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English Premiership

Wenger wary of Braga

LONDON, September 14 – Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal must not take victory for granted when they face unfashionable Portuguese club Braga in their opening Champions League group match on Wednesday.Wenger’s side have made an impressive unbeaten start to their Premier League campaign and sit second in the table after thrashing Bolton 4-1 at the weekend.

The Gunners have been given a favourable draw for the opening stage of Europe’s elite club competition, with Braga, Shakhtar Donetsk and Partizan Belgrade their opposition in Group H.

But Arsenal boss Wenger is well aware those positive domestic performances could cause his players to take more success for granted against a Braga team containing few star names.

That kind of complacency has cost Arsenal in the past and Wenger has no intention of letting his team rest on their laurels ahead of the Emirates Stadium clash.

Wenger is right to be wary of Braga, as they finished second in the Portuguese league last season – shattering the traditional dominance of the likes of Porto and Sporting Lisbon on the top spots – and then eliminated Celtic and Sevilla in the Champions League qualifying rounds.

"For us a win on Wednesday is vital because I believe the group is much more difficult than people expect it to be," Wenger said.

"Braga finished in front of Porto last year. We played against Porto and know they are a good side. Also, they have just kicked Sevilla out in the play-offs.

"Shakhtar Donetsk are one of the best European sides, that is why I believe it is very important we start well at home."

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Wenger hopes to have Belgium defender Thomas Vermaelen available for selection on Wednesday after an Achilles problem ruled him out of the Bolton match.

In Vermaelen’s absence, French centre-half Sebastien Squillaci made a composed debut following his move from Sevilla.

Wenger could also take heart from the way captain Cesc Fabregas struck up an immediate understanding with Morocco forward Marouane Chamakh.

With Dutch forward Robin van Persie, England winger Theo Walcott and Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner all sidelined for several weeks, Wenger knows his creative lynchpin and leading targetman must function well together if Arsenal are to maintain their flying start.

Chamakh scored on his home Premier League debut in the 6-0 win over Blackpool, then struck against Bolton from a Fabregas cross and Wenger believes the former Bordeaux player’s style is suited to both the English game and European competition.

"Chamakh will adapt well because he is a player who, no matter what game you play, likes to connect with players on the pitch," Wenger said.

If they flourish, Domingos Paciencia’s Braga, who will be savouring their first ever taste of the Champions League group stage, look unlikely to deliver an early blow to Wenger’s bid to win the competition for the first time.

Arsenal lost the 2006 final to Barcelona and were beaten in the quarter-finals by the same opposition last year.

Asked whether he suffers sleepless nights about not wining the tournament, Wenger said: "Certainly, you always do a little bit. It goes through your head like if you have something important to do tomorrow.

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"But we will try to get that right. You want to do well for people who love the club. For the players, for the fans who love the club.’It goes through your head the day before a game and the day after a game.

"We have a good mixture of quality and more experience. You know when you see our team play that they are not any more tender. We are equipped to win the Champions League."

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