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Arsenal Keep Calm And Carry On

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27th August 2014 7:45 pm

Attendance: 59,946


For Besiktas this was a game to qualify for the Champions League, but for Arsenal, having qualified in each of the previous 16 seasons, it was a game to avoid relegation to the second division of European football as Wenger implied after the match. Did that play on the team psyche and make it a more tense game than previous contests as this stage? Did not winning a trophy for 9 years contribute to a tense FA Cup semi-final and then, finding ourselves two goals down in the final itself, it affect us even more? If it did then we found a way to deal with the pressure tonight as we did on those occasions.

We've been nicking results for a while but not in a Pulis style park the bus and snatch a set piece manner. The last gasp winner from Ramsey against Palace and Giroud's point saving header at Everton seems a continuation of the penalty shoot out nerve holding success in the FAC semi-final and the determined and professional recovery in the final. The results we've been nicking have been earned, but as much by effort and strength of will as fluency of play. That's a side of our play that has received the scorn of others over a few seasons now. That we're supposedly all fancy dan football and aren't physically or mentally tough enough to face these challenges. But give us 20 minutes and 10 men to hold onto a result and there is a greater sense that we can do it now than might have been the case not so long back.

It's as well that we have found this ability because while the capacity to play fluent football is still there it sparks and splutters rather than motors along at present. That was much the pattern of this game. At times our play threatened to make it an easier contest than it was. Had Wilshere taken an early opportunity to give us the lead the later goal Sanchez scored just before half time would have made for a more comfortable cushion at the break. Similarly had Ox taken advantage of a gilt edged chance presented by Monreal, prior to Debuchy picking up a 2nd yellow to end his part in the game, the closing moments of the game would have had less of the Russian roulette air that the prospect of conceding a single goal brought to the contest.

There were scares at our end too, not least a couple of penalty claims one perhaps more justified than the other but, while the claim that 'they could've been given' is as undeniable as it is predictably obvious, we've been on the receiving end of such decisions often enough ourselves, all quickly forgotten, not to need to feel guilty about it.

Up until his premature departure Debuchy was justifying any claim that he's an upgrade on Sagna, Monreal was showing he can defend and contribute in the attacking half and Wilshere showed that given the role that Ramsey plays he does have some genuine qualities himself. It was Jack's adroit one two with Ozil, who seemed pretty match rusty tonight, that set up the only goal. Less adroit was Jack's control with his right foot but having got away from him it fell nicely for Sanchez to claim that the £25m or so his goal may have earned Arsenal through CL qualification proper has gone some way to paying his transfer fee.

If the first half didn't support the idea that Alexis can play as the central attacking forward the second half did. He chased, closed down and recovered the ball at every opportunity, keeping Besiktas defenders busy and allowing others to get forward. Had Ozil shown the precision, weight of pass and decision making that could be taken for granted even in his less impressive games Alexis might have seen more reward for his efforts. Similarly Ox fell short of what his pace and ability should have brought us and he seemed anonymous for large parts of the game. We know that both can and will have much better games and we've seen that other players in the squad have match winning contributions in them. What we're waiting to see is when all manage to make those contributions at the same time.

For now though we can admire the ability to dig out results when needed along with those moments, albeit less frequent of late, of fluent, exciting and creative play. Job done and 17th consecutive CL appearance virtual trophy in the virtual trophy cabinet.

Star Player

Alexis - because he may have needed it as much as we did, with honourable mentions for Debuchy and Wilshere.

Date:Thursday August 28 2014
Time: 12:08AM

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Great stuff Amos! I'm loving you almost immediate post match thoughts. Agree with your MOTM too. Sanchez was a beast today. So much energy harassing the defenders when they had the ball. Working hard with it, got the winner. Class act. Happy Gooner tonight. Hope for a kinder draw than last year tomorrow.
28/08/2014 00:32:00
Great stuff indeed! The honourable mentions really sparkled, in my view. Kos and Mert have not lost a beat and the supporting cast did their jobs very well.
28/08/2014 03:44:00
Lack of familiarity upfront still but that improved when Alexis played a bit closer to the Besiktas centre halves and occupied them, rather than crowding into space in the centre circle well occupied by Cazorla, Ozil, Wilshere and Chamberlain (Alexis had the fewest touches of any of our outfield players in the first half by quite some distance). I think Wenger has wanted to ditch the target man and have a more mobile frontline for a while (hence the pursuit of Suarez). Once Walcott is back, I can see Alexis working even better up top, he quite likes to drop deep and once he does, potentially Walcott can push up onto centre halves and take up more central positions- which he's been doing in partnership with Giroud for the last 2 years or so anyway. Giroud might have seen his future on Saturday. A solid back up plan when things aren't quite working.
Little Dutch
28/08/2014 07:35:00
Alexis and Theo doing a Suarez and Sturridge is feasible and far more like previous Wenger sides than we've seen over the last couple of years. We've become over dependent on bouncing the ball off a big man though Giroud can be pretty effective doing it. Sanogo and Campbell offer raw, and so for the moment unconvincing options, but we'll have the opportunity to try them out. Fergie had some success with pinch hitter strikers like Sjolksjaer, Larrson, Hernandez someone that might nick a goal when you needed one. Podolski might be able to do that for us. I agree with the idea that Giroud became our plan A by default. It might be frustrating yet being weaned off it but we'll be the better for it in the end - and we'll have a ready made plan B when we he's back.
28/08/2014 07:56:00
A pleasurable read, Amos and precise/apt comments, so far. I have made the observation before that the team had become reliant on Giroud's big target man status such that when we were forced to play Theo or Podolski last season, the keeper and defenders did not adapt their long ball tactics to the strengths of the front man. This left Poldi/Theo struggling with taller defenders and getting easily isolated. Last night, Alexis was usually alone in harrying the Besiktas defense; the rest of the team preferred to take up positions in the middle and back, maybe under instruction, but this improved in the 2nd half when he had Jack and Cazorla helping out. If Rosicky had an opportunity to play, he is adept at snapping at the heels of defenders too. It was clear some of the players are still developing an understanding and others still, returning to full fitness. So, this team can only get better; both in fluency and resilience. The season is a long one.
28/08/2014 08:43:00
*when we were forced to play Theo or Podolski, as top striker. ....and backed off* that is.
28/08/2014 08:46:00
Good writeup Amos, agree how Sanchez may now become our plan A. However a lot of work is needed on the training ground so everyone knows their position and also their teammates position/runs etc. At moments its looked feasible playing Alexis through the middle, at other moments it looked quite disjointed. His determination and work rate was excellent, will he keep it up? Also a side note; the CL draw has the potential to be even harder this year by the looks of it. Hoping our luck turns good for one year at least and the draw favours us!
28/08/2014 11:39:00
Though both Santi and Moneral could be other candidates for MOTM. Alexis immense in the second half as was Jack, but both their first half displays weren't great. Santi offered a lot defensively especially in the second 45 and Moneral was ery solid thru-out.

Messy, scrappy and a bit nerve damaging but we'll take it!

Galway Gooner
28/08/2014 12:07:00
I'd agree that both Monreal and Santi were worthy of honourable mentions too GG. Monreal did well at Everton too I thought. Reassuringly so given Gibbs is out.
28/08/2014 12:20:00
i recalled someone posted in another column sometime ago arguing that the incompatibility between wilshere-ramsey is akin to the gerard-lampard situation for the three lions. delving deeper into the proposition, i find some similarities between wilshere and gerrard & ramsey and lampard. wilshere maybe developing into the gerrard type of player who drives the movement of the team directly either when defending or attacking whereas ramsey are going towards the path of lampard, depending more on positioning and off-the-ball movements. theoretically, such combination should work but england under various managers had failed to solve the conundrum of playing gerrard-lampard together for a good 15 years until the day they retired. so far, it seems we are facing the same problem with wilshere-ramsey too. it would be interesting to see how wenger is able to manage it
28/08/2014 12:40:00
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