Fàbregas 9' (PK)
Arsenal opened their UEFA Champions League bid today with a strolling, effortless 6-0 smashing of SC Braga. It was the largest opening round victory in the history of the competition, according to OptaJoe's twitter feed.
From the very start, Arsenal looked by far the most dangerous side. A stonewall penalty appeal was denied to Cesc Fabregas after three minutes, but it was only a matter of time before Arsenal found the breakthrough. It came five minutes later, Marouane Chamakh pulling a through ball away from Braga's keeper Felipe, who brought down the Moroccan like a wolf bringing down a caribou. Yellow card, PK, Fabregas stepped up and smashed it in right next to the post for Arsenal's first.
Arsenal, as is often the case, dominated possession for the next twenty minutes. Braga did have one moment of threat off a corner, when Gael Clichy let a ball bounce near him, eventually seeing his attempted clearance ricochet back dangerously on goal where Manuel Almunia saved.
At this point, Arsenal's chances were certainly simmering in the pot. One finally came to the boil as Fàbregas received a pass thirty yards out, turned, dribbled to his left, threaded a pass through to Andrei Arshavin who was steaming in from the left. The Russian picked his spot and ripped home a shot at the near post past a woeful Felipe for Arsenal's second. Given the way the match had gone so far, with Braga only occasionally coming within sight of Manuel Almunia's goal, the only question was how many goals would Arsenal pile on top.
The third was not too far in the future. A Bacary Sagna cross was cleared only as far as Jack Wilshere, who passed to Fabregas before running for the box. Fabregas sent the ball up to Chamakh, who played it through for Wilshere. Jack ran into a defender before backheeling a pass between the defender's legs to Chamakh, who composed himself and shot into the far corner. The striker immediately turned to acknowledge the ridiculous backheel by the young midfielder, and Arsenal were on their way to halftime with a three-goal cushion.
Halftime was but a pause in the Arsenal flood, as Braga made no changes of personnel. The fourth came in slightly unorthodox fashion, the ball squirting out to Arshavin on the left for him to float back into the path of Fabregas' head, the captain delicately guiding it home at the bottom corner. The defending was slack, Braga well-beaten, but more was to come. Fabregas nearly made it a hattrick a few minutes later, put through only to see his chip of the keeper slightly touched and subsequently cleared before it tumbled across the line.
Arsenal were once again dominating possession, well on their way to completing 545 passes on the evening, and the fifth goal essentialized their style on the evening. Sixteen passes ended up with Arshavin on the left, from whence he slipped the lightest of through balls towards goal for Carlos Vela, who had recently come on for Chamakh, to run onto and chip over the onrushing Felipe. It's becoming a trademark for the Mexican international, although he's clearly capable of more; he just seems to pop up in situations where a chip works best.
5-0, but Arsenal were not finished. There remained twenty minutes for more goals. Emmanuel Eboué came on for Arshavin and Denilson for Alex Song, and Arsenal continued passing, looking for space behind the defense. The sixth came via special delivery from The Captain, a looping Wilshere lob over the top finding Fàbregas in a space to shoot. Instead, he laid it off for the even more open Vela to slot home for Arsenal's sixth. Smiles all around, Cesc scoring two and providing the final pass for two more. Arsenal played out the string, the referee blew time, and three points were in the bag.
Arsène Wenger has stressed the importance of winning the home matches in the group stage, and this was a wonderful way to start. Sunderland away on Saturday sits on the horizon, but for now, the players will be happy to go home, get in some chicken and rice, and have a good sleep.
Links tomorrow, Sunderland preview on Friday. Have a good evening, everyone.