Thursday, 28 August 2014

Arsenal Beat Besiktas But Only Just

Arsenal played Besiktas last night knowing a victory would take them through to the group stages of the Champions League for the seventeenth season in a row. After drawing the first leg 0-0 in Turkey last week it was a game Arsenal were expected to win, but it certainly wasn't going to be easy.

Arsene Wenger chose Alexis Sanchez in the central striker's role with Olivier Giroud injured and he was flanked by Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The rest of the team was more or less as expected and there was more than enough quality to get the win they needed.

The first chance came Arsenal's way but Jack Wilshere pulled the ball wide of the far post with only the keeper to beat although he did have three defenders on him. He should have done better really and so should Santi Cazorla only a few minutes later when the Besiktas keeper hit a clearance straight to him and his first time effort never troubled an empty goal. At that stage Arsenal seemed to be missing Giroud's presence up front with Sanchez struggling to make an impression at times. He never stopped working though and both of those chances were thanks to his efforts.

Besiktas had a couple of penalty claims denied after that and they were both close calls which just about went Arsenal's way. Mathieu Debuchy had already been booked for a stupid challenge on a Besiktas player when he slid in to make a last ditch tackle in the Arsenal area. He got the ball but the referee might easily have given a free kick if it happened outside the box. A short while later Wilshere slid in to attempt a challenge on a Besiktas player as he was about to shoot, but he didn't appear to make contact and the referee did very well to wave play on as his opponent went down.

Arsenal were struggling but I hoped they would put on a better show in the second half as they have done so often in recent seasons. As half time was almost upon us they got the breakthrough they wanted and it was that man Sanchez who put it away after some fine work from Wilshere and Ozil. It was just what Arsenal needed to ease their nerves and Sanchez's first goal for the club too.

Arsenal started well after the break and had the better of things, but they were nervous without the safety of a second goal. They had chances though with the keeper pushing a Sanchez effort onto the post and both Santi Cazorla and Chamberlain missing when they should have scored. The Chamberlain miss in particular could have proved crucial with the game swinging in Besiktas' favour within seconds.

He somehow managed to shoot straight at the keeper from only a couple of yards out and then Debuchy got a second yellow card as he tried to stop a Besiktas break immediately afterwards. I thought the card was very harsh but it's a risk you take when you put in such a tackle in European games in particular. It left Arsenal with 15 minutes to try to stop Besiktas getting the goal which would more than likely have been enough to send them through. 

To add insult to injury Calum Chambers was booked as he came on to replace Ozil because he entered the field of play too soon. He had come in to play at right back with Debuchy gone and Ozil was the obvious choice to go off. It was an awful lot to ask of him to start for the second time in five days as he is clearly still well short of full match fitness. He should hopefully be up to speed once the international break ends in a couple of weeks. 

With time ticking by Besiktas saw more and more of the ball and they eventually created the chance they were looking for. Luckily for Arsenal Demba Ba failed to connect with a header at the far post and Arsenal saw the game out easily enough after that. It was far from vintage stuff from Arsenal, but they got they result they needed and that was all that mattered. Wojciech Szczesny never actually had to make a save during the game with Besiktas failing to get a single shot on target despite the feeling of impending doom I felt at times.

I've rarely seen the boss look so worried on the sideline when Arsenal were winning, but it was a very important game for him. He might have almost made light of not qualifying before the game, but there can be no doubt of how important the game was to him and the team. With qualification now obtained hopefully he can go out and get the players the club so badly needs before the transfer window closes.

That list included a striker for me and that need has been impressed even more upon Arsenal with the news after the game that Giroud will be out until the new year after having an operation on a broken tibia. It's a huge risk to play at least half of the season without Arsenal's first choice striker, but that appears to be the plan at the moment. Hopefully that plan will change in the next few days and a top clas striker will arrive, but it's not easy to find the right player so late in the window. 

From here it's a trip to Leicester on Sunday and a win would see the team through a very tough start to the season in a good place. With a spot in today's draw for the Champions League group stages secured it would be great to see the team end the month with seven out of their first nine points in the league too. Leicester will be no pushover, but Arsenal are more than capable of going there and winning. 

Finally for today Arsenal drew Southampton at home in the third round of the Capital One Cup in a game to be played on Tuesday September 23 or Wednesday September 24. The boss will surely play the fringe players in that game and it could well see the returns of Theo Walcott and Abu Diaby too. It's the least important of the trophies on offer this season and it won't be an easy task to beat Southampton if they put out their strongest team.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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