Friday, August 23, 2013

Fenerbahce 0 Arsenal 3 (1st leg of Champions League Play-off)

Arsenal went into this game under massive pressure after Saturday's shock defeat to Aston Villa. Combined with frustration over the Club's failure to sign big names, including Gonzalo Higuain, and the recent spell of inactivity in the transfer market, the disappointing start to the season caused a huge uproar among fans. As a result, a comfortable 3-0 win in Istanbul eased the tension.

After the Villa game, Wenger responded to criticism about the Club's inability to spend so far by stating that he had enough qualities in his players on the pitch to win the game. He was right. The side he fielded on that day was strong enough to beat Aston Villa on another day. Unfortunately, when the referee makes mistakes in as many as two of his key decisions, it is very difficult to win a game. Even when we were a man down, we could still have won the match if only Giroud had been a more agile striker and Rosicky (who should have had a hat trick) had been more clinical in front of goal. Wenger's view on the squad was once again vindicated in Wednesday's tie against Fenerbahce as his side showed their qualities over a rather poor Fenerbahce side.

In his post-match interview in Istanbul, Arsene Wenger reiterated his faith in the quality of the squad, but admitted that the squad lacks depth in terms of numbers. The quality of our midfield was indisputable, but we felt that we desperately need a more technically gifted striker than Giroud in order to challenge for the title.

We are frustrated by the lack of transfer activity so far as much as other supporters are. The summer clear-out meant that the squad are now stripped to bare bones. Look at the bench for the Villa game and this play-off first leg. Frimpong hasn't played a single game with the first team for a long time, having been left out of the pre-season squad. Gnabry may be a talented 17-year-old, but he wouldn't scare any Prem team or Champions League regular. We believe that Wenger is fully aware of the lack of depth in the squad. Through his experience, especially a number of seasons plagued with injuries, he should have appreciated that the squad in the current shape would struggle to cope with  possibly over 60 games in a long season. He will add more players to the squad, although they may not be big names we hope for.

It was a great result in Istanbul. The three away goals and clean sheet mean Fenerbahce now have a mountainous task of scoring four goals at the Emirates to win the tie. Arsenal will go into the second leg which comes between two tough Premier League games, knowing that they have a relatively easy job of wrapping up the tie. Qualification for the Champions League proper is almost certain, which should help the Club entice world-class players.

Apart from the result, there are further positives to take from this game. Although they gave the ball away a little bit too often for our liking, our midfield was impressive. Following Arteta's thigh injury, which is expected to leave him on the sideline for up to six weeks, a newly-formed central midfield partnership between Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey looked more solid and better balanced than Saturday. Jack looked tired and lacking concentration towards the end of Saturday's game, when he was forced to play a full 90 minutes for the first time in many months as a result of unplanned substitutions. However, he seemed to have regained his full fitness now. We even saw his "burst" forward. He won 8 dribbles, completed 90% of his passes and made 3 key passes.

Ramsey was an almost unanimously chosen Man of the Match. He was outstanding in every area with 5 tackles won, 86% of passing success, and 2 key passes and a goal. With an excellent pre-season under the belt, he is now an integral part of Arsenal's starting XI.

Rosicky was the main drive in Saturday's game and put in another gutsy performance on this night.

Once Walcott had found the weakness in Fenerbahce's left-back, he was a constant threat to the Turkish side. After the fruitless first half, Ramsey's astute pass finally materialised the danger, which led to Arsenal's opening goal.

Our defenders coped very well with the sudden withdrawal of Laurent Koscielny and regrouped quickly to keep a clean sheet. Sagna once again putting a good shift at centre back.

Saturday's defeat triggered some knee-jerk reaction. Alan Hansen was one of those pundits to jump on the bandwagon. He criticised Arsenal's mental strength by stating that Arsenal has been having trouble in getting results over the past years when they play poorly. The ex-Liverpool defender must have a short memory. During their 11-game unbeaten run at the end of the last season, Arsenal did not always win by playing their brand of easy-on-the-eye football. They ground out the result in some games. They may not have a stand-out leader, but this group of players have strong characters as a team.

Despite the convincing win, there are still negative views even after the impressive display by the Gunners. These so-called fans say that we merely beat a sorry side. How Arsenal will fare against a tougher Premier League side remains to be seen, but for the night, the job was done professionally. This night's performance was certainly encouraging.

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