher for me was the sight of Pat Rice, at the end of the game, gesticulating wildly at the players to go over to the away fans to thank them.
Ironically, had the two sets of players known Hamburg would win, they needn’t have bothered at all.
Still, we’re through, which is a great relief, and I don’t particularly blame Arsenal for playing the way they did. It was a nervy evening under slightly odd circumstances. It’s the fault of the system more than anything. Either way, it’s not one to recount to the grandchildren.
Knockout stages now – this is where it starts sizzling.