The first batch of this years Champions League quarter finalists gets decided tonight as Europe’s premier club competition continues. Arsenal must look to overturn a 2-1 deficit against Porto, while Fiorentina face a similar task as they welcome Bayern Munich to the Stadio Artemio Franchi. Below, we take a closer look at these ties…….
Arsenal vs FC Porto (agg 1:2)
A few weeks ago it seemed that European success may be the main priority for the remainder of Arsenal’s season following their tame elimination from the FA cup and their distant position behind Manchester United and Chelsea in the Premier League. Since then however things have changed at the Emirates and whilst the Champions League remains a trophy that the Gunners would still like to get their hands on, Arsenal may sense that domestic success now represents a more realistic possibility. The decision to rule out Cesc Fabregas despite the influential midfielder claiming he was willing to play would certainly seem to indicate so as the Londoners prepare for the title run in. Arsene Wenger’s men currently sit in third place in the league, equal on points with Chelsea and just two points off leaders Manchester United and the Frenchman seems unwilling to risk losing Fabregas for the long term in order to field him in tonight’s clash.
The Gunners trail Porto in this one due to a mixture of gross ineptitude and controversial refereeing decisions. Lukas Fabianski’s dire display in Portugal three weeks ago was directly accountable for both of Porto’s goals and in the same way that a cold is preferrable to a flu, Arsenal fans will be happy to have Manuel Almunia back minding the nets this time round. Arsenal should have a mental edge in this one, having won all of their home European ties by a minimum of two goals this season but the loss of Fabregas, added to the news that William Gallas is set to sit out the next month of action will mean they still have their work cut out for them. As does the amazing fact that Arsenal have not overcome a first leg deficit in Europe since coming from behing to beat Hadjuk Spilt in 1978.
Andrei Arshavin returned from injury last weekend and will likely start up front but the decision in terms of who will play up top with him will be foremost in the minds of many Arsenal supporters. Nicklas Bendtner (pictured), who will most likely get the nod over Eduardo, had a nightmare in front of goal last weekend, spurning several excellent opportunities that very nearly cost his team dearly, however his sustained enthusiasm and effort throughout were to be commended and did not go unnoticed by the Arsenal faithful who clapped him off the pitch when he was eventually put out of his misery. Don’t expect them to be quite so pleasant if the big Dane is as profligate in front of goal again tonight however. Bendtner will be hoping that he can match Theo Walcott’s performance off the back of a whirlwind of crtiticsm last week and a string of misses like those seen against Burnley way well be worth it if he can get his name on the scoresheet tonight.
The history of these club’s recent meetings would seem to favour Arsenal for the win: they have welcomed Porto to North London twice since their move to the Emirates, scoring six goals and conceding none in these encounters. Porto must look to overcome the fact that they have lost twelve from their last fourteen games played on English soil, however the knowledge that a draw will be good enough to see their name in the pot for the next round may assist in this.
Fiorentina vs Bayern Munich (agg 1:2)
Like Arsenal, Fiorentina must also seek to turn around a 2-1 deficit that owes a lot to questionable refereeing. Tom Henning Ovrebo, the official in charge of Chelsea’s controversial semi-final loss to Barcelona last year, took charge of the first leg and amost unbelievably allowed Miroslav Klose’s 89th minute effort stand despite the German striker clearly being offside. That goal denied the Italians a well deserved 1-1 draw and means they still have it all to do in order to progress. After the game, Fiorentina coach made known his anger with the officials as he proclaimed “We did everything right on the field. We only failed to double up our marking on the linesman”.
The Italians are currently a long way the off the pace in Serie A (sitting in tenth position) but look a completely different outfit in Europe, boasting a 100% home record and a position as joint top scorers along with Real Madrid in this season’s competition. “La Viola” have lost only one of their last twelve home European clashes, with the single black mark coming in a 2-1 defeat to Lyon in last season’s competition.
Bayern have come away victorious in their last four trips to Italy but will be without two of their first choice defenders for this tie as centre half Martin Demichelis and left back Diego Contento are ruled out and Fiorentina hit-man Alberto Gilardino (pictured, left) will be looking to capitalize on their absence. Arjen Robben, who was the key man for Bayern from the first leg – missed their last league encounter with a virus but is fit to rejoin the squad for tonight’s game. His presence may just be the difference in a very difficult game to call.