Friday 24 November 2017

Six-shooting Gunners have plenty to Braga about

Marouane Chamakh (left) runs through the Braga defence on his way to scoring Arsenal's third goal. Photo: PA
Marouane Chamakh (left) runs through the Braga defence on his way to scoring Arsenal's third goal. Photo: PA


THIS was Arsenal at their very best. Their football both beautiful and clinical, tearing to pieces opponents who had accounted for Celtic and Sevilla in reaching the Champions League group stage.

The Portuguese stood no chance against Arsene Wenger's men of war. Goals from Cesc Fabregas, twice, Andrei Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh and Carlos Vela, twice, made it a tennis score. Fabregas was immense, always at the heart of the action, always conducting the Arsenal orchestra like a maestro.

Such a virtuoso display simply reminded a bewitched audience how vital it had been that Arsenal resisted Barcelona's summer courtship of their No 4. As if they needed reminding.

At one stage during the second period, the Spaniard was involved time and again in a lengthy move that zigzagged around Braga's half and was followed by “ole'' after “ole''.

Fabregas will dominate the six-ofthe-best headlines but young Jack Wilshere deserves an honourable mention in dispatches. Playing with his head up, always alive to his team-mates' movement, the Englishman's left foot kept steering the ball accurately around the Emirates.

Chamakh also shone, a beacon in attack, confirming that Wenger has again invested wisely.

The tall Moroccan gives Arsenal that aerial option and a touch of ball-holding prowess, allowing the midfielders to weave their magic off him.


Wenger had politely saluted Braga as “basically a Brazilian team who play in Portugal'' but signs of the beautiful game flowed purely from Arsenal, who swiftly seized the lead through Fabregas before Arshavin and Chamakh killed the game off before half-time. When Fabregas headed in a second shortly after the restart, Braga could have been forgiven for raising a white flag.

Even before Fabregas found the mark after eight minutes, the hosts could have been ahead. Fabregas was caught by Paulo Cesar in the area but his appeal was ignored by Alain Hamer, one of six officials from Luxembourg here, which rather begged the question of whether anyone was left in the Grand Duchy. Arsenal's consternation was shortlived.

A moment of frustration merely delayed the inevitable. Arsenal were that irresistible in their movement and, soon, their finishing. Red shirts swarmed all over the Portuguese, Samir Nasri gliding down the right while Arshavin scuttled at speed down the left.

Chamakh provided a mobile target for the passes through the middle of Fabregas and Wilshere while Alex Song held the fort, guarding against Braga's few breakaways. Wilshere, playing with a wonderful maturity beyond his 18 years, and Fabregas forced the early breakthrough.

Picking up possession near the half-way line, the Englishman teased the ball forward to Fabregas, who hurried it down the inside-left channel for Chamakh. The Moroccan ran on, soon caught by Felipe, Braga's ’keeper. No complaints fell from the visitors' lips. Just a look of resignation crept across their faces as Fabregas picked up the ball.

The Spaniard ran in, twitched his shoulders to try to send Felipe the wrong way. The ’keeper guessed correctly, throwing himself to his left, but Fabregas's kick was too quick, too expertly placed: 1-0. Felipe had no chance. Arsenal were really in the mood, Fabregas and Wilshere running midfield.

They did not eschew the physical either, Laurent Koscielny nailing Matheus with an outstretched boot. Braga briefly hinted at a comeback, Manuel Almunia having to gather Cesar's deflected shot.

Dawns don't come much falser. Arsenal simply floored the accelerator again, driving all over Braga. Chamakh really impressed, proving an advanced clearing house for Arsenal moves, showing real pace in escaping Alberto Rodriguez who responded by tripping him.

But the eye kept being drawn back to the playmaker in red, to Fabregas, as he created Arsenal's second. Collecting possession 25 yards out, slightly to the right of centre, he dribbled to the left, his close control guiding the ball elegantly around Moises. Arshavin had made another darting run, cleverly angled and instantly read by Fabregas. Great minds think alike.

Fabegras's pass sped to the feet of Arshavin, who was played onside by Rodriguez. The Russian opened up his body, shaping to shoot across Felipe before drilling the ball in at the near post: 2-0.

Arsenal saved their best goal of the half until last. It was a gem, helped by a suspicion of offside, but a work of beauty nonetheless, climaxing a long move begun by Wilshere on the left. He passed inside to Fabregas, who turned and picked out Bacary Sagna's run down the right.

Braga's defence was being pulled left and right. They managed to clear the danger but Arsenal were in ruthless mood, going for the jugular. Wilshere controlled the bouncing ball, feeding Arshavin before scampering into the box. Arshavin dinked the ball in, Chamakh now displaying his targetman qualities. Chesting the ball down, he laid it off to Wilshere, who looked marginally offside.

No flag. Wilshere was not standing on ceremony. The teenager controlled the ball with his left foot and then backheeled it with his right into the path of Chamakh. The Emirates stood in admiration, loving the sight of a home-grown talent playing with such verve. Wilshere's pass was brutally controlled by Chamakh and drilled past Felipe: 3-0.

The evening's entertainment was far from over. Arshavin, who was terrific throughout his 69 minutes' action, crossed from the left for Fabregas, rising strongly, to head home: 4-0. The pair were soon involved again, this time Fabregas inviting Arshavin to dribble into the box and set up Vela, who had just replaced Chamakh. Vela dinked the ball over Felipe: 5-0.

There was more. The ball sped from Wilshere to Fabregas to Vela, who beat Felipe at the near post: 6-0. Braga's previous heaviest defeat in Europe also came in north London, at White Hart Lane, in 1984. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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