Date: 20th August 2014 at 12:35am
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Wenger felt this would be a testing game flagging up the state of the pitch and blustery conditions before kickoff. Valid enough observations but a gift for cynical pundits (is there any other kind?) who were bound to see it as excuse making.

To what extent these factors inhibited control or not would be difficult to quantify even without the background of a similar poor midfield performance on a perfectly good pitch against Crystal Palace at the weekend. With Alexis looking to play on the right but off a front man the balance of midfield with Ramsey, Cazorla and Wilshere just doesn’t work for me. Arteta as the anchor midfield does what he does competently enough but as a creative trio those around him just don’t seem to work as balanced unit. One of Wilshere or Ramsey should probably drop out when Ozil is back. For the space left it doesn’t seem likely that Jack would get the nod ahead of Ramsey but he seemed the more productive in this game. Ramsey was trying to be too clever at times while the simplicity he credits with his improvement last season seems to have been forgotten. He needs to get that back into his head.

Frustration aside it was an entertaining and open game though we only manged 3 shots on target. Besiktas had their chances and had they been a better team might well have taken one of them. Ba’s audacious attempt from the kick off almost caught Szczesny out but he was alert enough to tip the attempt onto the bar. Ba also had a great attempt later in the half meeting a cross on the volley which Szczesny again was alert and positionally sound enough to read and parry.

Giroud had a game he would wish to forget but few will let him unless he shows a dramatic improvement in his control and movement. I’ve never liked the tactic of trying to bounce the ball off a target man but Giroud has at times shown strength and a deftness of touch that has made it work often enough to justify the tactic but that deftness of touch just hasn’t been there in his last couple of outings. Whether the recruitment of Alexis and Campbell offers more tactical options I’m not sure but we may need to find an opportunity to try them out before too long.

On the positive side Chambers continues to impress. He does seem to read the game extraordinarily well for a 19 year old. Mertesacker should be back now which, assuming Kos remains fit, should mean that Calum will be warming the bench for a time. It would be a shame in a way but he’s young enough to take the time to watch and allow his ability and reputation to grow as the chances present themselves. We still need a bit more defensive back up but the defenders we have now Debuchy, Mertesacker, Chambers, Koscielny, Gibbs and Monreal form a strong defensive squad with each capable of doing a good job when called upon.

While we didn’t inflict any damage in this game we didn’t suffer any either. Aside that is, from a red card preventing Ramsey from participating in the second leg and an injury to Arteta the extent of which has still to be diagnosed. We’ve left ourselves with a job still to do in the return game but perhaps not a mountain to climb. If we can get the midfield/forward combination right that is.