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Rupert Wyman 16th Feb 2010 - 16:20

Arsenal and the Incredible Hulk

Wednesday night sees Arsenal return to European action, as they take on Porto at the Estadio de Dragao, in the Champions League.

The Gunners should be facing Porto with their heads held high and with renewed faith following their deserved 1-0 victory against Liverpool in the Premier League last week.

However, they have flown to Porto in the midst of a serious injury crisis that could hamper their late season charge for honours. First team star players, Gallas, Eduardo, Arshavin, Almunia, Song and long-term injury casualty Van Persie, have all been left in London.

Belgium International Vermaelen has heavy bruising on his leg, he will play through the pain barrier in Porto but he is struggling for fitness, a fortnight after it was feared he had fractured it against Aston Villa.

Arshavin's absence means that Wenger will be forced to call upon Bendtner; he starts his first European game since September.

Porto will be boosted by the return of the impressive Hulk, he is back from suspension and expected to play his first game since December 20th. He allegedly attacked a steward during a fracas in the tunnel of Benfica's Estadio da Luz.

Hulk will be buoyed by his return to the pitch and an unfit Vermaelen could struggle to keep a leash on the powerful Brazilian.

Porto and Arsenal have played each other three times in the last four seasons. Porto will be a much tougher test for Wenger's young squad, than Olympiacos, Standard Liege and AZ Alkmaar posed in the group stage.

Arsenal have no FA Cup or League Cup to play for this season and the Premier League has almost slipped from their grasp, so their main focus will be on progressing in Europe.

Wenger craves the Champions league trophy, football's Holy Grail. His dream was crushed in the Paris 2006 Champions League Final, Arsenal were cruelly defeated 2-1 by Barcelona, with the winner scored in the last ten minutes of normal time.

Porto have similar league form to that of Arsenal, they comfortably sit third in the table but are struggling to make any impression on the top two teams, Braga and Benfica.

I would avoid backing any 90 minute result in this match because of Arsenal's bi-polar form, I would focus on alternative markets.

I would have a flutter on both teams to score at 19/20, Arsenal will not let Porto take the game to them but they will have a makeshift weakened defence, with Nott's County reject Campbell starting and Fabianski playing in goal.

I fancy Hulk to score anytime at 15/8, he will want to make an impression on the pitch and he is agitated by the alleged claims he attacked a steward. He is a powerful centre forward, not just a comic fan's man mountain.

There could be many a conclusion to this match. If Arsenal lose, Wengers' critics may claim he is naive and ask why he has failed to buy a powerful workhorse of a striker for his Jekyll and Hyde Arsenal side, one in the mould of Drogba or Cascarino.

However, if Arsenal return successful from Portugal, he may be lauded as a genius or a master tactician, for achieving more greatness with a depleted squad.

Although, I reckon he may head back to London wishing the Hulk had donned the red of Arsenal.



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