Arsenal in form as CL quest begins
Arsenal looks to have added some defensive steel to its silky attacking play as it embarks on its latest attempt to finally win Europe's biggest prize.
The team heads into the Group H opener against Portuguese side Braga on Wednesday on the back of a three-game winning run that has lifted Arsenal to second place in the Premier League.
Two of those wins came against Bolton and Blackburn, powerful and direct teams that have caused Arsenal problems in recent years.
And the signings of French center backs Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny look to have helped shore up a defense that has often let Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger down when it mattered most.
With the team looking as potent as ever going forward, having scored 13 goals in its first four league matches, Wenger believes he has the squad to do well in Europe.
"We have a good mixture of quality and more experience," he said. "You know when you see our team play that they are not any more tender. We are equipped to win the Champions League."
The Champions League is the only major trophy to have eluded Wenger in almost 14 years in charge of Arsenal. He almost won the title in 2006 but Arsenal lost in the final to Barcelona, which also beat the Gunners at the quarterfinal stage last season.
"(The Champions League) is missing and we will try to get that right," Wenger said. "It goes through your head the day before a game and the day after a game.
"But in fairness, I can see 10 teams who are equipped to win it. We are not the only ones."
Wenger is without midfielder Abou Diaby (ankle) and defender Thomas Vermaelen (achilles' tendon), who join attacking trio Robin van Persie (ankle), Theo Walcott (ankle) and Nicklas Bendtner (groin) on the sidelines.
Samir Nasri could return to the side after recovering from a knee injury, and defenders Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy should be back after being rested for Saturday's 4-1 win over Bolton.
Braga reached the Champions League group stage for the first time by beating Sevilla in the qualifying playoff, looking particularly impressive on the counterattack in winning 4-3 away in the second leg. The team is fourth in the Portuguese league after four matches, having finished second in the table last season.
"Our group stage is a good test," Wenger said. "I am keen to start with Braga because they look a handful. They are a fantastic counter attacking team.
Braga's attacking spark comes largely from the players among the 17 Brazilians in its squad. The club's main offseason signing was Portugal midfielder Hugo Viana, who joined from Valencia.
In the group's other match, Shakhtar Donetsk hosts Partizan Belgrade.