If you, like me, don’t follow the Portuguese league or the early stages of the Champions League then you probably don’t know much about Braga. That’s the reason I was quite interested in listening to Arsene’s opinion about our opponents on Wednesday night. These are the points I got from the press conference,
Braga are team that is physically strong, well organized, play with quick transition from defence to offence, and are good with shots from distance.
It’s not a surprise really. You could easily describe Porto with those words and some of the other teams we’ve faced in the early stages of the competition, as well as many domestic opponents.
I’m getting a feeling we are going to see the first parked bus of the season. So far we’ve played against some teams that tried defending but none of them really set their stall out in front of goal. Bolton and Blackburn kicked it long at every opportunity and while we had phases in both games when we pushed them back, it wasn’t for long periods.
Braga are likely to sit deep and will try and emulate the tactics that made Inter so successful last season. Their problem is they don’t have players of that calibre so unless Arsenal players make some bad mistakes or they get a big slice of luck, the visitors are not going to trouble us much.
Moreover, with so many Brazilians in the side I doubt they will go route one. However, they might try to work the channels and use the pace of their wingers. I’m guessing Arsene rested Clichy and Sagna because of this threat and our full backs should have a big role to play today.
In attack, I think we will need some patience and a fast tempo. The movement of the front three will be extremely critical in opening a well organized defence. With the experience and creativity that we have, and the added aerial strength of Chamakh, I’ll be disappointed if we don’t score two or three goals.
Defensively, we have to cut out basic errors. When a team plays on the counter they have a great deal of space to run into and one error can leave us completely exposed. In the past we have seen that three or four of our players end up on one flank and someone in the middle gives the ball away with a sloppy pass. That’s the worst kind of mistake as it gives the opposition two thirds of the pitch to run onto.
I also feel this will be a game where we will need some good interceptions. Our defensive players will have to read the game well to break the quick transitions that Arsene talked about. If he is fit, I expect to see Denilson back into the starting line-up for this reason. Koscielny is also renowned for his interceptions but he will have cut out the mistakes he made in the League games. If we gift them an early goal this might turn into a really hard grind.
Lastly, we’ll have to close their players down in the defensive third. Many of the visiting side have a dangerous shot from distance and we cannot be lax in pressing. This is one area where the relative inexperience of our central defensive pairing might be tested. Song and Denilson will have to cover for them.
I expect to see three or four changes from the team that started against Bolton. Clichy and Sagna will come in place of Eboue and Gibbs. I realize that many people want Gibbs to get a run of games, especially after an impressive game against Bolton. But I’ll be surprised if Arsene gives him a start as he is quite inexperienced as far as Champions League goes.
That will give us an all French defence behind the midfield trio of Cesc, Denilson, and Song. Some fans will probably want to see Wilshere get another chance and he might play depending on the match fitness of Denilson.
Up front I think Arshavin and Chamakh will be supported by Nasri on the right. But that too will be down to match fitness. Nasri hasn’t played for over a month so I’m not sure if he’ll be ready to start. Rosicky will keep his place if the Frenchman isn’t ready. That could end up as a test for Little Mozart as these days I’m not convinced he has the fitness to play two games in three days.
I see the following starting line-up,
Almunia – Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Denilson – Nasri, Chamakh, Arshavin.
I expect this game will be played in one half for large parts. After enduring the unbearable style of Blackburn and Bolton this game should offer some proper football. We haven’t lost a Champions League group stage home game for seven years. Cesc opening his account for the season and a long range strike from Denilson should do the trick.