By ’Tayo Amosu
August 20, 2014
The first leg of the UEFA Champions League play-off between Arsenal and Besiktas, though lived up to its expectation as a feisty one laden with fireworks, was yet another uninspiring display from Arsene Wenger-led Arsenal team.
Coming from a 5-2 aggregate win over Feyernoord, with a ferocious Demba Ba, on an awful pitch and thundering Turkish fans, Besiktas strongly had the match on their minds and desperately wanted to win.
Played in the 70,000 capacity of the Ataturk Stadium, in Turkey, where Liverpool won the Champions League in 2005 against AC Milan, the Turkish giants ensured that Arsenal was given a good run for their sweat from the first second of the game.
However, the Gunners, though unimpressive, saw some very good chances blown away by Olivier Giroud to deny them at least an away goal.
The overall stubbornness of the Besiktas on the night has now left them with a tricky second leg to negotiate in a week’s time, with an Arsenal side without Aaron Ramsey, who got a second yellow and red, Mikel Arteta, who was substituted in the second half through an injury and Kieran Gibbs, who missed the tie through injury sustained in the 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace over last weekend.
Demba Ba, the Senegalese, who just signed from Chelsea this summer, struck a long shot from centre pitch just about 5 seconds after kick off to the amazement of a raucous Istanbul crowd, which forced a nice save from Arsenal keeper, Wojciech Szczesny.
Afterwards, the lanky attacker in the 8th minute through a volley gave another early scare which was parried by the Arsenal’s Poland goalkeeper, but the Gunners responded almost immediately in the 9th minute as Olivier Giroud missed a good scoring opportunity which emanated from a good link-up play between new boys Mathieu Debuchy and Alexis Sanchez.
The first half action became subdued however after 15 minutes, with Arsenal finding their footing, without much success, in front of the usual intimidating Turkish crowd.
Slaven Bilic, former West Ham player, who famously eliminated England from Euro 2008 qualification as the Croatia national team coach, appeared to have given an inspiring pep talk to his Besiktas players, as they started the second half buzzing confidence and Olcay Sahan in the 48th minute curled an effort just wide.
Situation became somewhat ugly for Arsenal in the 49th minute, when the club Captain, Mikel Arteta was forced off due to injury and the Captainship of the team was passed on to Laurent Koscielny, who together with Calum Chambers, fought hard and struggled to keep Demba Ba and his attacking partners at bay.
Mathieu Flamini was thrown into the fray in place of the injured Captain and he took the responsibility of holding the midfield against the battering of the Besiktas players.
The frustrating nature of the match became very evident by the 54th minute as the referee issued three yellow cards in two minutes.
Before the 73rd minute, Arsenal had received 3 yellow cards for tackles and infringements done by Aaron Ramsey, Mathieu Flamini and Nacho Monreal whilst little or no chance created as the defence of both teams held strong.
Ramsey got a second yellow in the 80 minute, which saw him receive his very first red card in his club career.
The best Arsenal chance of the match came in the 89th minute through substitute, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as he rampaged into the Besiktas penalty area and forced a save from the Besiktas goalkeeper, who got fingers to the 21-year-old’s shot and tipping it off the post.
The frustrating match ended not only goalless, but left Arsenal without Arteta and Ramsey for the second leg.
But, meanwhile another testy tie awaits the Gunners against Everton at Goodison Park this weekend, therefore, a strong reminder that the holidays are over, has just been served with this Turkish battle.