We are now about to begin a new but all familiar journey to try and claim Europe’s ultimate football prize. We have had lots of ups and downs over the years, Arsene Wenger has said he has sleepless nights wondering why this trophy has eluded him for so long. The closest we have had to claiming it was that Wednesday night in Paris.
I was so psyched up for that game since as most of you know I’m a huge fan of European football as I have witnessed the likes of Milan and Madrid get crowned over the years but this time it was our turn. We started off the game like possessed men knowing that it would be history for us if we were to win it. We had the best defense in Europe and Henry was the best forward in Europe so I had lots of confidence that we were going to win.
Henry missed a couple of early chances but you felt it was only a matter of time before we broke the deadlock. Unfortunately for us Lehmann got sent off which forced Wenger to substitute Pires who was my favorite player in the squad. I felt sad for the man since he was playing in front of his friends and family in his hometown which led to the departure of a legend…I felt so sad for him as the game continued since the cameras took every opportunity when there was a break to glance at the face of a broken man and little did I know we too weren’t going to have a happy ending…
Despite Campbell scoring for us Henry was our main culprit of missing chances as he tore the stains defence only to hand the ball to Valdez. Hleb and Ljunberg went close but you all know how the night ended… Millions of Gooners all over the world were broken and truth be told my mind replays that game over, time and time again, wondering what went wrong?
Since then we have been knocked out in the quarters twice, once in the semis and once in the round of 16. In 07-08 we were so good it was almost unbelievable till that night at Anfield where we lost despite playing some breathtaking stuff.
Looking at the past winners of the competition since 2004 – Porto, Barca (twice), Liverpool, Milan, Mancs and Inter all have several things in common. Firstly all had very good defenses. This doesn’t necessarily mean the best defenders but having a solid unit. After the Bolton game Wenger said the same thing and that we are close to reaching there, whether we do is anyone’s guess. Another thing is the amount of pressing done by these teams. Tackling is good but for me pressing like a pack of wolves is more effective since a tackle may result to a sending off or even a serious injury to the tackler. Barca could have knocked us out us in 45 minutes as AW said which was mainly due to how they pressed us from the front not allowing us any time to settle.
Secondly all the above teams had an outstanding player who was contending for the balon d’or. In our ranks we have Cesc, RVP10 and AA who are most likely to claim that prize. One or indeed all of them need to step up if we are to win the CL. You also need lots of luck as Liverpool showed in Istanbul, Barca at the Bridge, and Inter at the Camp nou…
Do we have the aforementioned qualities?
Certainly the likes of Mourinho don’t think so. As for me I think attack wise we are among the best right now but in defence we’ll have to wait and see.
Today we face Braga. Having enjoyed their best Liga season in 2009/10 when they finished second, SC Braga are now making an impact in Europe after eliminating Celtic FC and Sevilla FC to earn a first UEFA Champions League group stage campaign. They are nicknamed the Arsenalistas because Braga’s kit resembles that of Arsenal FC – this is said to be down to Hungarian coach József Szabó, who had three spells in charge between 1935 and 1961. Szabó had visited Arsenal in September 1935 and was so impressed with the north London club that he convinced Braga to change their original white and green colours. That being said we should take Braga lightly at our own peril…
Although this is their first appearance in the Champions League they had to shrug off Sporting Lisbon and Porto last term going toe to toe with Benfica is where they fell short in the end. This was the first time they finished in the top three in their history.
Over the past few years the minnows from northern Portugal have slowly been getting their act together, particularly on the European stage. Braga successfully qualified for the UEFA Cup/Europa League for the last three successive seasons, gaining experience and confidence year after year. Bolton, Bayern Munich and PSG have all been held to draws while Tottenham, AC Milan and Wolfsburg chalked up victories by the slenderest one-goal margins. This season Braga has already knocked out Celtic and Sevilla on their way to the group stage.
Braga’s main strength is a very strong back line which only conceded 20 goals last team considering that 5 of them were against Porto making it ever more impressive. A host of new recruits have been signed up this summer, including Nigerian international left-back Uwa Echijile(look out for him), as well as a trio of Brazilians; centre-backs Eduardo and Leo Fortunato and anchoring midfielder Leandro Salino have all joined up with the squad. They have very good counter attacks which we know can be dangerous if we let them initiate them. This makes Song crucial as he will have to be positionally disciplined to prevent them. Their attack is comprised of a couple of Brazilians who could be lethal if given the opportunity.
One of this Brazilians is their top scorer Matheus who scored in the league opener with Portimonense and netting vital strikes in both legs of the Champions League play-off with Sevilla to follow his piledriver against Celtic. Don’t be fooled though as Braga score from different regions of the pitch which is helped by Matheus who plays like Chamakh drifting all over while making intelligent runs to draw out the centre backs.
All in all we are the favorites, no European team has ever won at the Emirates. Whoever pulls on an Arsenal shirt today should play at 110% if we are to end our European trophy drought. If we want to be considered as European juggernauts we have to lift the big eared trophy which would go a long way to solidifying Wenger’s legacy. First we have to win the first then the rest will follow. Have a memorable evening all gooners and let’s hope our boys make us proud.
C’MON YOU REDS!!!!!!!!!
Look of champions????
Written by KTR-7