Arsenal have their European destiny in their own hands after a comfortable 3-0 win away to Fenerbahce in the UEFA Champions League Play-Off.
After a hard-worked first half, goals from Kieren Gibbs and Aaron Ramey had Arsene Wenger’s side forgetting their Premier League woes.
Olivier Giroud’s penalty in the 77th minute added gloss to the score-line at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium and gave the Gunners a hefty lead heading into the second leg.
Arsenal started well and played with a lot of intensity in the opening twenty minutes. Unfortunately for the travelling fans, that intensity couldn’t be matched with shooting opportunities. Fenerbahce defended well and limited their opponents to Giroud’s flicked header wide and Ramsey’s pulled shot that didn’t trouble the home goalkeeper.
The game took a sour note when Wenger lost Laurent Koscienly to injury. After a collision with Pierre Webo, the central defender took a blow to the head and the Arsenal manager was taking no chances as he substituted the Frenchman. The change meant Bacary Sagna would come across to play in the centre of defence, which was a move that failed in the loss to Aston Villa on Saturday.
The Gunners dominated the tempo in the first half, but were frustrated again and again by a stern defence from the Turkish side. Giroud should have done better in first half injury time when Jack Wilshere slipped him in with a nice pass, but the French striker blazed his shot well over when under pressure from ex-Everton defender Joseph Yobo.
The home side knew they had to take the game to Arsenal in the second half and came out with more bite in their play. The midfield charged down Ramsey in his own half which forced the Welshman to give the ball away to Dirk Kuyt in a good position. The former Liverpool attacker let fly with a powerful drive from 25 yards, but the ball flew inches over the crossbar.
The goal that Arsenal was looking for did come six minutes into the second half. Ramsey provided a superb pass that split the Fenerbahce defence and Theo Walcott did well to cross low for the unlikely source of Gibbs to tap in at the back post. It was just what Arsenal were hoping for at a time when the game was starting to slip into Fenerbahce’s favour.
Just after, the away side nearly doubled their lead. Wilshere provided the determined run into the box before Walcott took over and flicked a clever effort towards goal, but the home side’s shot-stopper, Volkan Demirel, made a good save to keep the score at 1-0. It was a good chance but Walcott lacked the composure to finish from close range.
Wilshere’s burst gave Arsenal an edge they were lacking in the opening 45 minutes and he was close to adding his name to the scoresheet in the 62nd minute. The England international burst away from Raul Meireles with speed and used clever footwork to get past Yobo, but his right-footed shot from ten yards out was well saved by Demirel.
The goalkeeper was at fault when his side went 2-0 down with 25 minutes to go. Ramsey was allowed plenty of space to drive forward and pepper a low shot at goal from 30 yards that bobbled through to the bottom corner, past the poor dive from Demiral. The goalkeeper should have comfortably saved Ramsey’s effort and it is an error that Fenerbahce could regret during the tie.
The home side still offered a threat as the clock ticked down and Moussa Sow as a constant nuisance for the Arsenal defence. The striker was allowed to turn on the edge of the box by Sagna’s poor reactions, but Sow curled just over with Kuyt calling for a pass on the far side.
Arsenal’s third goal came from the penalty spot and is owed to part from more good work by Walcott. The former Southampton attacker raced on to Santi Cazorla’s switch of play and went down under the tackle of Michael Kadlec and the referee had no choice to point to the spot. Giroud stepped up to fire into the top corner, sending Demirel the wrong way and putting Arsenal closer to the Group Stage.
As the game headed into its final stages, Arsenal’s attention turned to keeping a clean sheet to complete a perfect night. Wojciech Szczesny made a good save to keep out Kadlec’s volley after Kuyt did well to nod the ball down, and Fenerbahce looked a beaten team.
The final whistle signalled the end to a game that will put more confidence back into Wenger’s capabilities as Arsenal manager, but the fact remains that one win does not solve the problems at the Emirates Stadium.
Match Report by Kyle Dixon (@kyledixon95)