Galatasary 1-4 Arsenal
A much changed Arsenal side produced an excellent performance away to Galatasary on Tuesday night, but ultimately the Gunners were made to rue that fatal collapse at home to Anderlecht, as Arsene Wenger’s side finished second in the group and once again await a difficult draw in the next round.
Aaron Ramsey played a pass through to Podolski, who was on the edge of the box and the German used his lethal left foot to power home a thunderbolt into the top left hand corner of the goal. Replays suggested the goalkeeper may have done better to stop the shot as he was beaten at his near post, but the ball was hit with such venom it was likely the goalkeeper didn’t see it until it was too late. Such a fine finish from Podolski only serves to highlight the curious position the German finds himself in at Arsenal. When it comes to finishing, he is head and shoulders above any other player at the club, with Steve Bould even stating Podolski is the best finisher he has ever seen and this is a man who played with the prolific Ian Wright.
However, Podolski finds himself at a club whose manager insists on using a formation in which there is no real place for him. He is not suited to the lone role upfront while on the left hand side of a front three, Podolski has to do things which do not come naturally to him such as tracking back to help out the full back, or having to go past the opposition full back and deliver a cross which ideally he would be on the end of rather than delivering. Podolski is at his best when he is in the box and therefore the question remains as to why Wenger has not devised a formation or system to get the best out of the club’s most lethal weapon. The fact Podolski is left on the bench game after game is a travesty.
Only seven minutes after the German had given the Gunners the lead on Tuesday night, Aaron Ramsey doubled their lead with an exquisite finish. Oxlade-Chamberlain, enjoying his starting role in a more central position, burst forward with a fine run before releasing Ramsey on the left hand side of the penalty area. The Welshman had plenty to do but showed supreme skill and confidence to calmly slide the ball across goal, past the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner. Ramsey has endured a difficult campaign so far as he has struggled to reach the dizzy heights of last season, but his performance on Tuesday, coming off the back of his goal against Stoke, shows that he is slowly getting back to his best. If there were any doubts, Ramsey’s second goal of the night confirmed it. A corner from Joel Campbell was headed away and as the ball fell towards Ramsey, outside the box, the Welshman fired an unbelievable first time volley into the net, to leave those watching aghast in admiration. It was quite simply a phenomenal finish from Ramsey.
At 3-0 up at half time, having completely outplayed the opposition and with Dortmund drawing at home to Anderlecht, the possibility of Arsenal winning by six goals and topping the group was becoming a distinct possibility. Unfortunately the start of the second half saw Arsenal forced into two precautionary substitutions which took the wind out of their sails. Ramsey reportedly felt a tight hamstring and therefore was not risked for the second period and Flamini, having received a yellow card in the first half, was taken off to avoid receiving a second. Unfortunately with Wenger having rested so many players, the substitutes bench looked more like a crèche, as the manager could only select untried youngsters. As a result, the Gunners drive from midfield went during the second period and Arsenal had to take on a more cautious approach, never really threatening to open up what would have been a very important six goal lead.
With the game petering out towards the end, Wesley Sneijder fired home an unstoppable free kick past the returning Szczesny, providing the home side with a consolation, but any joy they took from this goal was quickly erased as Podolski scored his second of the game with the very last kick. The German showed great power and strength to burst through the Galatasary defence, holding off defenders before coolly slotting home.
With Dortmund ending their game with Anderlecht with a 1-1 draw, Arsenal had ultimately missed their opportunity to seal top spot. Both sides ended the group stage on 13 points, only being separated by goal difference. Ultimately the home game against Anderlecht in which the Gunners let slip a three goal lead in the final thirty minutes, has cost Arsenal dear. They will now most likely face one of European football’s top sides with little chance of progressing to the next round. It is a somewhat depressing repetition of the last few Champions League campaigns.
Yet despite the disappointment of failing to top the group, Tuesday night’s victory was important from a morale point of view. This is not a good Galatasary side by any stretch of the imagination, but bouncing back from that humbling defeat against Stoke was crucial, especially with a much changed side. Confidence will have been restored amongst the squad at an important stage of the season, right before the games start to come thick and fast during the festive period, while the re-emergence of Ramsey could prove crucial to getting Arsenal back on track.