Ahead of Arsenal’s first game in this year’s Champions League, against Braga, A Different League asked an expert on Portuguese football, Tom Kundert of website PortuGOAL, for his take on the Gunners’ opponents.
“Just making it into the Champions League for the first time in their history is a huge triumph for the Braga,” Kundert acknowledged, adding: “In terms of their standing from a historical point of view I’d say they were equivalent to an Aston Villa – the top flight would look strange without them, they are always towards the top of the table, but it would be a huge shock if they won the league. Having said that, they’re there on merit.”
Arsenal go into the meeting with Braga, who eliminated Celtic and Sevilla to reach the group stage, on the back of a 4-1 weekend victory over Bolton Wanderers, a stark contrast to the form of their opponents, who suffered a 3-2 defeat away at Porto. But Kundert says that while historically Braga are not one of the nation’s powers, their stock has been steadily rising. “You must bear in mind Portugal there is a huge gulf between the big three (Porto, Benfica and Sporting) and the rest,” he said. “Only twice has the league championship been won by a team outside that triumvirate.
“Braga have been improving constantly over the last five years, and were not far away from winning a sensational Portuguese title last season, taking the fight with the best Benfica side in decades to the last weekend of the season.”
While Arsene Wenger’s side are favourites to top the group, Kundert believes Braga, led by Coach Domingos Paciencia, have every chance of making the next round: “Without the weight of expectation I believe they will be right in the mix for 2nd place behind Arsenal. Their home form will be the key. Last season they only dropped two points at their incredible AXA Stadium (built into a former quarry), beating the big three convincingly.”
A swift, counter-attacking 4-5-1 formation is what awaits Arsenal when the side from Northwest Portugal come to North London tonight, according to Kundert. “Braga are a counter-attacking side by nature so there is no doubt Domingos will set his side up in that way on Wednesday,” he said. “To a large extent Braga’s recent success has been built on two strong points of the team: a solid defence and an incredibly quick defence-attack transition.”
The dangerous Lima, conqueror of Sevilla in the previous round, is unlikely to start against Arsenal, says Kundert: “Despite striker Lima’s hat-trick against Sevilla and his wonder-goal against Porto at the weekend I expect he’ll start on the bench, with the lightning Matheus alone up front, with the two wide players, Paulo Cesar and Alan, spending plenty of time tracking back.” To see highlights of Porto vs Braga, including Lima’s stunning goal, click here.
“Braga have an excellent defensive record over the past year so I don’t see this being a rout, although I do expect Arsenal to prevail, 1-0 or 2-0.”