Champions League – Sporting Braga stun Arsenal
Arsene Wenger was fuming when substitute Vela was denied a clear penalty and it proved costly as Matheus broke to beat Lukasz Fabianski before clinching victory in stoppage time with the visitors down to 10 men after Emmanuel Eboue was taken off on a stretcher.
With skipper Cesc Fabregas aggravating his hamstring problem in the second half, this was a terrible night for the Gunners as they sought the point that would clinch their place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
The Gunners started positively and looked keen to erase the memory of Saturday’s second-half collapse against Tottenham in the North London derby.
With Fabregas attempting to direct the play, the stage looked set for the visitors to take control but Braga eventually gained in confidence and managed the first real attempt on goal when Lima’s shot deflected off Sebastien Squillaci and squirted through to Lukasz Fabianski.
Moises failed to get any direction on a header as he stretched to meet Luis Aguiar‘s free-kick and it took 19 minutes before Arsenal managed a noteworthy attempt as Fabregas flashed a shot well off target.
Seconds later, Fabianski was called into action to deal with a cross-cum-shot by Lima as the Polish keeper spectacularly pushed the ball away to safety.
A free-kick in a dangerous area allowed Fabregas to float in a shot that was comfortably flipped over by Felipe but the keeper had to react much quicker when the Gunners captain created the half’s best opening on 35 minutes. A superb through ball by the Spaniard released Theo Walcott but Felipe was out swiftly to block and avoid conceding a penalty as the England international raced towards him.
With Walcott still down inside their box, Braga countered and Lima flashed a decent attempt just wide of Fabianski’s right-hand post.
Nicklas Bendtner had to be alert to head behind a cheeky near-post free-kick by Uruguayan Aguiar and the Dane was also involved when producing an inventive lofted pass to feed Walcott, but the wide man’s first-time finish drifted harmlessly wide.
Fabregas’s poorly-struck free-kick was screwed well off target to sum up a disappointing opening 45 minutes.
Another free-kick, from Walcott, provided the first effort of the second half but his shot was too high and Fabregas got a curler all wrong to fire well off target.
With an hour gone, Braga wasted a glorious chance when Squillaci produced a terrible header from an Alan cross and Aguiar looked nailed on to score, only to drag his shot narrowly wide.
Seven minutes later, things started to unravel for Arsenal as Fabregas hurt himself stretching to try and collect a Jack Wilshere pass and was substituted for Samir Nasri.
With Vela thrown on as Wenger’s third change of the night, it looked an inspired move when the Mexican immediately latched onto a knock-down by fellow sub Marouane Chamakh inside the box. Rodriguez’s despairing challenge was clearly a foul but, instead, Vela was ridiculously booked for diving.
Four minutes later, Eboue was taken off on a stretcher and the 10 men fell behind when a long ball forward by Elton caught out the defence and Matheus set himself up for a left-footed finish wide of Fabianski and into the far corner of the net.
For all their possession, Arsenal were unable to carve out a genuine opening in their bid for an equaliser and, instead, another Braga breakaway saw referee Viktor Kassai play a good advantage and Matheus finished emphatically to double the lead, via the underside of the bar.
All in all, this was a nightmare for the Gunners who only needed a point to progress. It all goes down to their group finale with whipping boys Partizan Belgrade but the injuries to Fabregas and Eboue will also be worrying Wenger.
This was the last thing the Frenchman will have wanted after the trauma of the derby defeat on Saturday.
Adam Marshall / Eurosport