Arsenal took on Turkish side Besiktas Wednesday night in a what can be regarded as a nervy victory for the Gunners who were latter reduced to 10 men just 15 minutes to the end of the encounter.
Here are three thing Arsene Wenger must have learnt from the clash at the Emirates stadium.
1. Arsenal Show Mental Strength In Difficult Circumstances.
Doing things the hard way has somehow become a running theme of Arsenal’s nascent season. This is a team that leaves its supporters on the edge of their seats with hearts in mouths during pulsating, nail-biting encounters. This isn’t a team for the faint hearted.
After coming from behind to nick a late winner against Crystal Palace on the opening day of the season and earning a point in dramatic fashion at Everton on Saturday, the Gunners won on Wednesday courtesy of a timely debut goal for Alexis Sanchez and holding on during a nervy last 15 minutes as Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca went card-happy to send off Mathieu Debuchy for two bookable offences, the latter which Wenger described as harsh.
Arsenal rode their luck sometimes and had a wayward Demba Ba header to thank for hanging on to their lead. The Gunners were guilty of some wasteful finishing too, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla in particular the worst culprits.
Arsenal’s slow start to the season is understandable as most of their players are still on their way back to full fitness following a summer punctuated by World Cup action.
Champions are often said to win despite not being at peak form and it is a fact surely not lost on Wenger. The good performances will come later as the season progresses and new players understand their teammates better. This is the part of the season where doing the needful is good enough and Arsenal are doing just that at the moment.
2. Jack Wilshere Steps Up In The Absence Of Aaron Ramsey.
Much maligned for a series of ineffective displays, Wilshere shone brightly in the absence of the suspended Aaron Ramsey. The Englishman was at the centre of most of Arsenal’s good work and Sanchez’s goal came about as a result of some mixture of accident and invention on the part of Wilshere and Özil.
Although there were still some moments of uncertainty, – he easily could have given a penalty away after tripping Ramon Motta – it was one of his better displays in a while with some purposeful running while joining the attack on several occasions.
Much has been said and written about how this is supposed to be a make or break season for him and while most of the criticism has been over the top, there is no doubt that he needs to step up. Wilshere has been dogged by injuries that have stalled his development and his manager believes staying fit is the key to regaining the form that saw him announce himself on the big stage back in the 2010/2011 season.
“If Wilshere can maintain his physical fitness then he will make a huge career. At the moment, I believe he should just focus on being fit, present and to improve physically. The rest will come along,” Wenger said when responding to questions about the midfielder.
Aaron Ramsey, the man he replaced on Wednesday, took some time to deliver on his huge potential after suffering a horrific leg break in 2010. Wilshere has had his fair share of niggling injuries and if he can maintain a clean bill of health, he surely can emulate his teammate in proving his doubters wrong. There were enough flashes of brilliance on Wednesday to suggest he’s still capable.
3. Squad Depth Still An Issue And Wenger Must Dip Into The Transfer Market.
With news emerging on Tuesday night that Olivier Giroud was out with a broken tibia until the start of 2015, Arsenal went into the crucial Champions’ League qualifier with Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo as the only recognized Centre Forwards. Of the two, only the German international has scored for the team with the young Sanogo still struggling to convince at the highest level.
It was therefore not surprising that Alexis Sanchez was given another chance as the main striker despite the Chilean being hauled off midway through the game at Everton on Saturday following an uninspiring day at the office. The summer recruit was full of running and put in a tireless display that saw him grab the all-important winner, although at times he looked to be on a wavelength different from that of his teammates.
Despite Sanchez’s best efforts for the night, Arsenal missed the services of Giroud upfront. While the Frenchman could be frustrating – as he was last week in Turkey – he provides Arsenal with a target for their attack and brings others into play with cushioned flick-ons for the likes of Aaron Ramsey making runs from midfield. Sanchez could well turn out to be a prolific centre forward – and there was plenty to suggest that last night – but it would take time for him to adapt to his new role while forming an unerring understanding with new teammates.
The situation is less than ideal and Wenger’s post match conference did nothing to ease the worries of fans hoping for a marquee signing in the coming days,
“You will ask me straight away who we will buy? At the moment, no one. We will look around but we want quality, and we have quality: we have [Yaya] Sanogo, [Lukas] Podolksi, [Joel] Campbell, Theo Walcott is coming back soon, and to find players better than we have will be very difficult now,” the Arsenal manager said.
As he gave the strongest indication yet that Sanchez could well play upfront in Giroud’s absence.
“Can he play in that role for three or four months? He can play his whole life at centre-forward. I bought him to play as a striker, not to play only on the flanks.”
Wenger’s team came unstuck in the biggest matches against their rivals last term as their soft underbelly was exploited to ruthless effect by their fellow title contenders. In a League where Manchester City possess the likes of Fernando and Fernandinho at the core of its midfield and Chelsea boast the services of Nemanja Matic, Arsenal’s duo of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini are painfully inadequate for a team with ambitions of glory.
Wenger must dip into the transfer market if Arsenal are to compete against the biggest teams in Europe. The time to act is now. Fortune, as sages would say, favours only the brave.