Besiktas 0 – 0 Arsenal
Sent off: Aaron Ramsey (80)
It was a match that both sides could reasonably claim that they deserved to win. As it is, last night’s goalless draw in Istanbul spoiled Arsenal’s perfect record in Champions League qualifying ties and leaves both sides needing to score in the second leg to progress. An eventful night in Istanbul ended with a botttle thrown at Arsène as he was leaving the pitch. In keeping with the ninety minutes, it missed the target.
Overall, it was a better performance from Arsenal than Saturday. It had to be, Besiktas were feistier opponents than Crystal Palace. The midfield worked hard, Wilshere the pick of the bunch as if to give his weekend critics a one-fingered salute whilst Ramsey and Arteta were diligent in their defensive application and finding themselves harried by their opponents, were able to produce quick passing and movement to get themselves out of trouble.
The most frequent attacking outlet for them to find was Alexis Sanchez whose workrate continues to impress but when found space on the right, all too often there was not much for him to aim at in the centre with red shirts conspicuous by their absence in the Turks penalty area. On the other side of the pitch, Santi Cazorla worked hard but failing to be brought into the play by Giroud when opportunities arose, found himself marginalised.
Alex Oxalde-Chamberlain’s more direct style suited the occasion more and hindsight shows that may have been more productive. That said, Santi provided more defensive cover for Nacho Monreal on the right perhaps indicating that the lessons of some of the heavy defeats last season have at least been learned.
The concern for Arsène will be Arsenal’s impotence in front of goal. Despite the treat carried on the counter, Arsenal forced Zengin to make few saves. Wilshere’s curling effort in the first half and an outstanding fingertip onto the post from Oxlade-Chamberlain’s late effort aside, most of Arsenal’s chances were snatched or dragged wide of the goal.
The lack of shooting opportunities for Olivier Giroud is concerning. He is desperate need of finding his match fitness and getting on the scoresheet, last night he had few opportunities to do so and I wonder if this is partly as a result of having no pressure on his place in the side? With only Yaya Sanogo as a direct threat, Giroud knows that he can put in a below-par performance and still be in place at the weekend. The French international needs to hit the groove quickly and it should be concerning the manager that his prime frontline asset has been so slow to return to fitness this summer.
Post-match, Arsène was as unimpressed with the pitch as he was Aaron Ramsey’s first dismissal in club football,
Neither the first nor the second yellow card was deserved. When you see some of the fouls made tonight and we go home with Ramsey red carded, it’s a bit unbelievable. I think it was a very bad challenge on Arteta, but the referee was on the pitch and didn’t make anything of it. In the second half the performance of the referee was very bad. Arteta turned his ankle on the tackle.
To send off Ramsey was wrong and it was a huge decision. I felt just a lot was wrong in the second half but, overall, it was a difficult game maybe to referee as well. Everybody did fight for every ball. Maybe it was not easy for the referee as well.
The only common thread in those comments is the decline in the referee’s performance. The incident with Ba and Arteta was made worse as Wenger observes, by his captain turning his ankle in the challenge. A foul yes, a booking yes but anything more as Arsène is trying to intimate? No. It’s classic distraction techniques so that the manager doesn’t have to acknowledge that Ramsey’s dismissal was daft. He had been booked for a similar offence earlier in the game so what did he think would happen when he pulled his opponent back? Both were soft yellow cards to receive as I don’t think Besiktas were threatening in either situation but that is an easy judgement to make from the comfort of your armchair.
Wenger will have been pleased by the performances of Szczesny and Chambers. The young centre back was caught out a couple of times and Demba Ba might – should – have extracted more punishment late in the first half. However, Chambers learns quickly and has the luck that would have made him one of Napoleon’s favoured generals. He has done a great job of keeping the centre of the defence ticking over in Per Mertesacker’s absence and may yet keep his place in the side whilst Laurent Koscielny’s Achilles injury is allowed time to heal.
Szczesny meanwhile was alert from the kick-off which is just as well given Ba’s quick thinking effort. He might have embarrassed the young Pole but the save was made as were others during the course of the following ninety minutes. Whilst his growing maturity will be playing a part in the consistency of his performances, the real threat posed by David Ospina’s arrival has no doubt forced Szczesny to raise his game. An improvement that might be noted by the manager for other parts of the pitch. According to the Arsène there are no new signings in the immediate future. Instead he is left hoping that the German trio are “ in good shape when we go home.”
With a fortnight or so left in the transfer window, we can rely on a bit more than hope. Can’t we?
As it is, Arsenal have done half a job in their quest to reach the group stages. I am sure Arsène is familiar with the last time Arsenal found themselves in this position when having achieved a creditable draw in a similar environment, George Graham’s men threw away the opportunity by losing at home to Benfica twenty-five years ago. The manager will no doubt draw on his own more formidable record of home legs in these ties.