Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker (c), Koscielny, Gibbs, Wilshere, Ramsey, Rosicky, Cazorla, Walcott, Giroud
Subs: Fabianski, Monreal, Podolski, Sanogo, Frimpong, Gnabry, Jenkinson
Arsenal took a huge step towards securing Champions League football with an impressive 3-0 away win against Fenerbahce. Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud, from the penalty spot, did the damage in the second half as the Gunners skewered their Turkish hosts like a (Yohan) kebab.
The Gunners – unusually pairing blue shorts with red shirts – started confidently, seemingly unfazed by Saturday’s defeat to Aston Villa. Our passing was crisp and controlled and despite the onslaught of the home crowd’s much-anticipated jeers and whistles we controlled play in the first 20 minutes. Ramsey, Wilshere and Rosicky dominated the midfield, Cazorla looked back to his impish self and Theo Walcott was a dangerous outlet on the right.
Alas, for all the intricate play, chances were few and far between only Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey coming close, both with efforts which drifted wide of the Fenerbahce right post.
Play was halted rather dramatically on the half hour mark when Laurent Koscielny took a horrible kick to the head from Pierre Webo (GIF here) and was forced off with blood pouring from his face and a suspected concussion. As was the case at the weekend when Kieran Gibbs was forced off, Arsene Wenger had little choice but to shuffle his defensive pack. Bacary Sagna, who’d started at right-back, moved into the centre alongside Per Mertesacker and Carl Jenkinson came on.
If there was a criticism of the performance it was the lack of urgency in the final third. Too often we worked our way into decent positions down the channels only for moves to break down due to a dearth of bodies in the box and poor final balls. When we did flood the box, four minutes before the break, we somehow contrived not to test the keeper on three separate occasions, the last a Giroud effort which flew high and wide. It was Arsenal doing their very best Arsenal impression.
At half-time it was hard to complain about the performance (our opponents hadn’t had a shot in anger), but at the same time you sensed we needed to make more of our domination. The best that could be said about the home side was that Raul Meireles looked like an extra from Mad Max.
The hosts came out with a bit more bite in the second half, ex-Liverpool man Dirk Kuyt firing just over Szczesny’s bar after Ramsey was closed down.
Finally though we broke the deadlock. Fantastic build-up play from Ramsey, toying with Fenerbahce on the edge of their box, was topped off by a lovely ball to Walcott who slid the ball across the six-yard box to Gibbs who scored from a yard out into the roof of the net. 1-0.
It was lovely. A goal made in Britain and football at its purest.
It was football at its rawest moments later when Webo effectively stood on Szczesny’s face while chasing a through ball. Thankfully unlike Koscielny, the Pole was able to continue.
Well in control of the game we continued to break up play in the midfield. Wilshere, who improved as the game went on, danced his way through a couple of challenges, exchanged passes with Walcott before firing straight at keeper Volkan Demirel. Thankfully, Aaron Ramsey, the standout player of the match went one better.
Time after time the Welshman had taken the game by the scruff of the neck and having helped set up the first he went ahead and doubled the lead all on his own. Driving towards the Fenerbahce box the midfielder unleashed a low drive which crept inside the post. It was like a slightly crap version of Cesc’s in the San Siro.
Substitute Emmanuel Emenike nearly made an instant impact for Fenerbahce and Moussa Sow, three times, also came close but with 15 minutes to go the crowd were comparatively sedate. Szczesny sensing the upped tempo received a yellow for time-wasting.
Out of nothing a lovely long ball was brought down by Walcott in the box. He was clumsily bundled over by Kadlec and the fifth official, of all people, told the ref to point to the spot. Olivier Giroud confidently swiped the ball into the top corner and it was 3-0.
With ten minutes left Giroud was replaced by Podolski, Szczesny made tidy saves from Kadlecand Emenike, before Nacho Monreal took over from the impressive Walcott to add further defensive stability.
All in all, you couldn’t have asked for a better performance. A clean sheet and three goals suggest only a monumental collapse at the Emirates in six days time will deny us a fifteenth consecutive season in the group stage of Europe’s premiere competition.
Perhaps Arsene might now be able to persuade a few top names that we’re a side worth joining after all. We’re not dead and buried just yet ladies and gents…13,387 views