Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Work to do after unspectacular draw in Istanbul

In a hostile atmosphere against a revved up home team, and on a very bobbly pitch, Arsenal can be pleased to go back to the Emirates Stadium with a 0-0 draw after the first leg of the Champions League qualifier with Besiktas. The open nature of the game made it quite difficult to watch from an Arsenal point-of-view as there did seem to be too many moments that were fraught with danger for the Gunners, but there were more than enough signs to show that Arsenal should be able to get the job done at home.
There is a danger of conceding an away goal though, as only a win will do for Arsenal to get into the group stages. Unlike previous qualifiers, Arsenal aren’t returning to the Emirates with a cushion. Besiktas applied themselves much better than Fenerbahce did last season, keeping the Arsenal defence on its toes, and they won’t look to hold back in London.
Arsenal will also have to get the job done without Aaron Ramsey. While there were niggly fouls throughout the game that the referee could have punished more consistently, it’s hard to complain about the two yellows that the Welshman received in getting sent off. The most frustrating thing about it was that Ramsey turned into trouble in the build-up to his second offence, when a simpler pass was on to Debuchy on the right hand side. Even though he has been the Welsh Messiah of late, it was a reminder that his decision making still needs to be good in the middle of the pitch. His transformation into a sensational player started by keeping things simple and building from there. Sometimes he needs to remember that and not always try the extravagant option when it puts the team, and himself, under pressure.
When he was on the pitch, Ramsey did look like one of the few who could spark Arsenal into life, along with Alexis Sanchez. The link-up between the Chilean and the rest of the team is very much still a work-in-progress, so the 70 minutes in Turkey will have helped the development of the understanding with Sanchez.
Olivier Giroud will undoubtedly draw a lot of criticism for his performance, and because of the style of game that he plays, when he has a bad game, he does look particularly woeful. His short linking passes weren’t coming off, and when the team were trying to play on the break, Giroud slowed moves down. He’s still trying to get some rhythm this season, and spent most of the night battling on his own against two centre backs, so hopefully getting a full 90 minutes under his belt will do him good in the long run, even if he had a disappointing evening.
At the back, Wojciech Szczesny was assured in goal, and apart from two clear chances either side of half time, Arsenal restricted the hosts fairly well considering the match was so open for the majority of the game. All of the back four can be pleased with their shifts, but as much as Calum Chambers has been seriously impressive at the start of the season, the calming influence Per Mertesacker will be welcomed back when he returns to the side very soon.
Mathieu Debuchy looked good going forward and got in a few dangerous positions, but he just has to be aware of his defensive positioning and choose his moments to make those effective bombing runs forward. Occasionally, Chambers looked slightly exposed on that side with Debuchy up field, meaning the holding midfielder had to cover at full-back and suddenly the attackers were able to run more directly towards the heart of the defence. Again, I suspect the return of Mertesacker might help Debuchy pick and choose his moments as the BFG will talk to him and be the leader of the back-line.
Even though it was far from a vintage Arsenal performance, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain almost nabbed a winner late on with some good direct running before being denied by a fantastic save from the goalkeeper. Being able to bring on someone with the pace of the Ox later in the game is a good option for Arsene Wenger to have, and despite having a few injuries and the three World Champions not yet back, it shows that the Gunners squad is looking a bit deeper than previous years.
Much like the Crystal Palace game, the performance against Besiktas was one of a team that is still trying to find some fluidity at the start of the season. So long as Arsenal get the job done and win at home, this will have been a useful match that helps the players pick up form as the season gets going. But, should Arsenal not win at home next Wednesday, this will go down as a costly missed opportunity. A 0-0 draw is an ok result, you just have to get it done next week, Arsenal.