Friday, 17 September 2010

Brilliant Arsenal destroy Braga. Match report.

Arsenal 6 Braga 0

When Arsenal last played in the Champions League - in April against Barcelona at the Nou Camp - few in the media rushed to point out how Arsenal were missing many of their top players. Instead (and rightly so, in my opinion) they praised a quite extraordinary performance by Lionel Messi.

Fast-forward five months and the media's reaction to a pretty much perfect Arsenal performance in the Champions League is to point out that it was only Braga.

And yes Braga were a little tactically naive and clearly weren't learning their lessons as the goals (aside from the penalty) were all somewhat similar.

But as the manager put in the post-match press conference after the game:

"Braga are a good team. They beat a very good Sevilla team".

Arsene Wenger is not a man who goes around handing out praise willy-nilly. I'm yet to hear a word from him of praise from him on Chelsea's start to the season, so though I'm no great aficionado of Braga, I trust what the manager has to say.

Hell, considering we were tracking Squillaci at the time, it's likely he was even there watching that match in the flesh. It's really unlikely he made it up.

So to put down a 6-0 victory simply because it looked easy is farcical. It looked easy because Arsenal made it look easy. When the ball is passed at that speed it's very hard to keep up with. One of the problems of the days of Alex Hleb was that he often waited far too long which left the opposition time to regroup.

With a great finisher up front in Chamakh, and brilliant creative players who just keep on making chances it's always going to look easy if Arsenal play like they did on Wednesday. This wasn't some fluke, some mirage, perpetuated by Braga's incompetence. Instead, it was a virtuoso display which was brilliant in how easy it looked.

Jack Wilshere pulled the strings in midfield and I think his tackling has noticeably improved just in the last few weeks - against Liverpool I heard him compared to Paul Scholes but he repeatedly won the ball back in midfield with a tenacity which Arsenal players have often not shown.

But it was a performance which centred around how Cesc Fabregas played. He passed the ball exquisitely pulling out several more to show that his deft chip for Vela against Bolton was no fluke and generally bossed the game. Braga backed off him because they didn't want him to run past them but that just gave him room to pick a pass. I always thought it was ridiculous the idea that he would play badly this year just because he was tempted by Barcelona and after this performance, that idea should be put to bed once and for all.

The best bit about winning by a large margin is that when we struggle to get going, this can often be terminal and we never do a lot. By scoring out first goal early (as we generally have done this season) it releases the shackles more off our creative players and that really helps us not just to win, but to win comfortably.

It's impossible to say right now which direction this season is going to go in, but the signs so far are very positive. Sunderland tomorrow is another test, another of the bellwether fixtures which are so vital to winning the League. I fancy us to win, but Gyan is a good player and with no Thomas Vermaelen, I do still have creeping doubts about our all-French defence (not that their Frenchness has anything to do with it).

But ultimately, we weren't far away last year in the League and it's worth remembering that a draw would be a year-on-year improvement. It's good to have high expectations but it's also important to remember no teams wins every game. Braga certainly don't.

Keep the faith,

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