Champions League unfolded: Was the moment too big for Arsenal? Can Barcelona finally advance without Messi? 

The game was scoreless with only one minute remaining when Wenderson Galeno brought it onto his right foot, took a touch inside and fired a dagger from outside the box into the top right corner to win the game for FC Porto. 

Wednesday’s Uefa Champions League matchups did not disappoint as FC Barcelona faced off against Napoli, and Arsenal took on FC Porto. 

Wednesday’s matchups posed major questions for Barcelona and Arsenal as this was Barcelona’s first knockout stage game in the Champions League since 2021 and Arsenal’s first since 2017.

Are Arsenal prepared for the challenge?

It was a game that had had limited chances and a low quality of football defined by a moment of magic. 

Arsenal traveled to Portugal having won their past five games scoring over five plus goals in three of those games, and dominating league leaders Liverpool beating them 3-1. 

Arsenal seemingly defeated the takes of many that they needed a striker and true goal-scorer up top in order to win games and score goals. They were ultimately the favorites going into the match. 

However, the Champions League is a tournament in which titles don’t mean a thing along with the styles of play. The only thing that matters is that you win, not how. 

Arsenal dominated the ball, but Porto’s defensive setup and organization was clear to see, along with their hustle and effort on both ends of the field. Porto didn’t give the Gunners an inch, leaving the Gunners with no sight at goal along with no chances in the first half. 

Arsenal turned it up a notch in the second half getting chances, but Porto fought back getting good chances on goal.

It seemed as if the game was going to end scoreless, until Galeno hit an absolute beauty of a strike that was essentially the last kick of the game. 

Arsenal have their work cut out for them if they are serious about advancing to the quarter-finals. They just simply need to play better football. 

All credit should be given to Porto for an absolute defensive masterclass, and a crucial win at home to take into the second-leg. 

Arsenal will kick themselves for this, but with their fans behind them in the second leg they’ll have to answer many questions and prove they are one of the best in the world. 

It should make for a much more action packed second-leg. 

Osimhen and Lewandowski live up to the hype

Napoli have had a month and season to forget so far, as they sit in ninth place in Serie A. They also fired manager Walter Mazzarri just two days before the round of 16 game against Barcelona. 

Barcelona fall into the same boat as Napoli, as they haven’t had a great season so far, seemingly falling out of the title race, Xavi announcing his last year at Barca and dealing with many injuries. 

Barcelona came into Naples and dominated from the get go, and getting chance after chance. Barcelona weren’t able to score until the 60th minute, when Pedri threaded a pass to Robert Lewandowski, who took one touch and fired it into the bottom left corner. 

Barcelona manager Xavi described the events of what happened next perfectly in an interview with Amazon Prime Video Italia. 

“After we took the lead, they woke up, which is precisely when we should’ve killed off the game. This is the Champions League.” 

Napoli’s talisman Victor Osimhen having returned from the African Cup of Nations wasted no time being in the right place at the right time, and only needed one chance resulting in a goal in the 75th minute.

Napoli took control after the goal awakened their fans, but were unable to score. 

Napoli proved they still have the quality to play at the highest level despite having a disappointing season. If they play the way they played at the end of the game, then they can find themselves in the quarter-finals yet again. 

Barcelona needs to play good football for 90 minutes, not 60, if they want a chance of winning. 

Second leg Predictions

The stage is set for two phenomenal second-leg games in the round of 16.

I predict Napoli will upset Barcelona at home winning 2-1, and 3-2 on aggregate.

I predict that Arsenal will pull the comeback off and prevail, winning 3-1, and 3-2 on aggregate. 

Header Photo: Napoli’s Victor Osimhen celebrates after scoring his side’s opening goal during the Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match between SSC Napoli and FC Barcelona at the Diego Maradona stadium in Naples, Italy. (GREGORIO BORGIA/The Associated Press)

Write to Ahmed Hassan at ahmed.hassan.4@mnsu.edu

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