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Braga vs. Arsenal: Champions League Group H match preview

Kickoff: 2:45 PM EST
Coverage: Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Soccer Plus (at 5 PM on delay)

Arsenal travel to Portugal to play their fifth Champions League group match of the year.  Braga were on the wrong end of a 6-0 destruction at the Emirates in September, but they will of course be a different prospect at home tomorrow as Shakhtar Donetsk were in Donetsk.



A draw tomorrow would ensure Arsenal of a place in the last sixteen of the competition.  A win tomorrow coupled with a Shakhtar Donetsk loss would all but guarantee Arsenal the top spot in the group.  However, Arsenal's away form in Portugal is not the best in recent years, and they will be traveling without Gael Clichy (injured back), Andrei Arshavin (rest), or Robin van Persie (regaining fitness).

Long-term injuries to Manuel Almunia, Abou Diaby, and Thomas Vermaelen mean that those players will also be missing tomorrow.  Interestingly, Aaron Ramsey is training in these pictures with the squad, and could perhaps show up in some capacity in the match tomorrow, which would be wonderful.

[UPDATE: well, apparently Ramsey was just training, because he played in the Reserves match today and did well.  So he's not in Braga.]

[UPDATE UPDATE: also, Cesc is facing a fitness test, so we may see Rosicky in his place in midfield and Nasri on the left wing?  Also, Chamakh may sit, leaving the forward duties to Nicklas Bendtner.]

It will take some time to rebuild confidence in the team on the part of many supporters after the events of this weekend, but there's only one place to start.  Getting a clean sheet and looking solid at the back would also do wonders to restore some confidence in the players, one suspects.  Braga have won two in a row against Partizan Belgrade in the Champions League, so they're on a bit of a roll as far as their European form, but their Portuguese situation is not as good.  Both teams will look to use this match as a boost for their confidence in light of recent domestic disappointments.

Clichy cannot make the trip, so Kieran Gibbs will deputize at left back.  One suspects, too, that other key players may be rested, particularly those such as Bacary Sagna that featured in international play last week.  On the other hand, this is a match that Arsenal have to have if they want to win their group, so Arsène Wenger may put out as strong a squad as possible.

[Programming notes: I will most likely be unable to watch the match, but will be listening on Arsenal TV Online.  Also, I've decided to dial back my in-game commenting some going forward, as I end up looking at my computer more than I do at the match sometimes.]

Potential lineup:


Sagna          Squillaci         Djourou         Gibbs

Song        Wilshere

Fabregas [Rosicky]

Walcott          Chamakh [Bendtner]          [Nasri] Rosicky

Key subs: Denilson, Samir Nasri, Aaron Ramsey (played today for Reserves), Emmanuel Eboue, Nicklas Bendtner