Tonight sees the return of Champions league football to the Emirates as Portugese side Braga come to town hoping to cause an upset. In their two qualifying rounds they knocked out both Celtic and Sevilla and while Celtic are certainly no world beaters the Spanish side are a very good team with plenty of European experience.
I saw the highlights of the second leg in Spain where Braga won 4-3 after having previously won the home leg as well. The scoreline was a little false as Sevilla got a couple of late goals when the tie was already wrapped up for Braga. Braga looked very good on the break and Arsenal will have to be very careful tonight not to give them opportunities to run at us with the ball as our defenders are retreating. They break very quickly and the precision of their passing on those breaks is top notch.
Of course Sevilla were missing one of their better defenders that night as he sat the game out waiting for a move to a bigger club to develop. That move went ahead and it means that Squillaci will get the chance to do to Braga what his former team mates couldn't do.
The injury news yesterday was a little mixed as the boss told us that Vermaelen hadn't recovered from his Achilles injury in tome to be included in the team but it's hoped that he will be fit to play against Sunderland on Saturday evening. We were told last week that he would be fit for this game but at this stage we expect no more once our players enter the dreaded Arsenal medical centre.
Another player to miss out will be Diaby as the disgraceful challenge that almost broke his leg on Saturday has resulted in him being out for an indeterminate amount of time. As it stands we know he won't play tonight or on Saturday either and he obviously won't be part of the team that plays the Spuds in the Carling Cup next Tuesday which gives him a further week to recover before hopefully playing some part in the league game with West Brom the following Saturday.
Speaking about Diaby's injury the boss said he was vague about the return date because he is still waiting for the inflamation to go down. It's on the same ankle that he had broken for him four years ago and the boss said that there are usually bad surprises when Diaby has a scan but the signs are promising this time. He also spoke about Diaby's reaction to the challenge when he eventually got to his feet and he said he could have been sent off for overreacting. Thankfully he wasn't as it was Robinson who should have got his marching orders and a long ban to go with it too. If it had been me that suffered that tackle I would have found a way to exact the revenge on him that he deserved.
I thought that the FA are able to act on any piece of foul play that the referee misses in a game and the referee must have missed Robinson's challenge or surely he would have taken some action. He did give a free kick so maybe the FA rules mean that once the referee gives a free kick that's the end of the matter regardless of how wrong he is. If they are going to tolerate challenges like that in the game it's going to lead to even more injuries like that suffered by Valencia last night. I didn't see the tackle as it happened and I think there was very little in it but I feel for any player who suffers any injury like that.
On the plus side Nasri is available for selection again after his knee surgery although I think I'm right in saying that he was on the bench last Saturday but didn't get any game time. It will be interesting to see exactly who gets the place in the team vacated by Diaby and I suspect that whoever does play won't get more than 60 minutes before being replaced.
I suppose the most obvious choice to play has to be Wilshere as he is fully fit and has played a part in every game we have played so far, starting in three out of four games. However, he rarely gets more than an hour when he plays in that central midfield role and the boss appears to be easing him in very slowly.
The other two players who will contest that position are both on the comeback trail from injury and might be a bit of a risk to play from the start. Besides Nasri who hasn't played since the opening day of the season after the operation for the knee injury he picked up in that game we also have Denilson. He played for 20 minutes on Saturday against Bolton and it was the first game he had played since last April except for a reserve outing last week. If I let my heart rule my head I would say play Nasri but the logical thing to do would probably be to play Wilshere. However, as I have discounted Denilson you will probably find that he gets the nod.
The rest of the team would seem to be pretty straight forward to me as Almunia will play in goal with both Koscielny and Squillaci as our only choices in central defence. I'm sure that Sagna and Clichy will return to fill the full back roles too after Eboue and Gibbs got a game each on Saturday. Song and Cesc are absolute certainties in midfield for me and with Chamakh and Arshavin sure to start up front I think the wide right role has to be filled by Rosicky who played so well yet again on Saturday although he didn't exactly play in that role.
I think Arsenal will have to be a little more patient than usual tonight as over committing players forward will be a very risky business. I'm sure Braga won't make the mistake that Bolton did and play a high back line and they will have their goalkeeper and nine outfield players behind the ball whenever we are in possession. I would like to see a few runs where players can get to the end line and either cut the ball back or hang it up for Chamakh who is so deadly in the air and with that in mind both full backs will have to get forward when the play allows it.
Song will have a very important role to play in front of the defence as it will be up to him to stop any quick breaks at source and I will be surprised if he doesn't get a yellow card at some stage. In Cesc we have a player who Braga will find very hard to handle and I'm hoping that he will be the man to unlock their defence. They aren't too strong at the back so I expect Arsenal to score a few goals but I think we will concede too. If Arshavin can get his shooting boots on, unlike Saturday, he will probably net himself a goal too in my opinion. Having said all that I'm going for a high scoring 4-2 victory for Arsenal which probably means you can expect a hard fought 1-0 victory for us.
Another thing that both Arsenal and the six match officials will have to be aware of is the play acting, time wasting and spoiling tactics that Braga are bound to employ. I have yet to see Arsenal play a Portugese team who don't employ those tactics and the best way to stop the time wasting is of course to take an early lead. We can expect their players to go down in agony under the mildest of challenges and to do everything possible to try to influence the officials.
With UEFA putting an official behind each goal there will be plenty of them to see what's going on but you can be sure that between them they will miss something despite Platini stating that they will get 99-100% of their decisions right. I suppose the decisions they get wrong will be the ones that they don't make when they fail to see something that might have been seen by the use of technology.
Reserves vs Man City:
The reserves played away to Man City's reserves last night and managed a1-1 draw after going behind early on. The goal was a spectacular effort from JET yet again and he certainly seems to be banging them in this season. He's a player who is certain to play in the Carling Cup against the Spuds next week and I'm looking forward to seeing how good he is live on TV. Djourou also played and from speaking to people who watched the game as Man City streamed it live for free he was far from his best. He played poorly against Blackburn's reserves last week too but after a year out of the game it's going to take him a while to find any sort of form I would imagine.
That's it for today.
See You Tomorrow.