Well that was better. Arsenal all but confirmed another year’s participation in
the Champions League group stages with a resounding 3-0 away win at Fenerbahce
in Istanbul last night.
After the misery and anger that had been rightly
circulating throughout Arsenal fans around the world after the dismal season’s
opener against Aston Villa on Saturday, the team responded in exceptional style
to put away a side feared as one of the toughest available opponents to us in
the qualifying draw.
We controlled the tempo of the match right from the first
whistle, despite chances being few and far between in the opening half.
Worryingly, we were again forced into an early substitution as Laurent
Koscielny took a boot to the face resulting in a heavy flow of blood and an
apparent eight stitches required. Only Carl Jenkinson and returning Nacho
Monreal were the defensive options on the bench, so there was little Arsene
Wenger could do but to again put Jenkinson on at right back and shift Bacary
Sagna into the middle.
The rest of the half was played out with little happenings
of interest; Theo Walcott had what was probably our best chance of the half but
couldn’t beat the keeper who rushed out after he was played in. So we reached
the interval goalless, untroubled and with the spoils of the game completely there
for the taking, should we be able to build on the assured start.
The home side, who offered next to nothing in the opening
half, came out fighting in the second, and with the crowd vocally behind them
and jeering and booing our boys whenever they got the ball, you’d be forgiven
for any sense of déjà vu thinking a game we were totally controlling could go a
little bit, err, wrong as we’ve seen so often in the past.
Any of those fears would have been short lived though, and
Arsenal did exactly what they needed to do to shut the home crowd up; they
scored. Aaron Ramsey, superb from start to finish last night, looked like he was
out of options as he dribbled away from goal just outside of the Fenerbahce
area. But he twisted and turned and played a fantastic through ball for Theo
Walcott, who, rather than panicking and snatching at a shot from a tight angle,
calmly slid the ball across the goal where Kieran Gibbs was on hand to put it
home. A brilliantly worked goal, and we had a thoroughly deserved lead.
That then doubled over 10 minutes later. It was again a
goal of British making, as Jack Wilshere quickly worked the ball in the
opposition half and released Ramsey with space ahead of him. The Welshman drove
towards the Fenerbahce box, and unleashed a low skidding shot that probably
should’ve been saved by Volkan Demirel in the Fenerbahce goal, but he could only palm
it into the corner of the net.
At 2-0, the home side made an attacking change and grew
into the encounter as the crowd found their feet yet again. Wojciech Szczesny
produced a blinding performance to keep out Moussa Sow and Emmanuel Emenike,
earning himself a yellow card for time wasting and a face/neck full of stud
marks as he collided with Pierre Webo bravely earlier in the game. The Pole
deserved his clean sheet, and it was a much needed display of confidence amidst
on going rumours of Arsenal’s search for another goalkeeper before the transfer
Arsenal sealed the game and probably the tie with little
over 10 minutes to go. Santi Cazorla, subject of some outrageously good
passing throughout the game, produced another gem as he landed a long through
ball to Walcott on a sixpence, who took it in his stride and was bundled over
by Michal Kadlec giving the referee no choice (potentially with the aid
from, wait for it, a fifth official) but to point to the spot. Olivier Giroud converted
confidently and Arsenal saw out the remaining minutes trouble free, with Szczesny
having answers for everything the Turkish side asked of him.
A near perfect showing, three away goals and a clean sheet
so soon after Saturday’s horror show was just what the doctor ordered. Now,
baring a disaster of biblical proportions next Tuesday at the Emirates, we
should now be comfortably through to the group stages of Europe’s premier
football competition yet again.
It doesn’t, however, hide how important the addition of
new signings will be to our prospects this season. The match report I wrote
following Aston Villa at the weekend was painful, but even in there I said how
we have a strong nucleus of players, who are capable of playing good and
organised football. That’s exactly what it was last night, but we can’t expect
this group of players to be able to do it on their own throughout the long season.
Wenger spoke of how there’ll be “a lot of transfer activity” in the remaining twelve days of the window, and despite the frustration and
confusion regarding our lack of activity to date, we have no choice but trust
that he and the Club will go out and work in the market to give us the
strongest possible squad come the closing of the window on September 2nd.
There’s no harm in enjoying a fine victory such as last
night yet to still call out for improvements to the squad. Because they are
fundamental. It remains to be seen if any of the high profile names we are
permanently linked to come to fruition, but things need to be done, and done
With Koscielny going off injured yesterday, we’re down to
ONE fully fit centre back. That’s criminal for a club of our stature and
resources. While some may point to bad luck, others will say it’s poor
management. Either way, it all adds up to a heavily depleted squad with little
room for rotation or options off the bench. Inevitably it’ll be a starting back
four against Fulham on Saturday of Jenkinson, Sagna, Per Mertesacker and be it
Gibbs or Monreal at left back, there’ll only be one recognised defender on the
bench. It’s an area that needs addressing as much as in attack, and with games
coming thick and fast now it needs to be rectified sooner rather than later.
As much as we need improving, it’s hard not to be excited
about the talent we do currently posses. Notably, the “British Core” as they
have been dubbed.
While Szczesny was fantastic and assured in goal and
Cazorla was an incalculable improvement compared to the man who came on at half
time against Aston Villa, it was Ramsey who stole the show with a commanding
display of real promise.
His hunger on and off the ball, control, decision-making
and creative spark were all a joy to behold. The improvements he’s made over
the past year are more and more telling each time he takes to the field, and
this for a man of 22-years-old who’s been through a career-threatening injury,
the tragic death of his National team manager and idol, and the consequent
removal of the captaincy of Wales that Gary Speed gave to him makes it all the
People often say he has greater potential now than
Wilshere, who beautifully glided past players with unnatural ease on several
occasions yesterday. That’s a tough one for me, they’re different players at
different stages of their careers, so I don’t think they need to necessarily be
compared. It is fair to say though that they’re a combination that are only
going to improve, and it’s incredibly exciting to have two young players like
them at our club.
After a slow start, Walcott grew into the game comfortably
and was causing all sorts of chaos for the Fenerbahce left-back Kadlec by the end of
the game. His vision and composure for the first goal showed his maturity, when
the Theo Walcott of old might have thrashed at the ball, wasting a good
opportunity. Elsewhere, Jenkinson and Gibbs were rarely tested defensively but
showed strong willing in attack completing a solid display all round from our
All in all, a very promising performance. Although whilst
one win isn’t a solution to all of the problems at the club, there were
certainly many positives to take from Istanbul. Hopefully the players will now
build on those as they prepare to face Fulham on Saturday lunchtime.
We’re up and running in Europe, now it’s time to get going
in the Premier League too.