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SC Braga 2 - 0 Arsenal: match report

Arsenal fell to second place in Group H today with a 2-0 loss in Portugal.  They and SC Braga are now level on nine points, three behind group leaders Shakhtar Donetsk.  Arsenal must win against Partizan Belgrade at the Emirates on December 8 to guarantee a spot in the last 16; they can only win the group if they win and Shakhtar lose.

From the offing today, the match was very dull.  The stats from Orbinho tell one story:

FT Stats Braga v Arsenal Shots 9-9, On target 3-1, Fouls 22-19, Duels Won % 40%-60%, Passing Accuracy 68%-87%, Possession 29%-71%.

Or from avfccentral:

arsenal 550 passes to braga's 209, that's 73/27. possession was 64/36 in arsenal's favour. the score? 2-0 to braga. that's football.

Ugh.  That is football, indeed.

During the first half, numerous chances went begging after Kieran Gibbs found space on the left to cross to nobody, or Arsenal won a corner that went to nobody, or Cesc Fabregas kicked a free kick that softly floated away.  From about the 30th to the 40th minutes, Arsenal were in the ascendancy; Theo Walcott burst through in the 39th minute only to send a shot wide, and Nicklas Bendter jinked around shortly before the half to win a free kick.  Said free kick ended up mighty wide from the boot of Fabregas.

The second half started off quite slowly.  There were two efforts at goal in the first fifteen minutes.  Then, at 66', the first horrible thing happened, as Fabregas stretched for a ball from Bendtner and hurt his already-hurt hamstring (questions arise at this point about why he played today, and why Robin van Persie, who needs time on the pitch to get his form back, did not).  The captain had to leave the match, and Wenger replaced him with Samir Nasri.

In the 71st minute, Arsenal managed another good maneuver between Tomas Rosicky and Walcott, but Bendtner couldn't get to the ball before the Braga defender hacked it away for another corner that came to nothing.  Walcott would soon come off for Carlos Vela.

Arsenal should have had a penalty seven minutes later, Vela fouled in the area, but instead the referee booked the Mexican striker for diving.

In the 81st minute, Mateus crushed Emmanuel Eboué, the latter's knee buckling awkwardly by all accounts, and he left on a stretcher, Arsenal down to ten men as Bendtner had come off for Marouane Chamakh.  And this would matter, as not two minutes later, Mateus took the ball on a break after Arsenal's free kick, raced away, and finished over Lukasz Fabianski.  1-0 to Braga, bad luck for Arsenal, two players hurt, ten men, and the sound of a million twitters being shot across the bow of UEFA.

Arsenal pressed forward, but a Wilshere free kick came to nothing, and injury time helped the hosts more than Arsenal, as the same Mateus raced free onto a long ball over the middle, held off all challengers as he ran up the pitch, and buried the ball past Lukasz Fabianski, dumping a whole jar of salt into the sucking chest wound Arsenal had already.  It was a tremendous goal, to be fair, but one that should never have happened had either Gibbs or Sebastien Squillaci managed to stop the Braga man in his tracks.

All in all, a terrible night.  Still, Arsenal are two points back in the league, still look to go through in the Champions League, are in the Carling Cup running, and are still in the FA Cup.  The team absolutely must turn it around right now, though, there is no doubt.