The Emirates Was No Place for Children Wednesday!

Mmmmm…Give me some of that hot Gunner action

Children should have been kept out of the Emirates on Wednesday night because Arsenal put on a display of unabashed, uncensored, graphic football porn for 90 minutes.  The Gunner’s had their way with hapless Braga, and did it with force, with vigor, and a whole lot of classy penetration.  On any other stage, what you saw on Wednesday night might well have been illegal.
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There’s so much to like about the Arsenal performance, not least of which are the six goals and the clean sheet.  If Barcelona deserve all manner of praise for beating a very poor Panathinaikos side 5-1, then Arsenal certainly deserve as much.  Arsenal are proving that they can go from “strength to strength” as Arsene Wenger likes to say.  After stringing together some impressive performances in the league, there was no let off against the Portuguese runners-up.  Arsenal had a formidable lineup with Nasri returning to take Theo’s place on the right side of attack.  But if there was any surprise in the starting eleven it was yet another start for Jack Wilshere in lieu of Denilson or the in form Tomas Rosicky.
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It’s really remarkable to consider what’s happening with Wilshere this season.  During the summer there were questions about whether he should be loaned out again.  It was unclear whether he would get more than just sporadic playing time and the odd Carling Cup appearance.  But Arsene Wenger not only kept him in the team, he has started him in every match except away to Blackburn.  And the youngster has responded.  While his debut at Anfield wasn’t a vintage display, he has grown leaps and bounds with each match.  Tonight’s performance was a real master class.  He put all of his skills together against Braga, showing the determination, the creativity, and the maturity that you rarely find in a teenager.  Just like Cesc learned his football alongside some of the greatest ever gunners, Jack is now learning alongside Cesc.  And it’s clear that he’s got a very steep learning curve.
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Speaking, of Cesc Fabregas, what can you possibly say about our captain?  He was breathtaking on Wednesday.  He did absolutely everything you can ask for.  He created goals.  He scored goals.  He prevented goals.  He chased the ball.  He made tackles.  He stepped up and cooly converted the penalty that opened our scoring spree.  And that was after he should have had an earlier penalty that was obvious for all the world to see.  All the while, he never lost his unselfishness, as he proved by setting up Vela late in the game when no one would have blamed him for trying to bag his hat trick.  If I bothered rating players, he would rate a perfect 10.
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Cesc looks better and better with every match.  It’s absolutely ridiculous to think that anyone ever valued him at £35 million.  He’s the best creative midfielder in the world for me and he’s not even in his prime yet.  As far as I’m concerned, he may be beyond Xavi now.  The only frightening thing about Cesc’s talent is that I don’t believe it can be replaced.  Not by any player in the world.  Hopefully that’s not something to think about for a long time.  After the match Arsene Wenger praised Fabregas, saying that the young spaniard has taken on “another dimension.”  It’s something we need as we are desperately short of the fifth dimension in the squad.  Maybe we should sign Buckaroo Bonzai.  As for Fabregas himself, he said “I’ve always felt fantastic here. I’m very happy to be here.”  A welcome reassurance borne out by his performances.
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While Cesc will deservedly steal the headlines, and the British press will heap deserved praise on Jack Wilshere, Marouane Chamakh can’t be praised highly enough.  He took his goal well, earned the penalty, and generally gave Braga all kinds of problems.  He can hold the ball up as well as anyone we’ve had for a long time, but what might be surprising a few people is the quality of his distribution.  He’s picking out great passes and scored his goal off a lovely one-two with Wilshere.  Chamakh’s movement is also hugely important to our success.  Much like Theo, he pulls defenders out of position and creates spaces for his teammates to make runs behind the defense.  When Chamakh dropped deeper, the defense simply didn’t know what to do with him.
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It’s impossible to know how much better Marouane can get, but it’s worth remembering how much we struggled when we lost Van Persie last season.  That’s really when our season came off the rails.  But with Chamakh, we look as strong as ever.  I realize that the level of competition hasn’t been the best, but it wasn’t the best last season when we were dropping silly points.  Chamakh has definitely given us something we lacked, even with Van Persie, and we haven’t even really exploited his aerial abilities to their fullest yet.  That gives us another option on days when the passing game isn’t working.
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It’s so funny following people on twitter during an Arsenal match these days because no ones knows exactly what to say about Andrey Arshavin.  You can tell that there’s a lot of people ready to abuse him.  There’s a desire to criticize his every misplaced pass or failure to track back.  But the Russian is a different kind of player.  It’s never acceptable to be lazy on the football pitch, but Arshavin see the game very well.  Much like Cesc, he has a great eye for that killer ball.  His basic passes sometimes go astray, and his dribbles don’t always come off, but you need to give Arshavin his chances, because his ideas do work out eventually.
Arshavin’s little move with Vela to setup the Mexican’s first goal was a thing of beauty and simplicity.  But it showed great understanding.  Arshavin came back inside with the ball, allowing the space for Vela to make his run, and then the russian delivered a ball that couldn’t have been weighted any better.  It made the chipped finish even easier than usual for the Mexican.  Earlier in the match Arshavin might have had another assist to Chamakh thanks to a pinpoint through ball, but the Moroccan was wrongly ruled off side.  Not to mention the fact that Andrey scored a well-taken goal, showing no ill-effects from his poor finishing at the weekend.  And he was unlucky to hit the post with a shot from the-theo-position™ that would have given him a brace.  All-in-all, we just look more dangerous with the russian in the lineup, regardless of his…shall we say…peccadilloes.
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There’s obviously going to be a tendency to dismiss Braga’s performance as awful.  And it was diabolical in many respects.  But if that analysis is used to dismiss Arsenal’s performance then it’s out of order.  Braga tried to press the ball.  That’s their game.  But on this night, they couldn’t get close to Arsenal.  We moved the ball so fluently and crisply that their pressing only served to drag them out of position.  Our movement off the ball had them clearly confused about positioning as one argument between Braga defenders seemed to demonstrate.
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But I don’t think you can just write this off as bad opposition.  Braga may not be the best team in the Champions League, but you don’t eliminate Celtic and Sevilla without having some quality.  If I had to choose the reason for this scoreline, I’d say it had more to do with our performance than theirs.  They weren’t great, but we made them look that way.  I’m not sure anyone would’ve handled us on this night.  Remember, in our other two home games this season we’ve scored 6 and 4.  And if Arshavin had his shooting boots on against Bolton, it could have been 7 or 8.  So when the press try to qualify this win as anything less than a sparkling display, don’t believe a word of it.
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There’s not much to say about our defending.  I think Gael Clichy had better watch his back because his penchant for mistakes is going to gift his starting job to Gibbs.  But tonight those mistakes came to nothing.  Squillaci looked solid again, with little work to be done.  But I still think the lions share of defensive praise belongs to Koscielny.  He just looks very confident and composed (two errors this season aside).  He tackles well, wins headers, positions himself well, and even looks pretty good distributing the ball from the back.  I don’t see Squillaci displacing him when Vermaelen returns.  But what a relief to have three very good looking center-halves.  It’s so reassuring that we’re not hanging our hopes on the untested and unfit Djourou all season.
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All in all, it was the kind of night that makes you proud to be Arsenal.  What more can you ask for.  And if I had to say the biggest difference between last year and this year, I think I’d just point to the maturity.  We look like a team that expects to win.  And although our attacking play is magnificent, I think that our confidence starts with a renewed belief in the defense.  They don’t look like a house of cards anymore.  I’m sure Gallas’ absence also helps with morale.  But it all adds up to a better looking team on the pitch.
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We also look like a much deeper squad.  Yes, we have more defensive options this year, but we also have Chamakh, who has made a huge difference.  Arsene is proving that he’s done some incredibly shrewd business in the summer yet again.  But it’s not just the signings.  I think we’re finally seeing the genius behind Arsene’s youth policy.  One year later, and players like Wilshere, Song, Diaby, Denilson, Cesc, Theo and Nasri have taken another step forward in their development.  They’re even better than they were.  Teams like Chelsea and United aren’t going to get better, because their players are in, or past their prime.  Many of our players are just entering their prime.  We’re only now starting to see what they can do.  Players like Wilshere, will get better every match.  And that gives us an edge.  With the exact same players, we’ve become a better team.  Now, when players are out with injury, their replacements can handle the job.  If our injury problems subside at any point this season, we could probably make two title winning teams from our roster.
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So that’s where we stand.  It’s worth noting that the matches will get harder.  The domestic campaign won’t really start until we visit Stamford Bridge in October, and we’ll have a better barometer of our standing in Europe when we play in Ukraine in early November.  But right now there’s every reason to be excited.  The only challenge with young players is getting them to play with focus, determination, and desire consistently.  If Arsene can achieve that with this group, then we have every reason to be very optimistic about this season.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch every highlight show I can find.  I suggest you do the same.
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About Yankee Gunner

Loyal Arsenal Supporter, Obscure Television Personality
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