Soccer

Declan Rice feels Arsenal must find Champions League ‘savvy’ after loss at Porto

The Gunners lost the first leg of their last 16 tie away to Porto on Wednesday as Galeno’s brilliant last-gasp strike earned the hosts a 1-0 win.

Declan Rice, centre, appears dejected following Arsenal’s defeat at Porto
Declan Rice Declan Rice, centre, appears dejected following Arsenal’s defeat at Porto (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Declan Rice admits Arsenal need to find their Champions League “savvy” as Mikel Arteta’s young side continue to learn on the job.

The Gunners lost the first leg of their last 16 tie away to Porto on Wednesday night as Galeno’s brilliant last-gasp strike earned the hosts a 1-0 victory.

It extends Arsenal’s wretched record in Champions League knockout games – they still have not won outside of the group stages since 2010, having exited at the last-16 stage for seven consecutive years under Arsene Wenger.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta applauds the fans
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta applauds the fans after the UEFA Champions League match at Estadio do Dragao in Porto, Portugal Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta applauds the fans (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Arteta secured a return to the top table of European football for the first time since 2017 but Arsenal’s hopes of progressing further suffered a blow at the Estadio do Dragao.

From their starting XI in Porto, only Kai Havertz had any previous experience of playing a Champions League knockout game and Rice conceded that lack of nous cost Arsenal late on.

“I think the last minute is probably a bit of inexperience,” he replied when asked if Arteta’s young team were on a steep learning curve.

“Just probably having a bit more savviness, in terms of it’s the 93rd minute, you look up at the clock, it’s 0-0, we gave a ball away on the edge of our box twice and then he bends one in the top bins.

“So we have got to have a bit of savviness to see out the game, because if you can’t win, definitely don’t lose – especially in a knockout game. But look, we are still positive. It is half-time in a two-leg tie and we will be ready for the next leg.

“You look at our team, we are such a young group. Some of us have not played in the Champions League before, so it is all about learning on the job.

“But we have to play better than we did tonight. They made it really tough, but in the second leg we will be ready to go and give it everything.

“I think it is good to have nerves – you get that experience and you need that to play in the biggest games. Whether there is nerves or no nerves, I think these are the type of games we need to learn from on the way and it is going to make us better overall.”

While the disappointment from the defeat will linger until the return leg at the Emirates Stadium on March 12, Rice knows Arsenal cannot suffer a Champions League hangover.

They are back in Premier League action as they host Newcastle on Saturday.

Arsenal’s Declan Rice heads the ball next to Porto’s Evanilson (Luis Vieira/AP)
Arsenal’s Declan Rice heads the ball next to Porto’s Evanilson Arsenal’s Declan Rice heads the ball next to Porto’s Evanilson (Luis Vieira/AP) (Luis Vieira/AP)

“Look, we have lost games this year and drawn games, and I have seen the changing room after and it’s been really bad when we have lost and drawn games,” added England international Rice.

“But here, we have just lost, but in there is a real positivity around the group at the minute, around the club.

“We have had such a good start to 2024, I think we take the positives from this game tonight, but also see where we can improve. It is going to be a big game in two weeks’ time and we will be ready for it.”