Arsenal 1 Besiktas 0: Three talking points as Alexis Sánchez nets winner

Arsenal 1 Besiktas 0: Three talking points as Alexis Sánchez fires the Gunners into the Champions League group stage

Arsenal
1
Besiktas
0

Arsenal do it again

It seems that order has been restored: after a largely uncomfortable 180 minutes, Arsenal’s name will once again be in the pot when Champions League group-stage draw takes place in Monaco on Thursday. This play-off fixture has become something of a season curtain-raiser for Arsene Wenger’s side in recent years. Never, however, have they been made to sweat so much about their place in the next round. After all, the Gunners had won all 12 of their previous play-off matches before last week’s goalless draw in Istanbul – a game which could easily have gone the way of the hosts. Make no mistake, this was a serious early-season test for the north Londoners, and one in which they were forced to show their often-questioned gritty side. Arsenal, of course, made their own task all the more difficult by being reduced to 10 men in both legs; Mathieu Debuchy was the culprit on Wednesday. But this year, Wenger’s men will head into the group stage feeling that they have truly earned their place amongst the elite – and it could end up standing them in good stead for the long season ahead.

Adapting Sánchez off the mark

Wenger cited a lack of a physical presence up front for his decision to substitute Alexis Sánchez at half-time during last weekend’s 2-2 draw at Everton. It proved an inspired move as Olivier Giroud went on to score the Gunners’ equaliser. But with the French striker facing a potentially lengthy spell on the sidelines with an ankle injury, Wenger was forced to call upon Sánchez once again to lead his side’s front-line against Beskitas. Giroud has come in for criticism for not being the instinctive finisher the Gunners require but one of his attributes that cannot be disputed is his hold-up play. His absence was made painfully evident on Wednesday as Sánchez struggled to win any aerial battles with the Turkish side’s defence. The Chile international did, however, work hard and made plenty of darting runs. He produced little in front of goal until helping the Gunners make the breakthrough on the stroke of half-time. Jack Wilshere, who was bursting forwards with pace from midfield all night, found Debuchy, whose cross was only half cleared. Sánchez made no mistake as he swept home to notch up his first Arsenal goal as huge cheers of relief swept around The Emirates. Whether Giroud would have finished that chance we will never know, but the 25-year-old showed plenty of endeavour as he continues to find his feet in north London.

Kolscielny and Mertesacker stand firm

It was Arsenal’s biggest game of the season thus far, so it was no surprise to see Wenger opt to start first-choice pair Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny in the heart of defence. For all of the promise shown by teenager Calum Chambers in recent weeks following his transfer from Southampton last month, Wenger will have been relieved to be able to call upon the reliable duo with so much at stake. The pair were at their solid best throughout as they kept the likes of Demba Ba at bay in north London, although they were not helped by Debuchy, who did not have his best night on the right side of the Gunners’ defence and was (somewhat harshly) sent off for a second booking with 15 minutes to play.

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