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Arsenal Needs to Turn it ‘On’ Against Porto

Who says football can’t teach you stuff?

For instance, once today’s Arsenal-Porto match in Group G is done, we’ll know if the Gunners come equipped with an on-off switch. You know those devices: teams flick them to the “off” position against lesser opponents. They play down to the level of their competition, and usually lose in embarrassing fashion in front of their home fans, only to come back three days later, flick the switch to “on”, and pull off an important win in international competition.

It’s kinda like hitting the Staples Easy Button.

Apparently, that’s what Arsenal has planned for today agianst the Portuguese champions. Don’t believe this? Just ask Kolo Toure. The Gunners fullback says he was scared to play against Hull, the newly promoted team that came into the Emirates on Saturday and pulled out a 2-1 win from under the feet of Arsene Wenger’s men. Toure also says that sometimes people–not the players of course–play out games before the whistle blows. Since reading between the lines should be a requirement for all of us, here’s an unsolicited interpretation of Toure’s statement: Arsenal figured it had the game in the bag, figured it could just roll the ball out and beat Hull, and essentially fell on its face in doing so.

The question today is whether Wenger can locate that elusive “on” switch and get his boys going again in the right direction.

Wenger has already publicly bashed his club, promising changes to his lineup and hinting that Robbie Van Persie, for example, might not have a place in the Gunners’ starting eleven today. Wenger, who said he was physically sick following the Hull defeat, has already pulled back from that notion, mere hours before kickoff. Instead, he’s challenged his players to prove their class and establish themselves as contenders to win the Champions League. “We had a disappointing result against Hull, but I have been sitting on the bench long enough to know that if we’d played that match 100 times we’d lose it once,” Wenger said.

Fair enough, but even Wenger at his most optimistic has to realize that Porto is no pushover. And even Wenger at his best can’t guarantee that his players will ramp up their play on command.

A perennial threat in the Champions League, Porto has won twice and has two draws in the Portuguese Liga. With eight points, Porto is one point out of the lead in Portugal; it trails Sporting and Nacional. Ironically, Porto travels to Lisbon on Sunday for a clash against Sporting, which hosts Basel tomorrow in Group C. Porto beat up on bottom feeders Pacos Ferreira over the weekend; apparently Porto has no problems locating its “on” switch.

We’ll see if Arsenal can do the same today.

“We learned from the [Hull] game that in fact you need the Champions League focus in every single match. If we are guilty of something it’s maybe not getting our focus to the right level to take our chances,” Wenger said. “I believe we should not make too much of the result. We lost the game but we have enough strength within the club and within the team to deal with that.”

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