The Fox announcers called today’s 0-0 draw between Arsenal and Besiktas in the first leg of the Champions League qualifier a “good 0-0.” While I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment, there were certainly chances for both sides. However, neither team had the quality today to put anything away. Once Arsenal went down a man due to Aaron Ramsey’s second yellow, the game could have turned towards the Turkish side, but the best chance instead fell to Arsenal. The teams will meet again next Wednesday at The Emirates for the second leg.
Arsenal were forced to play a different sort of game today, something that may prove beneficial down the road. The pitch presented some problems for Arsenal’s passing game, and Besiktas’s style also hindered things for Arsene Wenger’s men. Instead of knocking the ball around the midfield, with runs coming from the fullbacks, Arsenal played a more direct style. There was a lot more one-on-one attacking and long balls over the top. It didn’t always work out, but it was nice to see that Arsenal could create chances even without the majority of the possession.
The chances that Arsenal did create however, were not taken with any sort of vigor, and Arsenal wasted quite a few opportunities. Oliver Giroud in particular struggled to sort out his feet, wasting a number of great moves started by Alexis Sanchez. The best chance came very late on when a Besiktas miss-kick set up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The substitute struck the ball well, but Besiktas keeper Tolga Zengin made an incredible save to push the ball onto the post.
On the other side, Demba Ba presented a lot of challenges for the Arsenal defense, and he nearly found the net in spectacular fashion on the first kick of the game. For the most part though, the defense was there to handle any pressure, with Calum Chambers particularly impressing when he was behind the ball. The problems came when Chambers had to run backwards, as his error led to a chance Ba should have put away late in the first half.
Playing just three days after Saturday’s Premier League Opener, there was clearly a high degree of fatigue in the Arsenal side. Many of the players are still lacking fitness due to the short preseason, so this game was always going to present a challenge. That this match came on a Tuesday instead of a Wednesday will be beneficial for Saturday’s game against Everton, as players will have a little more time to recover.
Arsenal didn’t necessarily need a win to take back to London ahead of the second leg next week, but the pressure will be higher at The Emirates knowing Besiktas only need one goal to hold the away goal advantage. However, Arsenal should be confident knowing the pitch will be more suited to their style of play. Besiktas are also considerably better at home than on the road, and have struggled mightily in England in the past, so Arsenal fans should not be too afraid about qualification even with the sides level after the first leg.
The late Aaron Ramsey red card does complicate things though. In this match, it meant Arsenal were forced to abandon their pursuit of a winner. However, a mistake from Besiktas nearly gifted the Gunners one anyway. But it also complicates things in the second leg, as Ramsey will miss through suspension. I would imagine Mesut Özil won’t be ready by next Wednesday, so it could be Tomas Rosicky stepping in to fill the creative role.
Overall, it was a pretty drab affair. The result shouldn’t scare anyone, but this match certainly doesn’t guarantee qualification for the group stage by any means. Arsenal are still behind on the fitness, and could use a boost from the Germans when they become match-fit.
Player Ratings (1-10)
Olivier Giroud – 5/10 – Giroud was well off the mark today, as his clumsiness on the ball cost Arsenal all match. Had he been able to sort out his feet, the Gunners would have been in on goal a few times. He needed to be a lot stronger when holding up play too. Having said all that though, he did find himself in a few good positions, so that’s one positive I guess. He clearly needed a longer preseason.
Santi Cazorla – 6.5/10 – Cazorla struggled a bit in the early going, but picked up his play as the match wore on. He was all over the place defensively, helping out Arteta and Flamini time after time. His work rate made up today helped make up for his poor play over the weekend. He could have done better with a late free-kick, but he nearly worked the bumpy pitch to his advantage with his bouncing effort.
Aaron Ramsey – 6/10 – Ramsey’s late dismissal for a second yellow was silly, if not a tad unlucky. It typified his day in many ways though. He created a couple of chances going forward, notably a gorgeous chip over the top for Giroud, but overall, he wasn’t as effective as he normally is. And when he found himself in a shooting position, he was slow with the trigger, and never got anything off. He will rue missing the second leg due to suspension. It was a day to forget for Ramsey.
Alexis Sanchez – 7/10 – The end product may still be lacking from the new signing, but Sanchez had a great game by all other standards. Down the right, he was Arsenal’s best option going forward, blowing by defenders with sheer pace. But what impressed me today was his defensive work. He seemed quite willing to track back when it was needed, and he cleverly nicked the ball off Besiktas players a couple of times. Had Giroud been better, Sanchez might have had a couple of assists. He faded late, and was withdrawn with twenty minutes to go.
Jack Wilshere – 6.5/10 – Wilshere didn’t have his best game in possession, giving the ball away a few times, but his work on the ball should quiet many of his critics for the time being. He was great when he picked up his head and drove forward into the final third. Able to get by defenders with bits of skill, Wilshere got himself into terrific positions, and nearly found the net with a curling effort on one occasion. Defensively, he was lucky to get away with a sliding challenge in the first half.
Mikel Arteta – 5.5/10 – Leaving with an injury early in the second half, Arteta didn’t have a spectacular game. He was solid in possession, but Besiktas caught him out of position a number of times, easily passing around him on occasion. He needed extra cover from Santi Cazorla behind him far too many times.
Nacho Monreal – 5.5/10 – Monreal was beaten a few too many times tonight. He shouldn’t be getting nutmegged from ten yards away, and it almost resulted in a Besiktas goal. He barely got forward, and didn’t make much of an impact offensively. He did earn a free kick late on in a great spot though.
Laurent Koscielny – 7/10 – Koscielny overcame injury to make the starting XI, and quietly went about his business. Most of the attacking came down the opposite side, so there wasn’t a whole lot for the Frenchman to do, but he dealt with any problems that came his way. At this pint in his career, Koscielny is as solid as they come.
Calum Chambers – 7.5/10 – Chambers is spectacular at cutting out any danger in the back, quickly making him a favorite of mine. He was everywhere, confidently heading everything away and strongly tackling any attackers that came near him. He seemed up for physicality with Ba as well. But where he struggled was when he was caught out and had to turn his back. His mistake late in the first half let Ba in on goal, and he was lucky to get away with it.
Mathieu Debuchy – 6/10 – Debuchy hardly got forward at all today, something Wenger will surely be out to change in the second leg. His defending was pretty solid, but once or twice he was out of position, letting his man find space behind him. For Debuchy to make a bigger impact, he needs to be involved in the attacking half, which he wasn’t today.
Wojciech Szczesny – 8/10 – Every time Arsenal plays on Fox, analyst Eric Wynalda is quick to remind everyone that he thinks Szczesny isn’t good enough. I disagree. While his save in the opening seconds on Ba’s long-range effort was unorthodox, it got the job done on a spectacular shot. The Pole made more than a few confident saves today, and handled anything that went his diction. He was lucky Besiktas missed the net on their best chances, but overall Szczesny deserved the clean sheet.
Mathieu Flamini (50th) – 6.5/10 – Flamini’s introduction helped Arsenal settle into the second half when the game was getting away from them. His physicality and hard tackling halted a few attacks, and he helped keep Arsenal composed and disciplined defensively once Ramsey was sent off. With Arteta leaving with some sort of injury, albeit one that looks nothing too serious, Flamini might have earned himself a start against Everton this weekend. However, he will need to be better about not picking up unnecessary yellow cards. His one today soon after he got on the pitch put him and his team in a needlessly bad position for the rest of the game.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (73rd) – 6/10 – Aside from his shot on target late on that should have won the game for Arsenal were it not for a spectacular save, the Ox was pretty quiet. He’ll want a start soon.
Tomas Rosicky (90th) – N/A – Rosicky’s late cameo was nothing more than a time wasting exercise. Expect the veteran midfielder to see more of the field in the next couple of matches.
What did you think about the match? Please comment below.