Arsenal will kick off tomorrow, Wednesday the 15th, at 2:45 EDT against SC Braga of Portugal at the Emirates Stadium in their first Champions League Group H encounter. The match will be shown in the US on foxsoccer.tv (subscription required).
It is a match that most Arsenal fans will expect to get a result from, and yet, Arsenal's players will know that every match must be taken seriously in the competition. Last year saw them nearly slip up in a group stage fixture against Standard Liège, and of course, there was the letdown in Porto. Another year of experience in the competition for most of Arsenal's players will do them good, however.
Arsène Wenger outlined what to expect from Braga in his press conference today (subscription needed); they are "good on the counter, good at taking long shots, very organized". As discussed in the Group H preview post, Braga came in second in the Portuguese top flight last year to Benfica. They have a strong Brazilian influence and numerous Brazilian players and are strong in the transition as well, according to Wenger. Tim Vickery talks about the Brazilian influence at length in his piece on Braga on the BBC today as well.
It is vital that Arsenal takes three points from each of their home fixtures in the group. Nine points is almost certainly enough to see qualification for the knockout rounds and means that a win in any of the away matches virtually locks up the top spot.
Arsenal will go into the match without Thomas Vermaelen, who is still recovering from an achilles problem picked up while playing for Belgium, and Abou Diaby, who is out for an undetermined amount of time after Paul Robinson came in high and dangerous with his studs on Saturday. Still out also are Nicklas Bendtner, Theo Walcott, Robin van Persie, and Aaron Ramsey.
Braga did lose 3-2 to Porto on Saturday in what was reported to be a barnburner, so hopefully some of their players will be tired. Either way, though, it is a match that Arsenal should win.