Arsenal 2-0 Fenerbahçe SK: Only One Gear Required

In one of the other playoff ties, Austria Wein scored an 83rd-minute goal against Dinamo Zagreb that meant that they still lost 3-2 at home on the day, but they scraped through to the Champions League for the first time ever by the odd goal in seven. Needless to say, our game against Fener was on the polar opposite of the adrenaline scale, a serene procession calmly executed on our way to the promised land of a 16th straight group stage qualification.

Arsenal were a bit too languid for my liking in the early going though, with our opponents eager to get an early one to make the contest interesting. Wojciech Szczesny was sharp though, and did well to repel Raul Merieles when he was clean through on our left wing.

After that, the Turkish side huffed and puffed, but for the most part could not get beyond our back line. Bacary Sagna in particular was excellent - he often pushed up to break up attacks outside the penalty area, a sort of golden-braided libero in the Mattheus style. He's similar to Laurent Koscielny in that sense, and so far he's proving to be equally as strong a partner for the more stay-at-home Per Mertesacker.

Despite the early wobbles, Arsenal managed to effectively close out the tie before the half-hour mark. Lukas Podolski's ball into the area wasn't great, but the defender touched it into the path of Theo Walcott. Volkan Demirel came off his line to meet him, but that same defender made what normally would be a great saving tackle. Unfortunately for them, it took the keeper out of the play, and the ball bounced out to the wide-open Aaron Ramsey. Right place, right time for the Welshman, who easily tapped into the unguarded net.

The visitors might have pegged us back immediately, as Szczesny went a bit walkabout once again. A high ball came in that the entire Arsenal defense dithered about dealing with, all of them a good 2-3 yards away from it. As a keeper myself, I get why Szczesny took the law into his own hands - the red mist takes over and you feel like you have to do something if they are not going to. Anyway, he got nowhere near it, but was fouled in the aftermath. Despite his overall excellent play, I'm sure this is all you'll hear about from the press.


It did seem to wake the Gunners up though, and we easily could have been two goals to the good a few minutes later. Ramsey played a brilliant through-ball into the path of Olivier Giroud, who was in alone on Demirel. He held onto it a second too long though, giving Turkey's number one enough time to come out and block at his feet. A good chance went begging there.

Speaking of good chances going begging, only the brilliance of Szczesny kept Fenerbahce from equalizing a bit later. Emmanuel Emenike brushed off Sagna in the Frenchman's only poor moment of the match. Emenike was in 1-v-1 with Szczesny, but the Pole stood tall and made the Nigerian make the first move. Emenike's shot had a ton of pace on it, but Szczesny was able to tip it onto the post. The defense was all over the shop in the resulting hooley, allowing Bruno Alves a free follow-up shot. Szczesny, like he did against Fulham, recovered quickly and got over in time to block with his chest.

Seriously, will the haters shut up about this kid already?

That slowed the visitors down, and just before halftime, Giroud once again should have scored. Once again, he failed to put it away. This time, Santi Cazorla hit the overlapping Nacho Monreal with a gorgeous pass, and he in turn played in Giroud. It was a tough ask to hit it on the full run, but he probably should have at least hit the target. Instead, he scooped it miles over.

The second half was a bit more sedate, the fight long since gone from Fenerbahce in any serious sense. They mostly resorted to kicking anything in a red shirt, apparently with the referee's blessing. I find it amazing that (as John alluded to in Preview by Numbers) the same guy who called a penalty on Thomas Vermaelen for breathing on a Montpelier player last year allowed these idiots to kick us in the air for 45 minutes with nary a peep from his whistle. If we never see this dipshit again, it'll be far too soon.

Saying the half was more sedate didn't mean we took our foot entirely off the pedal, though. The excellent Cazorla (once again an absolute magician on the ball) tested Demirel from a tough angle only to see the keeper do fantastically well to tip it wide. Later, a free kick won when Merieles idiotically handled outside the area was taken by Walcott. Demirel was obviously expecting a cross, as Theo's shot was dead central over his hands but still beat him all ends-up. Lucky for him, it hit the crossbar

The second goal did come in the 72nd minute though, and Ramsey again was the man on the end of it. A ridiculously-poor pass from one of their lot was intercepted by Monreal, starting an excellent multi-pass move. Yaya Sanogo, who was on as a sub for Giroud, had two nice touches in there. The second played it out to Wilshere, in space on the left. His pass split the Fener defense, and Gibbs had the whole left side of the penalty area, Alves left in the dust. Egemen Korkamaz, the other center-half, came over to help, leaving the middle gaping. Merieles was faffing about getting back, and the right-back was never going to get there. Ramsey was all alone in the center, and Demirel never even bothered to dive as the ball nestled cozily in the far corner.

Everything after that was just playing out time, though there were two incidents of note. Ryo Miyaichi came on and hit a lovely cross to Jenkinson, who somehow was on the end of it in the area. He probably should have scored, but could only hit Demirel. Also, Ramsey limped off late with what looked like a groin injury - hopefully he is OK.

At any rate, what looked to be a fearsome playoff opponent in the wake of the Villa match turned out to be a paper tiger, all too easily brushed aside on our way to the group stage. Fenerbahce had the names on the teamsheet to present a severe challenge, but they were all found wanting to a man when it came time to show it on the pitch. Still, Arsenal did brilliantly well over the two legs to see them off so emphatically with such a depleted squad.

Over to you, Arsene. Reinforcements. NOW.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8: Yes, an 8. So he came out once and missed, so bloody what? Without that double-save on Emenike and Alves early on, this may have been a much different game.

Monreal 6: Kind of an iffy effort, especially in his defensive duties. Was constantly too far off of his man, and got sucked in to central positions where the CBs had it covered already too often. I'll chalk this up to knocking off the rust, though.

Sagna 8: I thought he was excellent on the day - calm and composed, and made several timely interceptions that broke up attacks before they got dangerous.

Mertesacker 7: Calm, cool and collected as ever.

Jenkinson 6: Not his best effort. Poor in his crossing, should have scored late on too. Decent defensively but we know now that he can do better.

Ramsey 8: He goes from strength to strength, as evidenced with his two goals. We can only hope he's fit enough to play in the upcoming NLD.

Wilshere 7: Earlier in his career, he might have gotten himself sent off in the wake of constantly being kicked with the silent assent of a shitty referee. Instead, he displayed a nice range of passing and kept his emotions in check.

Podolski 7: Never really got into the flow of things, but had a few decent touches before going off with what looked like a hamstring injury.

(Gibbs) 8: Especially lively down the left when he came on. For a guy who is very much a left back, the offensive side of his game is drastically improving in a short period of time.

Cazorla 8: Pulled all the strings, as ever. The Fenerbahce players surely don't care if they never see him again.

Walcott 7: Some nice work down the right, had a nice assist and was unlucky to score on the free kick. Decent effort.

(Miyachi) 7: He was all right in a brief cameo. He put in an excellent cross to Jenkinson in injury time that probably should have resulted in a goal.

Giroud 6: A bit of a quiet game, he had two decent chances to score and probably should have done better on both of them.

(Sanogo) 7: Decent hold-up play by the new man, including those two nice touches in the build-up to the second goal. Nothing earth-shattering but he did look like he belonged.

Man of the Match:  Aaron Ramsey