Being drawn against Besiktas was always going to turn out a tricky tie for Arsenal to navigate. This was even more so considering the team’s current state of physical preparedness and the exertions against Crystal Palace at the weekend. Given this scenario, the priority was always going to be on getting a favourable result from the first leg in Turkey. A nil-all draw, whilst not emphatically reassuring from an Arsenal perspective, leaves the tie finely poised. You could even say the gunners hold the advantage, going into next week’s second leg.
Of course there are negatives. Aaron Ramsey’s suspension for the return leg coupled with Arteta’s injury(which at first glance looks pretty serious), leaves the team shorn of two dependable performers for the crucial decider. A failure to score an away goal also leaves the team exposed to the danger of an away goal from the Turks, potentially turning the tide in their favour.
All things considered, however, there are lots of positives to take out of the encounter. The first, being that the gunners managed to hang on and grind out the result. That’s two games within a week where the team showed enough grit and strength of character to come through games where valuable points were extracted, regardless of the indifferent showings. The performances are almost certain to come as the season wears on, but it’s reassuring to know that the knack of grinding out results even when not playing at our best, has become an undeniable quality of the current team.
llum Chambers’ continued strong run in the first team was another source of encouragement. The 16M pounds paid to Southampton for his services is really beginning to look like a bargain at the moment. The young Englishman continues to show a remarkable combination of assuredness and a capacity to adapt to difficult circumstances that greatly belie his age. It will be interesting to see what Wenger does with him when Mertesacker returns to the starting line-up, as he surely will against Everton. I have a strong suspicion that Wenger sees him evolving into the defensive midfield role in the long term. Depending on the seriousness of Arteta’s injury, this may force the Arsenal manager to bring forward his plans for easing him into that position. Which is not necessarily a bad thing considering the early signs from the nineteen year old.
Despite the viewpoints of a lot of pundits, I think Jack Wilshere is slowly improving on his fitness and looking more confident with every game. Physically, at least, his performances in the last two games have been very encouraging, even if he still lacks a bit of composure with the final ball. The combination play and coordination between the midfield and the attack is still lacking but that will surely come with more games.
Finally, Alexis Sanchez seemed much sharper yesterday, providing an excellent outlet down the right and putting some dangerous balls into the vital area which Giroud failed to make the most of. His understanding with his team mates seems to be improving all the time and he really showed some glimpses of what to expect when he is fully integrated with the team with his aggressive play and searching runs. I'm a bit worried about the Frenchman, but given his late return to the team and his obvious lack of fitness some understanding is warranted. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. At least till the next couple of games.
All in all, not the greatest day at the office from the gunners, but ahead of the second leg, it’s still all to play for and firmly; advantage, Arsenal.