Friday, August 30, 2013

Arsenal 2 Fenabahce 0 (2nd leg of Champions League Play-off)

Arsenal cruised into the group stages of the Champions League for the 16th consecutive year after beating Fenerbahce 5-0 win on aggregate. They didn't even get out of the second gear and it wasn't the most exciting game. In fact, the Gunners played much better against Villa with high tempo and intensity. Still, the result was all that mattered for this game and the team did just that. After the Villa game, people jumped to the conclusion that Arsenal always struggle to get the result when they play poorly (besides, we didn't play badly against Villa). This night's performance answered such criticism.

Arsene Wenger made himself clear before the match that he had no intention of rotation despite the north Lodnon club having almost certainly secured their place in the Champions League proper. True to his words, the Frenchman fielded almost the same strong side that started in the 3-1 defeat of Fulham on Saturday. Monreal came in for Gibbs, which was somewhat expected ahead of a massive north London derby on Sunday. Jack Wilshere replaced Rosicky in midfield. These were the only changes. Koscielny had recovered from his cut to the head in time, but was left on the bench.

There was an argument whether Arsenal should have rested some players ahead of the north London derby, especially after this game left them with a few injury headaches. Podolski was stretchered off with a hamstring injury. The German international is now set to be out for 8 to 10 weeks. Ramsey came off the pitch with three or four minutes to go due to a groin injury. According to the coach, it was his decision to take off the Welsh international who wanted to stay on. Arsenal ended the game with 10-men, having used all three substitutes already. Jack Wilshere was another injury concern, targeted with a few nasty challenges. In the end, the Englishman completed the full 90 minutes, but we were pleading to take him off as Arsenal should certainly be able to see off their qualification with 10 men in the remaining 10 minutes (this was before Ramsey was taken off). Wenger confirmed that Jack wanted to continue and the Englishman's desire was clear in his performance. Fortunately, Wenger reckons Jack came through the game OK.

The qualification came at a heavy cost, but we support Wenger's decision to play a strong side. We needed to continue the momentum carried from the previous two great results. If we had lost this game (although the CAS's decision made on the next day to dismiss Fenerbahce's appeal against UEFA's two-year ban from the European competitions meant we would probably have qualified anyway), the result could have seriously dented the team's confidence ahead of the north London derby. Besides, we don't have the luxury of rotation, which is evident if you look at the bench. Koscielny, Gibbs and Rosicky were the only established first-teamers.

The quality of Wenger's side is no longer a question. However, it is obvious that the squad lacks depth in terms of numbers. Even Ramsey admitted that they were short of numbers in his post-match interview. Now that the qualification has been secured, the focus is on the transfer market.

On Thursday, Arsenal confirmed that Mathieu Flamini had re-signed for Arsenal. Many fans are disappointed with the fact that it was not a high-profile signing they were hoping for and Wenger is yet to spend on transfer fees. However, he is a versatile player, being able to cover for both full-backs as well as playing as a holding midfielder in the absence of Mikel Arteta. He should make a good squad player without hampering Carl Jenkinson's development and depriving Nacho Monreal of playing time. If he proves successful as a deep-lying midfielder, Arteta can move to a more attacking role, which he prefers. If the French midfielder is the same player who left Arsenal five years ago, this is a great signing for us. In the press conference, Wenger was adamant that there would be more signings to come after they had lost their three key players to long-term injuries. Hopefully, we will be able to see some positive developments soon.

Players rating

Szczesny: 7
His saves in the first half were crucial in order to keep any hope of Fenebahce's qualification at bay.
However, his decisions were questionable especially when it came to corners. Fortunately, Emenike decided to dive when the Pole rushed at him, which saved a disastrous consequence for us.

Jenkinson: 7
Didn't make too big mistakes. Helped attack by going forward. Unlucky not to score in injury time.

Sagna: 7
Another competent display as the centre-back.

Mertesacker: 7

Monreal: 8
Perhaps one of his best defensive performances. Put in some important blocks.

Ramsey: 8
Scored two goals. His first goal was a bit lucky as Poldi's through ball to Theo was deflected (or cleared) by a Fenerbahce player into the in-form midfielder's path. Getting into great positions was not a problem for him for the past two seasons, but finishing was. The difference this season is his composure in front of goal. He took the second goal beautifully.

Wilshere: 7
Combined well with Santi.

Cazorla: 8
Weaving through Fenerbahce defence so often, he posed a constant threat to the Turkish side all night.

Walcott: 6
He could have helped Giroud more if he had been more mobile.

Podolski: 6
Didn't get involved too much.

Giroud: 7
Failed to score for the first time this season, but he made a great contribution to the team through good moves on and off the ball.


Gibbs: 7
Replaced injured Podolski in the 49th minute. Set up for Ramsey's second goal through a superb cross.

Sanogo: 6
60th-minute substitute for Giroud. Involved in the good movement in the build-up to Ramsey's second goal, but did have little impact.

Ryo: 5
Came on in the 74th minute in the place of Theo Walcott. His low cross to Jenkinson in the injury time was excellent, but part from that, he made very little impact.


Carlos Velasco Carballo: 5
Booking a man of the match, Ramsey, for not getting a permission to come on the pitch after he changed his boots was petty. Didn't punish Fenerbahce players for their sinister challenges on Jack, while showing a yellow card to Per for an innocuous tackle.

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