Archive for September 16th, 2010

European Ex-Braga-ganza (sorry)

61 comments September 16th, 2010

Arsenal 6 – 0 Braga (Fabregas 9 (pen), 53, Arshavin 30, Chamakh 34, Vela 69, 84)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Let’s start by dispelling the “only Braga” agenda that certain sections of the media seemed determined to spin.  I’m not sure there’s a team in Europe who could’ve coped with us last night.

Yes, the Portugese team made a grave error in not employing the normally ubiquitous ‘defensive midfielder’.  The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Andrey Arshavin and Jack Wilshere were all allowed too much space between the opposition’s midfield and defence.  But whilst a better strategy might have kept the scoreline down, it wouldn’t have denied us victory.  We were irresistible.

An early goal was always going to be crucial, and the team knew it.  They started with a frenzy of action in which saw the Braga goal under siege.  After nine minutes, reward arrived in the shape of a penalty for a foul on Marouane Chamakh.  A Fabregas through-ball found Chamakh’s willing run, establishing a pattern that would reoccur throughout the game, and as he swerved around the goalkeeper the Moroccan striker was clipped and tumbled to the ground.  Fabregas duly stepped up to power home the penalty and his first goal of the season.

Opportunities came and went – one Jack Wilshere strike was ruled out for offside, whilst another was parried by redemption-driven ‘keeper Felipe.  After thirty minutes, the lead was eventually doubled, and again Cesc’s contribution was the most telling.  The Spaniard sidestepped two challenges before slipping in Andrey Arshavin to his left.  Frustrated by his goalless outing on Saturday, the Russian was playing with most zest than usual, and capped his performance by firing low in to the near post for his third of the season.

The best goal of the night arrived just four minutes later.  A zig-zagging move up the pitch ended with Arshavin clipping the ball unconventionally on to Chamakh’s chest.  His control was immaculate, and his one-two with Jack Wilshere exquisite, the teenager back-heeling the ball back in to Chamakh’s path for the striker to stroke home.  The stadium rose as one to applaud the simply stunning football.

At half-time I reflected on our 3-0 advantage, and realised just how much I love watching this team play.  We all treasure the great Arsenal sides – particularly the Invincibles – and they were certainly a better, more complete outfit than the current crop.  That said, we’re blessed to watch a team as entertaining as the this one.  Yesterday the undoubted star was Cesc, but he was joined by a glorious supporting cast including Arshavin, Nasri, Wilshere and Chamakh.  When you consider that the likes of Van Persie, Rosicky, and Walcott weren’t even involved yesterday you begin to appreciate the sheer depth of talent at our disposal.

Any hope of a Braga comeback was extinguished after just ten minutes of the second half, when some sterling work from Fabregas won the ball high up the pitch.  His pass found Arshavin, whose perfectly flighted cross was nodded home by the captain for a rare headed goal.  The interplay between Spaniard and Russian characterised the early part of the second-half.  Both came close to more goals – Arshavin closest with a firm drive against the post – and were clearly enjoying the benefit of each other’s movement and vision.

At this point the match could have drifted in to irrelevance, but the introduction of Carlos Vela as a substitute prevented that.  His movement and finishing were exceptional.  First he collected an eye-of-the-needle pass to produce his much-beloved chipped finish, before taking a pass from the unselfish Cesc and sidefooting calmly in to the near post.  He now has more goals than he managed in the entirety of last season.  There’s no doubting his talent, and his composure in front of goal is Eduardo-esque.  Perhaps he’s better suited to the central striker role than being stuck out on the wing.  Problems may arise when he finds himself behind Van Persie, Chamakh, and Bendtner in that particular queue.

Six nil it finished, and it really was six star performance.  The French centre-back pairing of Koscielny and Squillaci looked more comfortable under the Champions League lights than they did on Saturday, whilst the rest Clichy and Sagna had clearly benefited them: they were quick both in the tackle and getting forward.

The attacking trio did their jobs: Chamakh continues to suggest he’s exactly the sort of player we require upfront, linking the play and creating space with his tireless movement.  Arshavin was erratic everywhere but in the box, where he was ruthless and efficient, scoring one goal and creating two more.  Samir Nasri got ninety minutes under his belt on his return from injury, and whilst he’d clearly prefer to be playing in the middle, exhibited the close-control and intelligent approach play we’ve come to expect.

It was in midfield, however, where the game was won.  Our new shape of two holding midfielders allows both those players the occasional opportunity to bomb forward.  Not only has it added an attacking string to Alex Song’s bow, but it’s allowed Jack Wilshere the opportunity to stake his claim for a first-team place.  The diminutive midfielder was excellent on his first Champions League start, showing the discipline to hold his position when required, as well as the skill and imagination to be a threat in the final third.

We shouldn’t be surprised by his progess: he’s learning from the best.  Judging by his performances against Bolton and Braga, Cesc Fabregas has stepped up a gear.  It’s almost as if the travails of his summer have left him with an objectivity that allows him to be even more clinical in the way he picks teams apart.  Watching him yesterday was like watching Neo in the second Matrix film, when he’s fully harnessed the power to bend reality to his will.  Braga, meanwhile, were a bit like the agents, all dressed the same and with uninteresting names like ‘Alan’.

When Cesc’s move to Barca fell through, some idly suggested he might be disinterested this season.  It appears they’re wrong – but even if they’re not, I don’t care as long he continues to play like this.  His performance was the crucial component in an outstanding team display.

The rest of Europe will hopefully sit up and take notice.  Arsene’s kids might just be ready to graduate.

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