When a team wins by a margin like 6-0, it’s very easy to dismiss the match as a sporting contest. And so it is in this case, Sporting Braga were ripped apart by an Arsenal team that was in the mood to show the best of their game. At no point, from the first minute to the last, did Braga look like they had a chance of taking any of the points. We were left with our second 6-0 home win of the season, to go alongside our 4-1 win over Bolton.
There can be virtually no criticism of the Arsenal players’ performances. Individually and collectively, they were fantastic. Arshavin, Nasri, Fabregas, Wilshere and Chamakh provided an energetic and almost relentless attack. Time and time again, incisive passes from the imperious Fabregas carved open a limited and bamboozled Braga defence, with a zesty Arshavin, a mobile Chamakh, a confident Wilshere or a vibrant Nasri on the receiving end, and constantly creating new problems.
On the defensive side, Braga presented little threat, and failed to press the ball sufficiently to earn the opportunity to do much more. That said, we saw enough from Squillaci and Koscielny to fortify the feeling that Wenger has made two excellent signings. William Gallas might have had the name and the medals, but these two, alongside Vermaelen, promise to give us defensive strength and intelligence that we have sorely missed in recent years. On the odd occasion they needed to defend, the two centre backs read the game well and dealt with the pressure. And going forward, each of them acted as launch-pads for attacks, frequently pressing Braga players into errors and winning back possession quickly. This knack of getting the ball back is going to be important this season, and it wasn’t just the centre backs tonight, Sagna, Clichy, Song, Wilshere and even Arshavin often pressed and won back possession.
Although the goals were evenly divided between the two halves, Arsenal’s first half performance was especially impressive, yielding goals for Fabregas (converting a penalty following the keeper’s early foul on Chamakh), Arshavin (a neat near post shot following a pass from Cesc) and Chamakh (an efficiently despatched shot following a moment of genius from LJ, who back-healed the ball through the legs of a defender to release the impressive Moroccan). Constant movement was the order of the day, with Arsenal players in possession always having multiple options available to them. As the players went off at half-time, the man who has almost become the team’s spiritual reference point, Emmanuel Eboué (a sub on the night), greeted each of the Arsenal players at the mouth of the tunnel, acknowledging the level of Arsenal’s first half dominance and the stylishness of the creative football on display.
They couldn’t quite keep the pace and intensity going in the second half, but by then Braga were a broken team. The only surprise was that Arsenal only managed to score three more goals. Braga’s defence collapsed for Cesc’s second goal, giving both him and Arshavin more time than they could wish for. Inevitably, Carlos Vela scored the fifth and sixth goals, finishing off two beautiful passing movements, with Arshavin getting another assist and Cesc laying on the last goal. I wonder what proportion of Vela’s goals have been scored against demoralised teams that have already effectively been defeated. It seems to be Vela’s curse. But his ability to finish a move really is excellent.
There were plenty of other chances along the way, but Braga’s first Champions’ League game was a harsh demonstration of how far off the pace they are. After all, we may be consistent in CL football but we aren’t exactly a dominant force. While not knowing much about this side, many of us were mindful of the danger that a team that had denied Sevilla a place in the CL would represent. We needn’t have worried. The one-sidedness of the contest affected the atmosphere, which was pretty muted for much of the time. The suggestion that there were 59,000 fans present (a statistic Kim Jong-Il might have been embarrassed to announce) was ludicrous but there will be far more intense evenings ahead of us in the competition.
All in all, plenty of fun and some beautiful football, and without expending too much energy, but Sunderland away on Saturday will be a far tougher proposition.
Almunia: Did what little he was asked to do well, always looked comfortable. 7.
Squillaci: Superb, intelligent, strong, good positional play. 8.
Koscielny: Excellent as well, strong in the challenge, good concentration and jockeyed his attackers well. 8.
Sagna: Efficient, did well at the back and going forward, including a couple of excellent crosses. 7.
Clichy: A good performance, but was probably the only player one would criticise at all, since he got caught out once or twice. But used his pace going forward to good effect. 6.5.
Song: Quietly went about his business and did it well. 7.
Wilshere: Confident, creative performance. Was unlucky not to score and his back-heel to put Chamakh in was wonderful. 8.
Arshavin: As energetic a performance as I’ve seen from the little Russian – his tracking back is genuine and appreciated. But his performance in the top third suggests a player who’s rediscovering his mojo. 8.
Fabregas: Another fantastic performance from the man Barca think is only worth €40m. How wrong they are. 9.
Nasri: Excellent first half, drifted away slightly in the second half, but Nasri constantly created problems for Braga’s defenders. 7.5.
Chamakh: Really good performance from a player who has pace, awareness, a great touch, ability in the air and who can finish well. A quintessential Arsenal player. 8.
Vela: Another lovely sub’s performance, I just hope he gets the chance to do more this season and that he takes that chance this time. 7.
Denilson and Eboué: Tidy subs’ performances. 7.