Raya delivers when it matters most on crucial night for Arsenal

Arsenal goalkeeper David Raya celebrates his penalty heroics against Porto

David Raya settled all lingering arguments about manager Mikel Arteta’s judgement and his status as Arsenal’s first-choice goalkeeper amid the sound and fury of a dramatic Champions League win over Porto at Emirates Stadium.

Raya’s uncertain start as replacement for Aaron Ramsdale prompted suggestions that Arteta had attempted to fix something that was not actually broken by bringing in the Spaniard from Brentford to replace the Arsenal fans’ favourite who was good enough to play for England.

And in the spirit of full disclosure, and before the reminders arrive and large portions of humble pie are thrown in this direction, one of the biggest doubters is right here and must admit to being wrong after witnessing Raya’s finest night since arriving at Arsenal.

Raya delivered when it mattered most, offering further confirmation of his steady improvement and reliability, with two penalty shootout saves from Wendell and Galeno as Arsenal reached a Champions League quarter-final for the first time in 14 years with a 4-2 win in the shootout after a 1-0 win on the night.

It was a tense, nervous, ill-tempered night which will serve as an ideal crash course in the Champions League as Arsenal leapt a psychological barrier into the last eight after losing at this last-16 stage in their past seven ventures into the competition.

Raya was also vital with the tie balanced on a knife-edge before his contribution in the shootout, saving well from Evanilson and Francisco Conceicao when Porto broke out of their defensive shell.

Unlike some others, no names of course, Arteta says he never doubted Raya but the magnitude of a decision which brought such understandable scrutiny was clear.

“I was convinced,” said Arteta. “You see him in the first days with what he had to go through and the composure. You see the body language and the decisions he takes. That’s a key quality for a goalkeeper.”

It was when it came to penalties that Raya made the saves that mattered, turning Wendell’s second penalty for Porto on to the post before kicking the rebound clear with his heel then confirming the win with a flying save from Galeno.

Cue wild scenes of celebration around the Emirates and one last outbreak of angst between Arteta, who was relatively composed throughout, and his fiery Porto counterpart Sergio Conceicao, who cut an angry, agitated figure for most of a nerve-riddled night.

It was a discourse that carried on after the game with Conceicao claiming Arteta “insulted his family” in Spanish during the game. It should be recorded this allegation was denied by the Arsenal manager.

Leandro Trossard’s smooth strike four minutes before the break, fashioned by glorious sleight of foot and a perfect pass from Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard, put Arsenal level in the tie but this streetwise, battle-hardened Porto side were going nowhere.

Odegaard thought he had put Arsenal in front in the second half but his strike was ruled out after French referee Clement Turpin adjudged that Kai Havertz had fouled Pepe. It was a case of Arsenal feeling they had been robbed by Turpin.

It was no surprise that Pepe, dear 41-year-old Pepe, greeted the decision with a knowing smile. The evergreen defender is still in astonishing condition, a consummate reader of the game who knows all the tricks – and not all of them good.

Pepe received a yellow card for a foul on Havertz in the second half. It was followed by the trademark look of complete effrontery at the perceived injustice of it all, even though there was none. It is also impossible not to marvel at how a player of such advanced years, with so many miles on the clock, can still look so comfortable at this level.

It was all part of a night that will prove crucial to Arsenal’s Champions League education with a side containing so many players still new to the demands of this tournament.

This was not an evening for the fluency Arsenal have so readily displayed in their advance to the Premier League summit.

Porto have been around the block too often to allow Arsenal to dictate in their normal fashion. This was a stilted affair with many stoppages which made it a game where patience was required, frustrations had to be overcome, and the guard always had to be up against a potential Portuguese sucker punch.

Arsenal were nowhere near their best but victory is all and this was mission accomplished as they now move alongside illustrious names such as holders Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona in the latter stages.

The Gunners perhaps did not show enough to justify a rating as Champions League “dark horses” just yet but if they can escape one of the giants in the quarter-final draw, and some of those are pitted together, then who knows?

What is certain is that Arsenal will carry huge momentum and optimism forward, not only into the Champions League quarter-final, but also their next game, the colossal Premier League encounter with Manchester City at Etihad Stadium on 31 March.

And for that a lot of thanks must go to the maligned – wrongly in the case of this observer – Raya.

Adblock test (Why?)

Read Original Article