Thursday, 28 August 2014

Gunners go through yet again

Arsenal 1-0 Besiktas

It was an edgy and nervous night at the Emirates, but Arsenal did what they always do when it comes to Champions League qualifiers; they got the job done.

Having failed to score a crucial away goal in Turkey, the Gunners were always going to find the second leg an extremely tricky affair. One slip up and Arsenal would have really been up against it.

Besiktas came with a clear plan to frustrate Arsene Wenger’s men by being organised at the back and soaking up pressure in an attempt to hit the home side on the break. Yet the Gunners, shorn of the attacking talents of Ramsey and Giroud, began the game extremely well. From the first whistle they took the game to their opponents in determined fashion and really should have taken the lead as early as the eight minute. Jack Wilshere bursting through, showing great strength to hold off two defenders before unfortunately dragging his shot wide of goal.

There is an intense spotlight on Wilshere at the moment, with the young Englishman receiving plenty of criticism for his performances. Much of this has come from pundits such as Jamie Redknapp who seem to fail to understand that Wilshere’s development was massively hampered by the 18 month spell he endured on the side-lines as a result of persistent ankle injuries. Redknapp has plenty of experience when it comes to injuries and so should realise that in the same way it took Ramsey almost three years to rediscover his form, following his own injury nightmare, Wilshere should be afforded the time to rebuild his confidence and composure. Last night’s performance could well be the turning point as Wilshere produced an excellent display full of determination and attacking verve as he powered forward with the ball time and time again, leaving Besiktas players in his wake. If he can push on from here and improve game by game, the young Englishman will surely start to realise his full potential.

Moments after Wilshere’s effort sailed wide of goal, Arsenal’s high pressing game almost paid off as a poor clearance from the Besiktas goalkeeper fell straight to Cazorla who hit a first time effort wide, not realising just how much time he had. The Gunners kept on pushing forward but could not apply the finishing touch their attacking play merited. Besiktas on the other hand offered little going forward, but could and probably should have had a penalty when Wilshere seemingly brought down Ramon Motta in the area, only for the referee to wave play on.

Having survived that scare, Arsenal finally had their breakthrough in the final seconds of the first half. Wilshere again was at the heart of the move, driving forward once more, playing a one-two with Ozil, which saw the ball played into the path of Sanchez, for the Chilean to drive home a low effort across goal. It was the perfect time for the former Barcelona man to open his account for the Gunners, with Wenger revealing after the game that Giroud is set to be on the side-lines for up to four months.

Sanchez really came to the fore as the game wore on last night. Playing in the lone striker role, for which several pundits criticised him in the game against Everton, the Chilean certainly answered those doubters. For those that claimed he wasn’t strong enough for the role, there were instances when Sanchez showed great fight and determination to hold off defenders as well as incredible tenacity to win numerous aerial duels despite his relatively diminutive size. He also showcased great skill and pace to shield the ball, retain possession and get past the Besiktas defenders. Such a performance will surely strengthen Wenger’s belief that despite Giroud’s long lay-off, there is no need for Arsenal to recruit another striker in the final days of the transfer window. Such was the effort and sheer work rate Sanchez put into this game yesterday, the Chilean was absolutely shattered at the final whistle, lying down on the Emirates pitch to catch his breath.

Arsenal really should have had the game sown up early in the second half, as they created several opportunities which they failed to take. First Sanchez was inches away from connecting with Cazorla’s low drive across goal, then the Chilean saw a goal bound effort deflected just wide of goal before Oxlade-Chamberlain hit an effort straight at the goalkeeper when it seemed easier to score. The Arsenal faithful were wondering if their side would be made to pay for these missed opportunities and that last miss proved particularly costly as straight from the counter attack, Debuchy was wrongly adjudged to have fouled his man and sent off for a second bookable offence, despite clearly making contact with the ball.

As in the first leg, the Gunners found themselves down to ten men going into the final 15 minutes and clinging on. Beskitas had been quiet all game but now had the impetus as Arsenal sat deep in an attempt to see the game out. However the visitors only created one opportunity of any note, a cross to the back post which evaded Mertesacker and seemed destined to be headed home by Demba Ba, only for the former Chelsea man to mistime his run and fail to make contact with the ball.

There was understandably a sense of huge relief at the final whistle. Arsenal had qualified for the Champions League group stage for the 17th straight season. A quite phenomenal record. After the game Wenger seemed to hint at a possible defensive signing which the squad really needs.  A player who can be deployed at centre back if needed as well as defensive midfield is desperately needed and really such a signing should have been lined up before Vermaelen’s transfer to Barcelona was completed. The club will yet again receive a significant windfall for participating in Europe’s premier club competition and they must use some of it to strengthen this vital area of the squad before the summer transfer window slams shut on 1st September 2014.

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