Arsenal 6 SC Braga 0
Autumn would appear to be cancelled in England this year (mind you, it`s not like summer ever really happens in this country), the transition to winter is looking to be very swift, with the wind carrying the sort of chill in the air that makes the cheeks ruddy and the shoulders draw in for warmth. It was with this wintry chill at our backs that we made our way into the relative warmth of the Arsenal Tavern for a few pre match liveners to thicken the blood and lift the spirits. Discussion centred on the F.A.`s curious removal of all videos of Paul Robinson`s, ahem, industrial challenge on Abou Diaby on Saturday coupled with the blanket refusal of most highlights packages to show the incident at all. As a group, we don`t often concur on things so unanimously, but our belief that the authorities will do nothing about some of the thuggery that prevails in the top flight until a Rooney or a Gerrard leaves the ground in an ambulance was absolutely a shared one. Stats were also reeled off apace from yours truly. That Chamakh had completed 28 of his 29 attempted passes on Saturday, that Kevin Davies now has 10 yellow cards picked up in games against Arsenal;
There was one slight surprise in the line up with Jack Wilshere lining up ahead of Denilson and Rosicky in central midfield. Both a measure of confidence in the 18 year old who has started 4 of our 5 games this season and probably an acknowledgement that he will take to the bench for the stiffer physical test of Sunderland on Saturday. Wilshere`s subsequent performance made Stuart Pearce`s assertion that Jack had "taken his eye off the ball" look like the self important piffle it was. Arsenal certainly had their eye on the ball from the opening minute and made good on the manager`s pre match promise to play on Braga`s inexperience. Had it still been 0-0 after half an hour, the visiting team grows in confidence and establishes its stride. The Gunners were hard shouldering their visitors out of the slow lane in the opening seconds when Pablo Cesar quite clearly took out Cesc Fabregas in the area. Even with the addition of two very bored looking officials, that nobody could see that was a penalty beggar`s belief. However, the Luxembourgish officials were left with little recourse on nine minutes when Fabregas` cutting through ball found Chamakh attack, who rounded Felipe (replacing Braga`s stupendously named first choice goalie Quim) only to be taken out by the onrushing keeper. Captain Fabregas stepped up and calmly steered the penalty to the keeper`s left, beyond his desperate reach. Fabregas was again at the hub as the Gunners looked to double their lead straight away. Fabregas chested the ball down to Wilshere in the area; and Wilshere`s close range shot was beaten out via the legs of Felipe.
The home side dropped off slightly for ten minutes or so after that initial flurry and Braga were able to mount a couple of half threatening counter raids down their left, but their advances were comfortably dealt with by Arsenal`s Gallic rearguard. But another sprinkling of Fabregas fairy dust put paid to any half hearted attempts to get a foothold in the game. Cesc glided past three challenges with a beguiling change of feet before shifting the ball to Arshavin in the left hand channel of the area and the Russian made no mistake, powering the ball past Felipe at his front post. At this point, the Gunners rediscovered their mojo and it wasn`t long before they carved out a quite glorious third. Arshavin`s clever reverse chip into the area was chested down by Chamakh to Wilshere; the youngster initially appeared to have the ball stuck under his feet in a tight space, but he played Chamakh in with a delicious back heel which the Moroccan calmly steered into the bottom corner for his third goal for the club. A wonderfully crafted effort in such a premium of space.
The second half was only ever going to be a procession as we discussed which substitutions the manager should make at the interval; I personally wanted Fabregas and Chamakh withdrawn within about ten minutes of the second half- the manager made good on one of those predictions. Eight minutes into the second period, the home side applied yet more gloss. Fabregas, showing leadership by example, ravenously closed down Moises on the edge of the Braga area; despite the fact that we were 3-0 up; this was a man who wasn`t letting up and inspiring his team to do likewise. The ricochet broke to Arshavin on the left; he dinked in an inch perfect cross which Fabregas stretched every sinew in his neck to meet and headed the ball into the bottom corner. Attentions could well and truly turn to Sunderland on Saturday as Song and Chamakh were withdrawn. But the Gunners weren`t finished yet. Arshavin`s defence splitting pass found the rampaging Fabregas, who bore down on the Braga goal, he attempted a little lift over Felipe, but the Brazilian keeper got an errant hand to it, enabling Moises to scurry back and clear off the line. It would have been one of the more deserved hat tricks seen in the competition.
Arsenal were carving Braga apart for fun by the time Nasri`s probing pass found Arshavin- on the right of the area this time. But his measured shot cannoned off the inside of the post. But it wasn`t long before Arsenal had their fifth. Arshavin, once again picking up space between midfield and attack, hit a slide rule pass into the left channel for substitute Carlos Vela to stroll through on goal and dink the ball over the onrushing Felipe. If he produces a chipped finish one more time, he is officially allowed to keep it and earn royalties from anyone else who attempts it. Interest in the game can sometimes wane when a match is as one sided as this. My eyes were drawn to the tier below, in the front row of the East Lower. A young lad was, quite literally, being dragged to the exit early by his father. The father, wanting to depart early to beat the rush, suffered the indignity of literally grabbing his young lad`s arm and pulling him towards the exit as he clung onto his seat for dear life, not wanting to tear his eyes away from the footballing pyrotechnics. Eventually the father liberated the young lad of his grip and literally dragged him up the stairs towards the concourse by his arm. Just as they approached the concourse, Wilshere clipped a sumptuous ball over the top of the Braga defence, which Fabregas controlled. As he was held up by Moises, Fabregas unselfishly slid the ball into Carlos Vela, who produced a clam, controlled finish at the keeper`s front post. The young lad`s determination to disobey his father`s desire to leave early had delayed them long enough to see the sixth goal. Well done that young man.
Cynics will snort that it was "only Braga" that we demolished, but new to the Champions League though they may be; they are no whipping boys. Having thrashed Celtic and comprehensively beaten Sevilla in the qualifiers, they were not to be underestimated. In truth, Braga are probably a decent Europa Cup level side, so you might say that they are about the equivalent of an Aston Villa or a Fulham. Had we beat either of those 6-0 at home, cynicism would be in shorter supply. Whilst it`s true that they stood off and let us play our game, it is churlish to dismiss the quality of our display, the passing, the finishing, the desire to close players down even when the game was won. All this of course was led by Fabregas who has developed as a leader of men, as an example to his team, it is becoming increasingly hard not to sound sycophantic in appreciation of his talents, but it`s hard to be critical because I am struggling to think of flaws in his game. He might possibly be the best Arsenal player I have seen. One would not be incorrect to pontificate on the genius of the likes of Bergkamp, Henry and the like. But central midfield is a different ball game. The aforementioned past masters could assume the luxury of drifting out of a game for long periods before producing a piece of genius that sticks in the memory. Fabregas plays a position that requires him to dominate games for their entirety. That he is able to do so with such unerring regularity is quite extraordinary. Wilshere also produced a performance in the same humdrum area that was way beyond his tender years. But this game is in the past now, we have a difficult game on Saturday and champions go to Sunderland and win after a midweek Champions League match. I very much doubt we`ll hear any "oles" from the Arsenal fans during this game. Despite having won two home games 6-0, I still think our most pleasing display was at Ewood Park and we will require that kind of fortitude come Saturday tea time.LD.
1.ALMUNIA, 3.SAGNA, 18.SQUILLACI, 5.VERMAELEN, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG (15.Denilson `63), 19.WILSHERE, 4.FABREGAS©, 8.NASRI, 23.ARSHAVIN (27.Eboue `77), 29.CHAMAKH (11.Vela `63). Unused: 7.Rosicky, 20.Djourou, 21.Fabianski, 28.Gibbs.