Arsenal 6 (Fabregas pen 9, 53, Arshavin 30, Chamakh 34, Vela 69, 84) Braga 0(Champions League group stage)
Sometimes a match comes along that reminds you just how spoilt you really are. For all Wenger’s flaws, for all the criticisms flung his way for his occasionally curious transfer policy and unwavering loyalties, he is capable of putting together a team that plays some of the most breathtaking football imaginable. And for that alone, we should enjoy the moment, because it won’t last forever.
Imagine being a Braga player this morning. Excited about your first foray into the Champions League, you’ve just been handed a comprehensive footballing lesson and been firmly put in your place. Because that’s what it was – a dizzying exhibition of football, slick one touch passing moves where you so often felt Braga could nick the ball back, only for our speed and touch to create space where it seemed none existed. The poor opposition ended the game bewildered, exhausted and demoralised.
Some are already pointing fingers in their direction. ‘It’s only Braga’, they say. Nonsense – these are the champions of Portugal [whoops – they came second, but still above Porto/Sporting], conquerors of Celtic and Sevilla in the qualifiers, and come with decent pedigree. In fact, if they can pick their confidence off the floor, they’ve got every chance of accompanying us into the knockout stages. But last night we were simply too good, too slick, and we had two creators in the middle of the park who ran the show – Cesc and Wilshere.
The former should have had an early penalty when chopped down on the edge of the box, but no matter – he soon slipped the ball through to Chamakh, who was taken out by their on-loan keeper, a man who quickly looked out of his depth at this level. So obvious was the spot kick that he simply apologised for a stupid aberration instead of protesting his innocence. Cesc buried the penalty with aplomb.
For twenty minutes the game was end to end – we had chances, but Braga looked dangerous on the break, albeit usually after we carelessly gifted them the ball, Clichy and particularly Arshavin playing us into trouble. But any concerns were soon buried – Cesc danced around two admittedly lame challenges in central midfield, before slipping Arshavin in to finish at the near post.
Barely had Braga recovered their senses before it was three. Chamakh showed strength on the edge of the box before giving the ball to Wilshere. What followed next was remarkable – Jack pirouetted, backheeled a perfect return to the Moroccan, who slotted home calmly. Three goals in three home games for a man who arrived on a free transfer is a great start, but it was another sign of how Wilshere has grown – he now knows when to play the simple pass, and when the extravagant is called for. And he doesn’t just imagine it, he executes it in style.
In the second half, we simply relaxed into our passing game, and it was too much for a demoralised Braga. The fourth came from sloppy defending – Cesc wanted the ball more than their centre half, and after playing it wide to Arshavin, ran into space to head home the resultant cross. Soon after, he was denied his first professional hattrick by the keeper’s hand and a clearance off the line. No matter – playing between a holding pair in midfield and the front line, he will continue to score plenty of goals, and his treble moment will come.
Vela then arrived to add icing to the cake. Just as against Bolton, he scored moments after coming on – Arshavin played him in after a sparkling passing move, and his dink over the keeper demonstrated his increasing confidence. It was a Carling Cup finish on a much bigger stage.
He was to add his second later on – Wilshere played the ball over the top, Cesc unselfishly squared it, and Vela once again calmly slotted home. The rout was complete.
It was a special performance, and a sign of our strength in depth when you consider how different the starting eleven may have looked had all been present and fit – Van Persie and Vermaelen would certainly have been on the field, Diaby and Walcott possibly joining them. Don’t listen to the hacks claiming we have a small squad – we really don’t.
Instead, just enjoy what you are witnessing. We’re missing our two main target men, yet Chamakh is shining, Vela is making an impact from the bench, and our midfield are scoring goals at will. In defence, Koscielny and Squillaci are up for the fight – the former has already taken a battering this season and simply gotten up and carried on. This bodes very well.
Three home games, sixteen goals. Second in the league after a tricky set of fixtures, and starting the European campaign in style. Enjoy your day.