Arsenal took on Besiktas of Turkey for the UEFA Champions League playoff match on Tuesday night in a match which ended in a goaless draw, setting up a dramatic second leg encounter, when the two sides meet at the Emirates next week.
Arsene Wenger started with the same side he used against Manchester City and Crystal Palace except for two changes which are Nacho Monreal coming in for Kierran Gibbs and Olivier Giroud starting in the place of Yaya Sanogo.
The Gunners will leave with a few regrets because they had opportunities to win the game. For example, in the tail-end of the first half, Olivier Giroud couldn’t make a sufficient contact with an attractive chance and in the latter stages of the second half, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ended a dazzling run by firing against the post of Besiktas.
However, this wasn’t a game the Gunners dominated all through. Besiktas had opportunities of their own. Six seconds into the match, Demba Ba tested Wojciech Szezesny’s goal with an audacious effort which the pole pushed unto the crossbar. He also forced the Polish International Goalkeeper into action with a smart volley shortly afterwards.
The Turkish outfit will be relatively satisfied with the outcome of the game knowing that a scored-draw at the Emirates will be enough to secure safe passage to the group stage. This will allow them to play a cautious game at the Emirates, keeping men behind the ball and trying to catch arsenal on the break.
The mandate is now on arsenal to go all out and try to win the game. In a way, that will suit the Gunners because at present they are better going forward than at the back.
In his Champions’ League debut, Calum Chambers’ inexperience was visible occasionally although he still managed to put up a fine display once again. Per Mertersacker is expected to be back to reduce the vulnerability at the back. Also the midfield will have an unfamiliar feel about it, as Captain Mikel Arteta had to be substituted with an injury problem, we are still waiting for feelers about his status for the second leg, and it is certain that Aaron Ramsey will not feature as he was sent off for a second booking as the game approached its end.
Arsenal FC struggled to get their conventional free flowing attacking football going in this match but it seems the hangover from the World Cup have continued for longer than we all anticipated.
In the absence of Mikel Arteta (until confirmed) and the availability of Mertesacker, Chamber’s should start as a defensive midfielder in the return leg next week. The long anticipated comeback of the Germans should be in this match, with Ozil, and Per Mertersacker expected to start the match at the Emirates. Alexis Sanchez and Santi Carzola should start from the wings. The formation that is expected from Wenger is the 4-3-3, with Olivier Giroud, still seeming to be easing off the rust accumulated during his post World Cup lay-off, heading the attack as he is still Arsenal’s most potent Striker.
The importance of Champions League football cannot be over-emphasised. The return leg may only be a qualifier, but it will feel as if it has all the significance of a final.