Date: 28th August 2014 at 12:08am
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For Besiktas this was a game to qualify for the Champions League, but for Arsenal, having qualified in each of the previous 16 seasons, it was a game to avoid relegation to the second division of European football as Wenger implied after the match. Did that play on the team psyche and make it a more tense game than previous contests as this stage? Did not winning a trophy for 9 years contribute to a tense FA Cup semi-final and then, finding ourselves two goals down in the final itself, it affect us even more? If it did then we found a way to deal with the pressure tonight as we did on those occasions.

We’ve been nicking results for a while but not in a Pulis style park the bus and snatch a set piece manner. The last gasp winner from Ramsey against Palace and Giroud’s point saving header at Everton seems a continuation of the penalty shoot out nerve holding success in the FAC semi-final and the determined and professional recovery in the final. The results we’ve been nicking have been earned, but as much by effort and strength of will as fluency of play. That’s a side of our play that has received the scorn of others over a few seasons now. That we’re supposedly all fancy dan football and aren’t physically or mentally tough enough to face these challenges. But give us 20 minutes and 10 men to hold onto a result and there is a greater sense that we can do it now than might have been the case not so long back.

It’s as well that we have found this ability because while the capacity to play fluent football is still there it sparks and splutters rather than motors along at present. That was much the pattern of this game. At times our play threatened to make it an easier contest than it was. Had Wilshere taken an early opportunity to give us the lead the later goal Sanchez scored just before half time would have made for a more comfortable cushion at the break. Similarly had Ox taken advantage of a gilt edged chance presented by Monreal, prior to Debuchy picking up a 2nd yellow to end his part in the game, the closing moments of the game would have had less of the Russian roulette air that the prospect of conceding a single goal brought to the contest.

There were scares at our end too, not least a couple of penalty claims one perhaps more justified than the other but, while the claim that ‘they could’ve been given’ is as undeniable as it is predictably obvious, we’ve been on the receiving end of such decisions often enough ourselves, all quickly forgotten, not to need to feel guilty about it.

Up until his premature departure Debuchy was justifying any claim that he’s an upgrade on Sagna, Monreal was showing he can defend and contribute in the attacking half and Wilshere showed that given the role that Ramsey plays he does have some genuine qualities himself. It was Jack’s adroit one two with Ozil, who seemed pretty match rusty tonight, that set up the only goal. Less adroit was Jack’s control with his right foot but having got away from him it fell nicely for Sanchez to claim that the £25m or so his goal may have earned Arsenal through CL qualification proper has gone some way to paying his transfer fee.

If the first half didn’t support the idea that Alexis can play as the central attacking forward the second half did. He chased, closed down and recovered the ball at every opportunity, keeping Besiktas defenders busy and allowing others to get forward. Had Ozil shown the precision, weight of pass and decision making that could be taken for granted even in his less impressive games Alexis might have seen more reward for his efforts. Similarly Ox fell short of what his pace and ability should have brought us and he seemed anonymous for large parts of the game. We know that both can and will have much better games and we’ve seen that other players in the squad have match winning contributions in them. What we’re waiting to see is when all manage to make those contributions at the same time.

For now though we can admire the ability to dig out results when needed along with those moments, albeit less frequent of late, of fluent, exciting and creative play. Job done and 17th consecutive CL appearance virtual trophy in the virtual trophy cabinet.