Arsenal’s Europe hopes survive in Istanbul cauldron
Arsenal on Tuesday survived the test of a raucous Istanbul crowd and a hugely-energised Besiktas side to leave Turkey with a goalless draw and their hopes intact of advancing to the Champions League group stage.
In the first leg of the Champions League play-off, Arsenal failed to score the all-important away goal but will be relieved to have escaped from Istanbul with a 0-0 scoreline and still every hope they will qualify in the home leg.
However, the only sour note was they ended the match with 10 men as key Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey was sent off 10 minutes from time.
The prospect of entry into the lucrative group stages of the Champions League dynamised Besiktas, who came third in the Turkish league last season under Croatian manager Slaven Bilic.
Helped by the noisy, partisan home crowd, Besiktas caused the London side trouble from the start with new signing Demba Ba a potent threat.
Failure not an option for Wenger
Everything was at stake for Arsenal who came into the game with a 100 percent record in Champions League play-offs, having played 12 and won 12.
For manager Arsene Wenger, failing to make the lucrative group stage of Europe’s elite club competition for a 17th consecutive campaign would be nothing short of a disaster.
Wenger had said he was tempted to field German World Cup-winning trio Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski for the first time this season given the potential difficulty of the tie but in the end opted to leave them out.
The home side had no problem creating chances but failed to land the clinical blow in front of goal that could have left Arsenal’s early season in tatters.
Arsenal appeared caught off their guard by a bright start by the hosts with goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny’s defence tested repeatedly in the first minutes and Besiktas enjoyed much the best of the first 45 minutes.
The quicksilver Senegalese Ba (below), Besiktas’s flagship summer signing from Chelsea, went close in the ninth minute with a volley that forced a fine save from Szczesny.
But Arsenal sought to keep Beskitas in check by holding possession and taking the sting out of the crowd’s malice.
Yet Besiktas kept looking to find holes in the Arsenal defence with Veli Kavlak forcing another save from Szczesny on the half hour.
A lively end to the second half saw Ramsey test Tolga Zengin in the Besiktas goal while Ba sent a fine chance wide.
Arsenal's Jack Wilshere (R) vies with Besiktas' Necip Uysal (L). Photo: AFP
Besiktas began the second half with the same aggressive approach and a brilliant run by Olcay Sahan into open space ended with him curling his shot wide to cries of disbelief from the increasingly impatient crowd.
But in a testy second half that lacked the sparkle of the first, Arsenal could also make no headway past the solid Besiktas defence and the Istanbul side scrambled to thwart English attacks before heading out on the break.
In a frantic final few minutes as Besiktas clearly tired, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain hit the post for Arsenal and goalkeeper Zengin was lucky the ball did not rebound off him into the net. - AFP