Tactical Analysis: FC Porto vs Arsenal FC


In their Champions League campaign so far, Arsenal led their group with strong performances, showcasing impressive football. However, their next task came against FC Porto, managed by Sérgio Conceição. The first leg of Round of 16 turned out to be a strategic showdown between two clubs. Let’s break down the tactics used by both sides in this highly anticipated UCL knockout game.

Arsenal’s In Possession Tactical Structure andamp; FC Porto’s Defensive Organization

Mikel Arteta‘s Arsenal can be best described as a side which focuses more on players’ roles than fixed positions, allowing them to interchange positions fluidly for a dynamic tactical structure.


When in possession, Arsenal stretched their backline to draw Porto’s high press, while in settled possession, their full-backs tucked in narrow with Rice as the single pivot.

Porto typically employed a simplified 4-5-1 out of possession shape, which shifted to either a 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3 based on ball position and Arsenal’s buildup setup.


Arsenal’s strategy involved Rice dropping back to the defensive line, allowing Ben White to move inside. White’s movement drew a Porto midfielder with him, creating space on the right flank. Odegaard positioned himself in the right half-space, kept dropping into the wide space to receive and progress play, also enabling Saka to be more aggressive in one-on-one situations or make penetrating runs.


Porto’s mid block effectively limited Arsenal space between the lines, forcing them to rely on central overload to progress play and then isolate players like Saka or Martinelli with support from their respective full-backs.

Ben White and Odegaard kept attempting half-space runs to penetrate Porto’s defense, but they struggled to capitalize on these opportunities. Despite Arsenal’s wide overloads, frequent switches of play were not as effective as Arteta would have wished.


Porto maintained compactness in their mid-block while also triggering high man-to-man pressure to disrupt Arsenal’s play and encourage long balls. In the first half, they successfully restricted Arsenal time and space to play their style of football in their own half.


In the second half, Arsenal adjusted their approach with Odegaard positioned in a right half-space role similar to his past performances. They aimed to draw Porto’s forward to press high with a series of backward passes and then find Odegaard in space to exploit the defense or connect with Saka. While this tactic had some success, it wasn’t enough to break through Porto’s defensive line.

The substitution of Jorginho was Arsenal’s only change in the game, leading to a shift in shape and role, with White staying wide now and Rice and Jorginho forming a double pivot. Havertz dropped deeper to overload the central channels and play between the lines, altering Arsenal’s midfield dynamics.

FC Porto’s In-Possession Game Plan andamp; Arsenal’s High Press


In their buildup, Porto positioned both their center-backs wide and pushed their full-backs high, while utilizing a midfielder diamond at various heights.


Their strategy aimed to keep their forward players high and wide to stretch Arsenal’s defense and exploit the wide areas with long balls through the corridors. While they found some success due to Arsenal’s high defensive line, they struggled to maintain control of the game. They frequently created transitional situations to quickly counter Arsenal’s backline when they were disorganized.



Arsenal maintained a 4-4-2 shape when out of possession, adjusting their positioning according to the ball’s location. They displayed strong aggression in their high press, with Odegaard pressuring the ball carrier and midfielders quickly closing down nearby passing options.

Porto often opted for short passes but eventually resorted to long balls, aiming to contest for second balls and create transitional moments to exploit the space behind Arsenal’s high defensive line.

Post Match Reactions

Embed from Getty Images

The match provided insights into the contrasting approaches of both coaches. Arteta’s Arsenal focused on ball possession and displayed patience, while Porto demonstrated resilience in their defensive organization, capitalizing on mistakes.

Here are some quotes from both managers in their post-match interviews:

Mikel Arteta:

“We have to manage much better.

“We cannot win with the way we handled the ball on three occasions in deep areas.

“If you want to be in the quarter-finals you have to beat your opponent and this is what we will have to do at the Emirates now.”

Sérgio Conceição:

“Arteta is from the [Pep] Guardiola school, who is the coach with the most titles in the world.

“They think that the best way to beat their opponents is to have more possession of the ball, but that depends on the team and the performers they have.

“We had 40%-60% possession of the ball, which is not a scandal. I didn’t mind having 30%-70% and winning too. It all depends on what you do with the ball within the strategy defined to score goals.”


The first leg of the Arsenal vs. Porto Champions League clash showcased a good tactical battle between two completely different sides and each one of them emphasising their discipline in various aspects of their play. Both teams have areas to improve upon, with Arsenal needing to convert possession into goals and Porto aiming to maintain defensive solidity while being more clinical in attack. The upcoming second leg at the Emirates Stadium holds the potential to be defining, as both teams seek to secure their spot in the next round.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login