David Raya pulls out the stops to end Arsenal’s long wait for a Champions League quarter-final

Mikel Arteta and David Raya celebrate their winning moment (Action Images via Reuters)
Mikel Arteta and David Raya celebrate their winning moment (Action Images via Reuters)

David Raya pulls out the stops, so Arsenal keep going. They used every drop of energy that Mikel Arteta demanded to squeeze past Porto by single kick and make their first Champions League quarter-final since 2010. That came from the first Champions League shootout since the 2015-16 final. Raya made one brilliant save from Galeno and a relatively lucky one from Wendell, the second more forceful enough and fittingly sending Arsenal through.

In such situations, there might be questions about the physical and mental cost of such a game, but Arteta’s side now don’t have another game for 19 days. They also have something uniquely positive to think about, after smashing a real block in this most illustrious of competitions. Not even Arsene Wenger got this far very often. Arteta has done it in his first go.

Such momentum can similarly propel their title challenge, in a run that looks full of life and optimism.

David Raya saves from Wendell during the penalty shootout (Getty Images)
David Raya saves from Wendell during the penalty shootout (Getty Images)

You wouldn’t have always said that about this 1-0 win on the night. It was a poor tie, not that supporters will care.

For Arsenal’s part, too, it was a gloriously old-fashioned defensive performance from Porto that reduced Arteta’s side to this.

The Premier League leaders didn’t show much of their recent quality, but they did display a different attribute. There was a perseverance and resolve, and that was much more necessary than the financial gap between the teams would indicate. Porto displayed all of their own European pedigree, drawing on a rich history of defiance and proud defending. It just wasn’t enough.

But it was close.

They’d really made Arsenal work for it. For the first time in almost two months, Arteta’s side didn’t score inside the first 25 minutes of a game. Porto were evidently wise to the approach, as they started time-wasting. It reminded of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea against Liverpool in 2013-14, which should be no surprise given he was one of the club’s greatest managers. That was complemented – if also contrasted – by some proper physicality. The abrupt switches were almost comical. Porto players would go from long stretches out flat on the ground from innocuous touches to the most robust challenges. Wendell was giving Bukayo Saka a tough game, as Arsenal initially struggled to get in behind. There were already more chances in that opening 25 minutes than there had been in the entirety of the 90 at the Dragao, though.

Arsenal were just going to have to show the patience they did against Brentford on Saturday, albeit with Porto showing a bit more spike going forward.

They didn’t even have to wait that long, although that was from Martin Odegaard’s presence of mind to not rush a pass in the way the situation might have encouraged.

When the ball was played into the Norwegian by Leandro Trossard on 41 minutes, the opportunity was there to quickly return it. He instead delayed, deftly evaded a challenge and slid an angled ball back into Trossard. The Belgian finished with the same incisiveness.

Leandro Trossard fires home Arsenal’s opening goal (Getty Images)
Leandro Trossard fires home Arsenal’s opening goal (Getty Images)
Mikel Arteta celebrates Arsenal’s first-half goal (Action Images via Reuters)
Mikel Arteta celebrates Arsenal’s first-half goal (Action Images via Reuters)

The natural inclination here would have been to think Porto would fade away in the manner that Lazio did in a similar situation against Bayern Munich last week. There was none of that, though. They arguably sharpened up, as they played higher up the pitch. They were still defending abrasively but weren’t under the same pressure as they made Arsenal turn much more. It became a proper 50-50 game.

Arsenal were also forced into the fight. Kai Havertz illustrated some of the cynicism you might expect from Pepe on Pepe himself, subtly pulling the defender’s shirt as Diogo Costa came out for a loose ball. It just wasn’t subtle enough as the referee spotted it, ensuring Odegaard’s bounced ball into the net was ruled out. The fact it was “that type of game’ was illustrated by both managers getting booked.

There was also the growing feeling it was becoming that type of night. As Arsenal finally started to crank up the pressure again in the final 15 minutes, there were a series of opportunities that either flashed tantalisingly across goal or were diverted narrowly wide. Both Gabriel Jesus and Odegaard went close. Porto were digging in.

That was typified by how they won virtually every single defensive set-piece. That was all the more impressive given what a high proportion of Arsenal goals they have been this season. Porto were again well drilled, to the point it was the main focus of their pre-game warm-up.

They were still winning headers as the game ticked well past 90 minutes and into extra-time. The one consolation of that for Arsenal now have this break. An FA Cup elimination might never be more valuable, especially with the way this game descended into a deadlock where Porto couldn’t keep the ball but Arsenal were too fatigued to do much with it.

Penalties looked inevitable. An Arsenal victory didn't, given they'd lost to Sporting on spot kicks in the Europa League last season.

Raya was the difference.