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The 2011 UEFA Champions League final may be being played a few minutes away from their stadium yet for Arsenal FC and Bacary Sagna dreams of a showpiece appearance are but a distant prospect as they prepare to host SC Braga in Group H.
The Gunners are about to embark upon their 13th successive campaign in Europe's premier club competition ‒ quite a contrast to their Portuguese opponents, who are making their debut at this level. Sagna has been part of the last three after joining from AJ Auxerre in 2007 and while he acknowledges ending the season at Wembley in May provides added incentive, he is reluctant to divert his attention beyond the immediate task in hand.
"On paper it's always easy to talk but on the pitch it's different," the right-back said when asked to assess a group that also contains FC Shakhtar Donetsk and FK Partizan. "I know that because I've experienced it with the French national team so we have to be aware of this. We have to stay professional and win our home games first."
London is being represented by three teams in the group stage for the first time after Arsenal's fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur FC ‒ like Braga also making their first appearance of the UEFA Champions League era ‒ came through qualifying to join Chelsea FC.
"It's a plus for all the English teams to have the chance to play the final at Wembley," added the 27-year-old, before warning of the many obstacles that lie ahead. "We always want to play in front of our fans. It's a short distance to the stadium but a long way to the final so we need to give everything to reach it and just take things game by game."
Braga belied their lack of top-level European experience by eliminating Celtic FC and Sevilla FC in qualifying, triumphs which impressed Sagna no end. "They're a difficult team to play against," he continued. "I saw them play Sevilla; they won home and away. They have some very technical players so they will come and play and try to take their chances. We have to be careful and stay focused."
Sagna, who did not feature in the 4-1 defeat of Bolton Wanderers FC at the weekend, could be part of an all-French back four on Matchday 1 after summer signings Laurent Koscielny and debutant Sébastien Squillaci lined up in central defence on Saturday. "They're settling in very well; they talk a lot to each other," added Sagna, who is likely to return along with left-back Gaël Clichy.
"Defensively they're very consistent and offensively they've had some chances to score. Koscielny scored his first goal [on Saturday] and I was really pleased for him because he works a lot for the team. After his first game Squillaci has settled already so it's good for the future."
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