To the delight of punters across Europe the most predictable result of the season duly came to pass last night as Arsenal and Porto played out the goalless draw which ensured both would reach the potentially lucrative stages of the Champions' League.
The closing stages were a disgraceful sham but the fact that Ricardo Quaresma twice struck Arsenal's post early in the second half should allay accusations of "an arrangement". Deliberate collusion is not required, however, in the circumstances in which this game was played. The bookmakers priced the draw at 4-5, the shortest odds for such a result in Champions' League history.
In the event CSKA Moscow lost in Hamburg, making this game irrelevant but as the Russians were 2-1 up against 10 men until late on it was no surprise that neither Arsenal nor Porto even attempted to attack in the last 10 minutes, instead just passing the ball between defenders.
The only time Helton, Porto's goalkeeper, had to make a save was when Cesc Fabregas sent a harmless 51st-minute free-kick in his direction. Otherwise the Gunners were content to sit deep and conserve their energy for Sunday's match with Chelsea.
"I agree it was not a good advert for football, but it was only in the last five minutes," said the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger. "Neither team wanted to gamble then because if you concede a goal at that stage you are out. The game was very fair and both teams tried. The result does not reflect the chances Porto had."
Wenger was confident his team would be sharper against Chelsea, but they could have a defensive crisis. Kolo Touré is suspended, William Gallas has only a "20 per cent" chance of being fit according to Wenger, and Johan Djourou felt his hamstring last night. That he played on when Philippe Senderos was on the bench suggests he should be fine but Arsenal will check his fitness today.
The opening exchanges suggested that neither side had a burning desire to score, with both unwilling to risk committing players forward. However, playing out a draw is fraught with its own risks, as England's cricketers are painfully aware. The lack of focus apparent in their second innings in Adelaide was similarly evident in Arsenal's slipshod approach.
Players were regularly caught in possession or out of position, and the ball repeatedly given away. Porto, more by accident than design, thus had the initial opportunities, with Pepe heading over after five minutes and Raul Meireles shooting wide after 11. Since they, too, were only sporadically enthused it was not until the 23rd minute that Jens Lehmann had to make a save, Helder Postiga striking a volley into the Germans' midriff from 20 yards.
The home team then seemed to realise a notable scalp was there for the taking and began to exert sustained pressure with Quaresma testing Lehmann. Arsenal, whose outlook was underlined by the inclusion of Mathieu Flamini at the expense of Robin van Persie, were twice forced to scramble defensively.
The Gunners roused themselves from their torpor to keep Porto at bay until the interval, which was reached without any injury time, hardly surprising since there had barely been a tackle.
The match was drawing comparison with the infamous Austria-West Germany World Cup tie of 1982 when both sides settled for the 1-0 German win which enabled both to reach the knockout stages at the expense of Algeria. Fortunately, Quaresma single-handedly demolished suspicions of a fix.
The talented 23-year-old, who has failed to fulfil the promise that persuaded Barcelona to sign him as a teenager, struck the post twice inside 10 minutes. Shortly after the break he turned Lisandro's cross against the upright. Three minutes before the hour he bamboozled Djourou 20 yards out, then beat Lehmann with a low drive only to see his shot rebound from the woodwork again.
The thought occurred that Quaresma was motivated more by the prospect of attracting a lucrative move to the Premiership than winning the match. That may be so, but at least he produced something to remember from this inglorious game.
Porto (4-3-3): Helton; Bosingwa, Pepe, Bruno Alves (Ibson, 83), Fucile; Lucho, Assuncao, Meireles; Lisandro, Postiga (Moraes, 80), Quaresma. Substitutes not used: Baia, Costa, Sektioui, Vierinha, Joao Paulo.
Arsenal (4-1-4-1): Lehmann; Eboue, Touré, Djourou, Clichy; Gilberto; Hleb, Flamini, Fabregas, Ljungberg; Adebayor (Van Persie, 79). Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Senderos, Baptista, Hoyte, Aliadière, Walcott.
Referee: M Merk (Germany)Reuse content