Porto defeat all too familiar for Arsenal fans – Arteta must not let this become another miserable memory in Europe

Nayim in 1995. Wayne Bridge in 2004. Juliano Beletti in 2006. Dimitar Berbatov in 2015. Raul Albiol in 2021. Arsenal’s perennial European struggles made their defeat in Porto seem like a horrible flashback for Gunners fans.

For the first time in seven years, Arsenal fans geared up to watch their team compete in the last 16 of Europe’s elite club competition. Ahead of the game, Mikel Arteta was quizzed on a possible “mental block” in Europe for Arsenal, to which he responded: “Someone called Messi was an obstacle you know, we faced him twice, and Bayern Munich.

“This competition is what it is. Individual quality is extremely important. It can come down to details on if you’re through or out. You have to be prepared and you need your players at their best.”

Arteta is right, but when it comes to Arsenal, it is arguable that aside from their incredible 2005/06 run to the final, Gunners teams across the years have never been able to play at their best in the Champions League.

Part of that could be down to being vast underdogs in 05/06. In the years prior to that, Arsene Wenger’s team were consistently fighting at the top of the Premier League. With three league titles in seven years, they were one of Europe’s best on paper but when it came to the Champions League at that time, they could not manage to get past the quarter-final stage.

Even the awe-inspiring Invincibles had Premier League rivals Chelsea on the back-foot at Highbury, only for Wayne Bridge to waltz through in the 87th minute and knock Arsenal out.

In the years following their appearance in the final, it felt like Arsenal always had a chance of repeating their feat but either the challenge was too big, or the overwhelming pressure and expectation when being favorites appeared to get on top of them. 

PSV stunned them in their first year at the Emirates in 2007. They were seven minutes from the semi-finals in 2008 before Liverpool turned the tie on its head. Twice they threw away first legs against AC Milan and Bayern Munich, only to come back in the second leg but lose on away goals.

Arsenal just couldn’t handle the Champions League. Playing Lionel Messi’s Barcelona or an unstoppable force in Arjen Robben’s Bayern Munich always seemed a step too far. But when they drew Monaco in 2015, everyone believed this time Arsenal could not lose.

Then former Spurs and Man Utd hero Dimitar Berbatov spearheaded a 3-1 Monaco win at the Emirates, which condemned fans into thinking they really are not meant to see their team win the Champions League. Even when dropping into the Europa League, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Sporting Lisbon handed Arsenal early exits, piling further misery onto their European pedigree.

It is truly a confusing case to understand. But when looking at other Premier League sides to lift the Champions League, one thing stood out – and it is exactly what Mikel Arteta said himself.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 1999. Steven Gerrard in 2005. Didier Drogba in 2012. Rodri in 2023. Arsenal need individuals to rise to the occasion and deliver when they need it most. FC Porto have been here before, but they have only ever beaten an English club once over two legs in the Champions League, Manchester United in 2004.

The second leg at the Emirates is a true test for this young Arsenal team. Arteta and his side cannot let this become another on the long list of miserable memories in Europe.

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